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Editor's Note: Lyn Lusi, the co-founder of HEAL Africa in eastern Congo, passed away last weekend. Guest blogger Naama Haviv of Jewish World Watch wrote this tribute.
When I first visited HEAL Africa in November 2009, it was Dr. Jo who stole the show. Boisterously joking, full of life, Dr. Kasereka “Jo” Lusi, the orthopedic surgeon who had the initial vision of building a hospital to treat the most vulnerable in Congo, drew friends and admirers quickly and easily. Lyn was the quieter of the pair, diligently working every time I saw her—in her office, under mountains of paper; after dinner, which she sped through to, as she said, “get back to it.”
And that was the thing about Lyn—she was the quintessential unsung hero. She wouldn’t even sing her own praises in her long, loving partnership with Dr. Jo. She would describe him as “full of life, full of ideas and just so much fun!” and joked that she just “followed behind him, picking up all the papers.”
But Lyn’s half of the partnership was crucially important and valuable. It was her experience as a social activist that led her to develop HEAL Africa’s innovative, community-based approach to social programs—programs that have elevated their beneficiaries physically, spiritually and economically. And while HEAL Africa’s incredible work and impact is known among Congo activists, Lyn rarely got, and even shied away from, attention or accolades.
Lyn was born and educated in England and came to Congo as a teacher with the Baptist Missionary Society. It was there that she met Dr. Jo—and fell in love. Not just with Dr. Jo—though no one who meets him could blame her on that front—but with Congo. The pair together founded the HEAL Africa hospital, originally established as a training hospital for doctors in eastern Congo.
But the mission of HEAL Africa broadened almost at inception when Lyn realized that it would not be enough to simply treat bodies. Health is a systemic problem; physical, psychosocial, spiritual, cultural, economic, political, and societal influences all play a role in health issues. Almost from the beginning, the HEAL Africa hospital began developing social programs to deal with these issues more holistically. Because of HEAL Africa’s focus on whole-person health (and, truly, whole-community health), their programs have expanded as community leaders have highlighted new issues.
Lyn believed that change could only happen if the Congolese people themselves were educated, informed and skilled—and that this would be the only way to ensure the hospital’s success in healing bodies. This whole-person health approach has been translated into the community and replicated through trained community leaders.
Lyn built a model at HEAL Africa of community-based action. Working with both religious leaders and community leaders, men and women, in rural villages, she helped to establish the Nehemiah Committees, which were charged with finding inclusive solutions to the concerns of their own communities. Whether it was HIV prevention and education programs, Safe Motherhood programs, programs that reconciled families torn apart by rape or trauma, all of HEAL Africa’s programs have focused on the principle that the community has the strength and capacity to rebuild and restore itself.
In the last year of her life, Lyn was finally recognized for her powerful contribution to the communities of eastern Congo and to the broader cause of social justice with the prestigious Opus Prize. The $1 million prize honored Lyn for her work as a transformational leader motivated by faith. For those of us that knew Lyn, we know that $1 million barely covered it—her impact, her influence, the values she lived by, and the faith that drove it were irreplaceable.
Lyn’s daily actions highlighted the dignity, the capacity, and the value embedded in each and every person around her. Her gift was the ability to see the potential in every person and in every community around her, and to think innovatively about how to best harness that potential for everyone’s benefit. It is a testament to the strength of Lyn’s legacy that HEAL will remain one of the most well-respected and effective organizations even in her absence. The communities that Lyn helped to organize and inspire are strong together, as was her goal.
Lyn Lusi passed away last Saturday at 62, succumbing to her fight with cancer. She was surrounded by her family—and the community that had become as close to family as one could imagine. She is being buried today in Butembo, surrounded by all the beautiful roses she so lovingly cultivated in her garden. The beauty of the legacy she cultivated at HEAL, however, endures.
Naama Haviv is the assistant director at Jewish World Watch.
PBS NewsHour recently profiled Lyn and HEAL Africa’s work in this special report: