Years ago, following devastating conflict in Congo, HEAL Africa began to increasingly treat displaced rural refugees who would soon be returning home. It became evident that to send recovered patients back to the same situations was simply not safe–particularly for survivors of sexual violence, orphans, and widows. The vulnerability of these people, compounded by national insecurity and economic instability, greatly concerned the HEAL Africa staff, and resulted in the Nehemiah Initiative.
Across eastern DRC, village communities develop a Nehemiah Committee, a make up of civic and religious leaders, who are trained to recognize vulnerable groups within their community, mobilize other activists and advocate for issues relevant within their own community. Nehemiah groups assist returning members of the community by helping them settle land ownership disputes, boundary disputes, conflicts between neighbors, and a host of other problems. As members of the same community, Nehemiah workers have a great desire to see lasting peace in the areas where they live, work and raise their children.
In communities where they are active, HEAL Africa partners with Nehemiah Committees to provide training and guidance to its leaders in creating a support structure for the most vulnerable in their communities. The goal of HEAL Africa is to sensitize and mobilize community leaders to care for their vulnerable by supporting foster family programs, reintegrate widows and victims of sexual violence—as well as stimulate economic recovery through local agriculture and small animal husbandry.
Due to the Nehemiah Initiative’s effort to include every tribe and religion, committees have gained the reputation as trustworthy by the community it serves. Today, there are more than 140 such committees found throughout the villages of rural Congo.