HEAL Africa is deeply rooted in Africa. During the summer of 1993 Dr. Jo Lusi and his wife, Lyn, visited the United States and were the house guests of Dr. Paul and Macky Groen. Though they lived on different continents, the four of them discovered that they shared many perspectives and passions. The Lusis lived and worked in Africa. Dr. Jo had been born in DRC, and Lyn lived most of her adult life in Africa. The Groens had served in medical missions in Nigeria during the 1960s before moving back to the United States. Subsequently, the Groens made frequent trips to serve and teach in African hospitals. They spoke at length about the need for more trained physicians and better health care in Africa – health care that would address physical, spiritual, and emotional needs for all. The kindred spirits then went back to their respective homes.
Their next encounter took place during March of 1994 in Nairobi, Kenya. Here the vision, thoughts, prayers, and communications that had taken place since the meeting in the US began to take shape. The Lusis and the Groens agreed that they had a calling to meet these health care and educational challenges through a cooperative venture. The Groens returned to form a not-for-profit corporation in the United States while the Lusis began sharing the vision and eliciting support and cooperation from African organizations. They agreed to name this new organization, Doctors on Call for Service (DOCS).
In 1996 Dr. Jo Lusi became the DOCS African Director and Dr. Paul Groen served as Chair of the DOCS Board. Goma was chosen as the location for the establishment of a teaching hospital. Lyn and Macky filled multiple roles, often without title or compensation, in these early years. By 1999 Lyn Lusi became an employee and was compensated for her extraordinary efforts in identifying and meeting needs in the Goma region.
The early years were filled with the typical challenges of starting a new organization. The difficulties for this new organization were multiplied by the social and political instability that characterized the eastern DRC region. The effects of the Rwandan genocide of 1994 spilled over into DRC, and the First (1996- 1997) and Second (1998-2003) Congo wars resulted in many casualties and caused massive social instability. DOCS kept growing and serving the people of eastern DRC in spite of these difficulties and challenges.
The volcanic eruption of Mt. Nyiragongo in 2002 presented great challenges and great opportunities for the work. The world became aware of the needs of eastern DRC and many responded with gifts. In Goma the needs were overwhelming and varied. The organization rebuilt its facilities, adding staff and programs to meet the needs. Dr. Jo Lusi gave direction to the medical staff and facility construction; meanwhile Lyn Lusi focused on meeting the social needs of the affected communities.
In 2005 the DOCS board split to form two separate organizations. One organization (DOCS) would concentrate on medical education in various locations in Africa, and one organization was dedicated to the needs of the people and communities of eastern DRC. The organization founded by Dr. Jo and Lyn Lusi, focused on the medical and social needs of the communities of eastern DRC became known as HEAL Africa. Using the hospital in Goma as a base, they built multiple programs that addressed the needs of eastern DRC communities. In this area ravaged by war and poverty they provided health and hope to communities, especially to those who were most vulnerable.
A variety of organizations supported HEAL Africa in a variety of ways. HEAL Africa formed partnerships with HEAL Africa USA, Aus-Heal (Australia), as well as HEAL Africa associated organizations in Canada, the United Kingdom, and Rwanda.
One of the distinguishing marks of HEAL Africa is its commitment to the employment of Africans for its leadership and for the delivery of all services. Volunteers from around the world often come to provide specialized training, but the work is planned, led, and accomplished by those who are native to the culture.
During the years 2006 to 2012 HEAL Africa experienced remarkable growth in services to a geographic area that suffers from political instability, economic deprivation, and natural disasters. Radiating out from Goma the staff and volunteers from HEAL Africa reached into hundreds of villages throughout eastern DRC with hope and healing.
During these years Dr. Jo and Lyn were recognized in Africa and internationally with awards for their dedicated and innovative service to Africa.
In March 2012, Lyn Lusi, known affectionately by many in eastern DRC, as “Mama Lyn”, succumbed to her battle with cancer. She was buried in the adopted homeland to which she had given so many years of her life. Lyn left a rich legacy of compassion and innovation in community development. Her unique skills are greatly missed, but her “heart for people” continues to shape and mold HEAL Africa and its staff.
In 2013 HEAL Africa and DOCS began discussions about re-uniting the organizations that had gone in separate directions in 2005. Joint projects between 2009 and 2013 helped convince both organizations that they could do more working together than they could working separately. After eight years of separation both the DOCS and the HEAL Africa boards unanimously approved the merger of the organizations during the summer of 2014. The specific legal documents and related regulatory filings will be completed in the fall of 2014. The merger with DOCS, with its focus on medical education, strengthens HEAL Africa’s commitment to medical education, training, and Christian mentoring.
HEAL Africa continues to move forward. In February 2014 Dr. Justin PALUKU, who had served as Assistant Legal Representative, assumed the role of Chief Executive Officer at HEAL Africa. Dr. Justin, along with the Coordination Council is responsible for the administration of the organization.
The investment in developing young leaders is paying dividends. For example, Dr. Justin was the first medical Resident doctor recruited by DOCS in 2000 for the Family Medicine training program. Not long after, current HEAL Africa leaders joined the Program, for example Dr. Luc Malemo, Hospital Medical Director and Dr. Eulalie Vindu, currently in charge of the Children’s Aid program. Dr. Justin received additional training in obstetrics and gynecology, Dr. Luc received additional training in surgery, and Dr. Eulalie focused on HIV/AIDS. HEAL Africa is privileged to have these and others who have a deep investment in HEAL Africa and have committed themselves to serve the people of DRC through this organization.
But HEAL Africa is not the only beneficiary of this commitment to education and leadership development. Many government posts or leadership roles in other NGOs are now filled by those who have been trained by DOCS/HEAL Africa. And their number and impact grows every year. Dr. Jo Lusi continues to serve on the board and as a staff member. He continues his work in orthopedics for HEAL Africa and as mentor to young doctors; Dr. Jo is the pre-eminent ambassador for HEAL Africa offering encouragement and embodying the vision and values of this organization.
The past furnishes many lessons for the future. HEAL Africa has learned much from both its successes and its mistakes. HEAL Africa’s past and future are linked to its vision for healthy communities.