LiCoProMa promoting the rights of Albinos, LGBTIs, and Disabled people in Goma and Kisangani (DR Congo)
Dr Matthieu Bokota with Albinos' community in Kisangani after LiCoProMa provided exercise books and pens to young albinos to go backto school.
Life these past few weeks looks very different than it did a month ago. Instead of attending human rights trainings and falling asleep under mosquito nets, I am spending my hours in class and, well…sleeping less.
However, fortunately, some things stay the same. I am delighted and honored to be able to continue working with both Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights (IPHR) and LiCoProMa throughout this next year!
Over the past few months, I’ve mentioned a great deal about the organization and work of IPHR, but I have not done this for LiCoProMa.
Below is a brief overview of LiCoProMa, the challenges it faces, and one of the driving members of the organization– Francis Mbembe.
LiCoProMa stands for Ligue Congolaise pour la Promotion des Droits des Personnes Vulnerables et/ou Marginalisées (in English: Congolese League for the Promotion of Rights of Vulnerable and Marginalized Persons) and is a non-profit organization that runs solely on volunteer donations. Founded in 1998, during the Second Congo War, LiCoProMa was originally created to provide relief to the massive human rights violations occurring in Kisangani (northeastern DRC) at that time.
Since 1998, LiCoProMa has moved and evolved. Today, LiCoProMa is based out of Goma, DRC, and works to serve the following communities in the following ways*:
Francis Mbembe with Mwenyemali. Thanks to LiCoProMa’s help with hospital bills and the purchase of the vehicle displayed, Mwenyemali now runs his own transportation business and is able to support his family.
Carine (in green) was chased and beaten from her restaurant for hosting white people (e.g. – me) and LGBTI members
LiCoProMa’s #1 need – money. This is probably no surprise to anyone in the NGO world who knows how valuable and difficult money is to come by. LiCoProMa needs money to supplement the travel costs of health care workers and lawyers, to complete a guarded compound where LGBTI members can safely seek shelter, to supplement the volunteer time of lead staff members, and to pay for the healthcare supplies necessary for offering routine health checks.
However, while acknowledging this predominant need, LiCoProMa also realizes the importance of self-sufficiency and innovation. Thus, the members of LiCoProMa continue to seek alternative solutions to their financial shortcomings. For example, LiCoProMa has recently collaborated with a lawyer and a doctor in Goma who are willing to offer their services for free on a very restricted schedule. While these services are limited, they are nevertheless a great contribution towards realizing LiCoProMa’s mission: “Pour que cesse la discrimination” (in English: “To end discrimination”).
In addition to financial challenges, LiCoProMa also faces community challenges – most of which stem from the community’s hostility toward LiCoProMa’s work with LGBTI members.
A few months ago, LiCoProMa’s office was burned down because of their association with the LGBTI community. Furthermore, LiCoProMa recently conducted an anonymous, randomized survey on how members of the Goma community respond to LGBTI members. The result: approximately 85% of the 1000 people surveyed expressed hostility towards the LGBTI community.
Clear examples of this hostility include LiCoProMa’s LGBTI members being frequently chased and/or attacked because of their identity. In fact, sadly, after my visit to Goma in July, Carine (pictured below) was attacked for hosting a discussion with LGBTI members and white people (e.g. – me) in her restaurant.
Francis talking with a member of the albino community. This woman spends all the day selling maize along the road in Kisangani despite her fragile skin under the sun.
While LiCoProMa realizes that the long term solution to this discrimination requires internal organization, self-agency, determination, and patience, they also believe an appropriate short term response is to provide a safe, guarded, compound for LGBTI members to retreat to, as needed.
One of the leading-, and founding-, members of LiCoProMa is Francis Mbembe.***
In addition to being the Principal Coordinator of LiCoProMa, Francis is also one of the most determined, jovial, humanitarian individuals I have ever met.
In 1998, at the cusp of the Second Congo War and the human tragedy that accompanied it, Francis enrolled in school to study Human Rights. During this time, Francis learned the following:
Francis and I stopping to pose for a photo (that’s Goma in the background)
Francis’ consistent concern and care for others are inspiring, as is his proclivity toward action. For example, just a few weeks ago, after visiting an IDP camp in Kanyaruchinya, Francis went back to that camp to pass out as much rice and pens as he was personally able to afford.
Francis believes that a slow, persistent, paced fight leads to eventual success…and Francis is fighting.
* This is a very brief overview. If you would like more information on any one of these communities and the services LiCoProMa is working to provide, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
**At present, many LGBTI members are discriminated against in all life capacities and see prostitution as the only possible career path to putting food on the table. However, prostitution has severe and negative consequences that require many who identify as L,G,B,T, or I to risk their lives daily in order to live one more day.
***LiCoProMa is organized into branches, with one person coordinating any given sector. For example, LiCoProMa’s Nadia Kanyankore is the Coordinator for the LGBTI sector, Dr. Matthieu Bokota is the Coordinator for the Albino sector, etc. Francis is the Principal Coordinator that oversees the work of all LiCoProMa sectors.
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