In Eastern Congo, The Little Island That Could

In the middle of a lake in the Eastern Democratic Republic, one of the most violent regions on earth, sits a tiny but mighty island called Idjwi. Here, my people have not only lived peacefully, isolated from the bloodshed surrounding them, but are also building a model healthcare system.

The Eastern DRC has been ravaged by civil war for more than 15 years. A recent escalation of fighting between government forces and rebel groups spurred the United Nations to augment what is already the world’s largest peacekeeping force. But Idjwi itself, while less than
50 miles (80 km) from some of the worst of the conflict, has remained a land apart – isolated from the violence, but also from advances in medical care, education and access to clean water.

Until 2010, there was only one hospital and four doctors on the southern tip of Idjwi, out of reach for the majority of the island’s 250,000 people, who would have to travel up to eight hours to get there. Conditions were much the same as when I grew up in Idjwi in the 1970’s. Mothers gave birth at home. Ten percent of children under five and 20 percent of nursing mothers were malnourished. Infections were left untreated. Three percent of the population was…

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