Stories from Mulamba: Taking steps towards gender equality

In this blog post, MMM’s founder and CEO Darcy Ataman recounts stories of how the Healing in Harmony program supported by the Fund for Innovation and Transformation has made an impact on the community of Mulamba.

I have traveled to the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) countless times over the years, launching new Healing in Harmony (HiH) music therapy sites and supporting existing operations. However, my most recent excursion to DRC was a milestone event, presenting one of our research papers and projects to the medical and academic community that was instrumental in the birth and development of the program.

A recent project of ours, funded by the Fund for Innovation and Transformation (FIT) and the Manitoba Council for International Cooperation (MCIC), included, for the first time, a body of men. They were invited into HiH to not only test the efficacy of the model in terms of the reduction of PTSD, anxiety, and depression as compared to the young women and girls who have historically participated, but to see if these healing sessions could help to promote gender equality in the community.

While quantifiable data is paramount and key in demonstrating results and outcomes of a particular intervention (in our case, the direct reduction of trauma exemplified across the three primary health indicators of PTSD, anxiety, and depression), it is the direct community feedback, the qualitative data and the stories they tell that I find the most moving.

During my latest trip to DRC, I was fortunate to visit the rural community of Mulamba, where the male HiH artists were being interviewed for a campaign to promote the research project attached to this site. I would like to recount some of the stories I heard on this visit.

For context, it is important to note that Mulamba is an impoverished rural community in Eastern DRC that is triangulated by three active rebel groups and is sadly subject to violence, conflict, terror, and uncertainty on a regular basis.

The first man who was interviewed lives across the road from our local studio with his wife and remaining children. Tragically, he has lost five children from disease and conflict. As a result, he has suffered from extreme depression. Because of the depression and subsequent shame of not being able to save his children, he had not been able to sleep, which only exacerbated his symptoms, deepening into a dark state of mind. After completing our HiH music therapy program, he found his symptoms had improved. He was able to sleep again and find joy in dancing to the songs he helped create. He now sees his wife as an equal partner and together they are raising their children.

One woman (pictured below) told us about her husband who used to spend all his money on alcohol instead of using it to provide for the family. She worked hard to not only be the primary caregiver, but be the provider as well. Her husband took part in the HiH program and over time his mental health improved. He experienced a shift in mindset, realizing that women were not meant to be slaves to the whims of men but equals in their community and culture. The woman went on to say that since his participation in HiH, he has stopped drinking and insists that all the household finances are in her control.

Participating in the Healing in Harmony program helped this woman and her husband to stabilize their mental state and realize that together they could work towards a healthier future for their family.

Lastly, after a hike through the surrounding hills and fields, we spoke to a woman who had been tragically raped. She was able to find a husband despite the stigma of the violation. This husband beat and abused her regularly and the trauma she suffered became crippling.

She told us of how she participated in our music therapy program. Through HiH, she was able to process and heal her trauma. It enabled her to regain her self-worth, emotional strength, and agency to the point where she was able to leave her abusive husband. She now proudly lives in her own home, where she is also able to support her 12 children in a community that is now accepting of her story, free of stigma and shame.

While the needs in Mulamba and Eastern DRC are vast and complicated, it is reassuring to know that music and its application in the therapeutic process can play such an exact, tangible, and sustainable role in healing individuals and contributing to gender parity.

It is this very notion of men and women together in the community, acting in concert as equals, that will help maintain their healing, ultimately helping to lift them out of extreme poverty and daily survival into a sustainable future.

Listen now to Mushamuka by Cohorte Héroïque, an album that symbolizes the positive change the men and women in Mulamba experienced as they explored the effects of trauma on relationships through the Healing in Harmony program.

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