Elevate Difference

Lumo: One Young Woman's Struggle to Heal in a Nation Beset By War

Lumo is a documentary, named after its central character, of an African woman healing from a rape endured by military men that left her with a medical condition called fistula, a tear in the wall between the vagina and bladder caused by violent rape. It left her incontinent and uncertain of her chances to birth children. Like so many women who bear the heaviest and agonizing brutality in war-torn countries, rape is the most barbaric and common war crime committed against African women. While others think of terror in the form of bombs, missiles, and heavy artillery, Lumo recognizes rape as the most treacherous act of war, which claims the lives of so many women and leaves them in unspeakable suffering.

The film follows Lumo as she travels from her village, where she has been rejected by her fiancé, neglected by her family, and ostracized by her community, to Goma, a region in the Democratic Republic of Congo where she will receive treatment from HEAL Africa, an internationally sponsored hospital that provides services for rape survivors. Lumo will stay at the hospital for an unknown period of time until she physically and psychologically recovers from her trauma.

Although the tempo is slow, the documentary absorbs every painful detail of Lumo’s healing process. As if reflecting the pace of healing itself, the arduous and tedious speed of the film unnerves the viewer as the agony of the fistula is unmasked. Leaking urine, one of the symptoms of the fistula, cast Lumo and these other survivors into a world where they are further violated and isolated because of their condition. The cinematography is gripping. The facial portraits of the women are burned into the viewer's memory.

Lumo also moves between disparity and the power of faith. It largely focuses on Christianity as a source of strength and hangs the hope of medical miracles on Jesus and images of God as the savior. The survivors are repeatedly told to pray for their healing and ask God for complete recovery.

Central to Lumo’s message is the unflinching commentary on the lives of the women who will return to their homes after months, or sometimes years, of treatment. They will return to the world of rejection and rebel-occupied villages where they will live in danger of being raped again.

The film interacts with other components of gender domination and oppression–state violence and government officials who use victim-blaming language–to expose all facets of the cycle which perpetuate the cycle of violence against and degradation of women. In every society, in every part of the world, sexual violence is a crime against humanity. It will transform its face based on language, environment, and culture, but Lumo points out that violence against women remains the greatest commonality among all social sins, and no nation has taken steps toward absolution.

After witnessing the journey of one woman, viewers will be compelled to search for Lumo in their own community, city, town, or village. Lumo can and is everywhere. She is anywhere and everywhere violence against women persists.

Written by: Lisa Factora-Borchers, July 28th 2009