January 13, 2021 [Danita Harris , Amanda Merrell, News 5 Cleveland]
CLEVELAND — Women of Hope is a faith-based nonprofit that helps women transition from the military, incarceration, domestic violence and other types of trauma. Amani Mugongo was born in Democratic Republic of the Congo. She came to the United States as a refugee in 2010. After high school she signed up for the Army National Guard.
“You know, finding a country that embraced you and accepted you and that safety of feeling like you belong somewhere, it encouraged me,” she said. “It just gave me that ‘I want to serve’ feeling.” All was well until November 2018. That’s when Mugongo was in Indiana at an annual weapons training. “I was assigned a weapon called an M249 machine gun and while I was on the range training an accident happened where the M249 machine gun exploded in my face.” The injury was severe. “Just the image and the feeling of your face kind of like burning,” she described. “You just feel blood melting off.” Mugongo needed surgery to remove bullet fragments from her right eye. She now wears glasses. “I can barely see you right now,” she explained after taking them off for her interview. Her physical injury had mental and emotional consequences as well. “I ended up being diagnosed with PTSD,” she said. A battle she wages to this day. She turned to the VA for help. “And one of those times I went to the VA this lady just gave me information for Women of Hope. Because I was at a point where I’m like ‘I don’t know if I can do this, I don’t know if I can continue living.’”
Women of Hope is a faith-based nonprofit that helps women transition from the military, incarceration, domestic violence and other types of trauma. Founder Sheila Locatelli considers it a divine assignment. She said the name, Women of Hope, came from a personal observation: “In talking to women, that’s something that many women lack. Just the idea that there is a way out or a better way. It was missing in a lot of my conversations.” Locatelli set out to help those women, “to equip them, to empower them, to give them the tools that they need in order to become self-sufficient and be able to lead a healthy lifestyle.” Women of Hope acquired several homes through the Cuyahoga County Land Bank to house the women, who can stay for up to two years. Mugongo is now house manager of one of those locations, Ariya House. “Looking at myself a year or two years ago, I never thought I would be able to be put into such a position and the face that they have that confidence in me and they had that trust in them putting me in that position, it gave me encouragement to keep going,” she said.
This story is part of A Better Land, an ongoing series that investigates Northeast Ohio’s deep-seated systemic problems. Additionally, it puts a spotlight on the community heroes fighting for positive change in Cleveland and throughout the region. If you have an idea for A Better Land story, tell us here.