Archive for the ‘Run for Congo Women’ Category

Dear Madam Secretary Clinton

Dear Madam Secretary Clinton,

We applaud your visit to Congo last year. As American women, business owners, mothers, fathers, grandmothers, runners, and others deeply concerned with Congo, we are proud of your interest and commitment to Eastern Congo.

However, if the IRC mortality study statistics have held, more than 500,000 Congolese people have died since your visit. Tens of thousands of women, children, and even infants have been raped, including the recent incident of close to 200 women and infants, within 10 miles of a UN compound. This is our shame.

The USA has taken precious little action. That needs to change today. You are the leader to make it happen.

  1. You promised Congo 17 million dollars. Why is it still sitting in a US Government account, buried in red tape? Unacceptable. Please do what you must to get this critically needed aid to Congolese women today.
  2. The culture of impunity in Congo must end. Congo needs a justice system. The Congolese army must be professionalized, so soldiers “protect and serve” rather than “steal and rape”.   We urge you to coordinate with donor governments and the Congolese government to spearhead a comprehensive national security sector reform plan for Congo.

Congolese women and children need your immediate action. We look forward to celebrating your bold, immediate leadership on this critical issue.


A Thousand Sisters

{Please add YOUR name and personal note to Secretary Clinton here. I’ll pass it on!}

Lisa Shannon, Founder, Run for Congo Women, Author A Thousand Sisters, Sister to Generose & Thousands of other Congolese women.

A Very Congo Christmas

They told Francisca not to come home for Christmas. Too dangerous.  This is not a generalized sense of paranoia that hangs in the air in a war zone, but because of what happened last year.

            Francisca, a Congolese ex-pat and fellow Portland Run for Congo Women organizer, comes from Dungu, a small town in the far northeastern corner of Congo, nestled on the borders of Sudan and Uganda.  The notorious Ugandan militia the Lord’s Resistance Army has spread into Congo and south Sudan over the past couple of years. On Christmas Day 2008, four of Francisca’s Aunties and Uncles attended Christmas Mass.  The LRA showed up, and killed them along with all 400 people attending the holiday service.

            This year, the LRA have sent written threats announcing their plan to “celebrate” again.

            Why would anyone living under daily threat of attack choose to attend a holiday service?  One of my most striking first impressions of the Congolese was their fervent Christian faith. For instance, when I visited the village of Kaniola, pounded by twice weekly massacres by the Interahamwe (the militia responsible for the Rwandan genocide- still killing people), I was dumbfounded to find most villagers dressed to the nines- belts, loafers, suit jackets, dresses with lace trim.  Then I realized it was Sunday morning. They were heading to church. On another occasion, I asked a sister I sponsor through Women for Women, about the first thing she said to her children when she woke up in the hospital following an off-the-charts massacre that claimed the lives of her husband and nine year old son.  She replied, “I told them to Thank God. I lived.”

            How is it that in Congo, people who face some of the worst violence known to humanity, could maintain such strong faith, when our faith feels like it is stretched to its limit by a cheating boyfriend or a drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average?  I’m not religious, so I’ won’t posture like an authority.  Instead, the observations of renowned psychiatrist and Jewish Holocaust survivor Viktor Frank may shed some light.  “The religious interest of the prisoners…was the most sincere imaginable.  The depth and vigor of religious belief often surprised and moved the new arrival…The last inner freedom cannot be lost.  It can be said that they were worthy of their suffering; the way they bore their suffering was a genuine human achievement. It was this spiritual freedom- which cannot be taken away- that makes life meaningful and purposeful.”

            In the face of overwhelming international news, as we are tempted to shut down and tune out, perhaps we can draw some inspiration from this kind of faith. We may not be able to waive a magic wand and make mass atrocity go away, but do we not we each possess that last of human freedoms to choose our reaction to it? In this way, is activism not an act of faith?

            This Christmas, Congo will be back in the national spotlight.  Oprah will be re-airing the show on Half the Sky and Congo, on which I appeared in the fall (your regular local time and station).  So this holiday, as you wait out the post meal bloat, go for another round of pie, or snuggle up with a loved one (the Congolese would not fault you any of it- in the face of everything, they still know how to party!)- or if you’re hunkered down avoiding all things tinsel and lights- consider watching Oprah and sharing Congo with your family and friends. Trust this simple act of faith will have reverberations beyond anything you can know, and will touch in you that last human freedoms. A beautiful way to celebrate!

            Happy holidays!

A question from Cody, age 17: What is the role for men in a movement called “Women for Women”?

Dear Lisa,

My mom and I have applied to sponsor one woman in the Congo after we had seen several shows. I am 17 , live with my single mom and I am going to college. I recently had a ‘celebration lunch’ with my mom for passing all my first mid-tems for this year. After seeing Oprah’s show again the other day we decided to take that money we normally use to treat ourselves out to lunch or dinner and sponsor one woman. My mom and I live on only $1400 a month. Below the poverty line for many. We have a car that has almost 275K miles on it. We are living in a friend’s house right now because we can’t find a rental we can afford. BUT, we have a home, a full cupboard, a tank full of gas to get to school, a cell phone and two computers. When we think we are broke at the end of the month and think things are tough they really aren’t. We know that on the 1st of the month we will have money. We know that we can get a loan for school books. We know that there are programs to help us if we really didn’t have food. Really, we have a lot.
My mom was most moved to do something when she saw that you actually met the woman that ‘Women for Women’ is helping. You always wonder if the money is really going to help people. You always wonder if your money is really doing good. Seeing those women with their letters from their ‘sisters’ was very touching.
I have another male friend that plays music with me. Today we told him that we had chosen to sponsor a woman. After looking at the site he decided he wants to too. But what is the role of men in ‘women for women.’. For me and my mother we are doing it as a family decision and project but what about for my friend?

Thank you for your reply,

Dear Cody,
I am so moved by your note, and so proud of you, your mom, and your musician buddy!!! What a beautiful family you have, what a wonderful act. I am so inspired!!!

In terms of your friend, we welcome and celebrate men’s involvement! Men can sponsor women in Congo, too! Men also participate in Run for Congo Women all the time. I think its amazing- and critical- for young men to stand up against violence against women. Bravo to you and your buddy!

With my deepest  gratitude,

Top 10 Run for Congo Women Songs

As any distance runner knows, after a certain point, it’s mental.  That goes double for Run for Congo Women, which is why I’ve put to together this list. Think of it as a mix tape from me to you. A good Run for Congo Women song has a very special criteria. It might be slow, it might be fast, it might have a great run beat, or none at all. But it must motivate and stir some passion for women in the Congo. You might find some of them cheesy.  I do. Some of them I would never listen to in my “real life”. But let’s face facts: There comes a time in every long run when bushy-bushy Abba favorites just won’t do.   Pansy-assed, pensive boy hipsters crooning on about self loathing (normally one of my favorite genres- miss you Elliott Smith!) are a death knell.  You’ve got trail to pound. You’ve got ass to kick (your own!) You’re running for Congo Women and you need some soul fuel. These are some of my favorite panic-button, mile 29-tested songs.

Bonus: Eye of the Tiger. Survivor.  Okay, it’s silly. That’s why it didn’t make the list.  But it is the best overall workout song ever, and you know it.  Put it in the mix, just for fun.  You’ll get many miles out of this golden oldie.

10. Masters Of War. Pearl Jam recording of this Bob Dylan classic. No one says it quite like Bob.  This one goes out to all the mining executives, all the guys making serious cash off the conflict.  Apropos, for sure, but it’s further down the list because it’s angry- a great motivator and will help you log some serious mileage, but ultimately anger will only carry you so far. (By the way, no, I don’t hope they die.  I usually scroll to the next song when I hit the final verse.)

Come you masters of war…./You fasten all the triggers/ For the others to fire/ Then you set back and watch/ While the death count gets higher/ Then you hide in your mansion/ While the young people’s blood/ Flows out of their bodies/ And is buried in the mud

9. What a Feeling. Irene Cara. Nevermind the fact Flashdance was my very favorite movie when I was 8 (yes, my parents were that liberal.)  It’s the story of starting run for Congo Women!

First when there’s nothing but a slow glowing dream/ That your fear seems to hide deep inside your mind…/ Take your passion!  Make it happen!

8. Alina. Arvo Part. Sometimes on a long run, blood pumping music feels like it’s mocking your pain.  Sometimes you need some music that slows you down and helps you Zen-out. This stunning piece was written as a prayer, and always make me feel like I’m floating.

7. The Campfire Song. 10,000 Maniacs.  Let’s be real. It’s about the money.  This one is a little more compassionate than the Dylan.

A lie to say, “O my mountain has coal veins and beds to dig/ 500 men with axes and they all dig for me.”/ A lie to say, “O my mine gave a diamond as big as a fist.”/ But with every gem in his pocket, the jewels he has missed. (I always think of Congolese kids- the real treasure)/ A lie to say “O my forest has trees that block the sun/ and when I cut them down I don’t answer to anyone.”/ No, no, never will he believe that his greed is a blinding ray./ No devil or redeemer can cheat him./ He’ll take his gold where he’s lying cold./ A lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely man.

6. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For. U2.  I think about my Congolese sisters when I hear this one.  Until there’s stability in Congo, yes, I’m still running.

I have climbed highest mountain/ I have run through the fields/ Only to be with you./ I have run/ I have crawled/ I have scaled these city walls/ These city walls/ Only to be with you/ But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for/ Yes, I’m still running.

5. Africa Unite. Bob Marley and the Wailers.  As soon as I landed in the Nairobi Airport, I got it. Bob Marley is the soundtrack of Africa.  My driver Serge had a bootlegged tape we listened to- among the favorites were Redemption Songs, One Drop, and of course War.  But this one we looped more times that I can say, driving up and down the gutted streets of Bukavu.  How good and how pleasant it would be, indeed.  Play it again, Serge!

Africa unite!  Cause your children want to go home./ How good and how pleasant it would be/ Before God and man/ To see the unification of all Africans/ As it’s been said let it be done/ I tell you who we are under the sun.

4. War on War. Wilco. I listened to this song non-stop, psyching myself up while prepping for my first trip to Congo. Walk through the flaming doors.  Feel the burn.

Walk through the flaming doors./ You have to lose./ You have to learn how to die/ If you wanna be alive./ It’s a war on war.

3. Survivor. Destiny’s Child.  Oooh.  The next time you think about hopping off the treadmill a few minutes pre-goal, flip this one on.  There will be no stopping you.

I’m a survivor, I’m not gonna give up/ I’m not gonna stop, I’m gonna work harder/ I’m a survivor, I’m gonna make it/ I will survive, Keep on survivin’

2.  Sunday Bloody Sunday. U2. It’s a battle cry.  Whew. This one will get you through many a steep incline.  It’s the best.  A close tie for number one.

I can’t believe the news today/ Oh, I can’t close my eyes and make it go away/ How long, how long must we sing this song?/ How long? How long?/ ‘Cause tonight we can be as one, tonight/ Sunday, Bloody Sunday/ And it’s true we are immune when fact is fiction and TV reality/ And today the millions cry/ We eat and drink while tomorrow they die

[But you aren’t eating and drinking. You are Running for Congo Women!  You go girl! (or guy!)]

1. Change. Tracy Chapman. My number one Run for Congo Women song of all time. Still gives me chills, everytime.  Life is so short. Change.

If you knew that you would die today/ If you saw the face of God and love (cute Congolese kids faces here)/ Would you change?/ How bad, how good does it need to get? (Seriously.)/ How many losses? How much regret? (5.4 million….)/ What chain reaction? What cause and effect?/ Makes you turn around?/ Makes you change?

But when you log as many hours on the trail as I have, nothing gives you a boost like a new song. I’d LOVE your suggestions. Please post them here!

Messages from our Congo Sisters

When I met with hundreds of our sisters in Congo, I asked them what they would like to tell American women, and those who Run for Congo Women. In these directly transcribed lines, here is what they said:

We send warm greetings.
We really need them.
If they can’t write, please send photos.
We’re very happy to you, Lisa
And for all the other women, for all the women
who accept to make their bodies suffer because we suffer.
Give our thanks to them, tell them we are together.
We should remain sharing all our feelings.
We love them so much.
We know war in Congo is not near to finished,
So we ask them to ask the government to help stop the war.
To the government, we pray they do whatever they can
So the war can end, and people in poverty
because of the war can feel they are also
human beings, the dignity of being human.
Be blessed, Government of the U.S.

I lost all things, burnt. I lost dignity.
You dignified me.
I became seller of beans and flowers.
I regained joy.
The help you are sending helps us to be human beings, really.
If you could open my heart to see how happy I am to see you.
I am buying hens. Whenever I am hungry now, I slaughter one.
If I was a bird, I would fly and meet you in America.
I’m feeling as if I’m getting fat.
Since meeting you in the morning,
I’m fat with joy.
I cook doughnuts.
We no longer rent. We got our own land.
I pay them to work on my farm.
I’m hopeful. At harvest, I will rejoice.
Today I can really breastfeed my baby because I am eating well.
If my kid grows up, it is because of support from you.
When I heard you were running, I found it was really true love.
When I learned you were coming, I was waiting.
I don’t know what measurement I can use to measure my joy.
I feel somehow a person in life, a woman in life.
I didn’t think I would feel like other women.
You have to continue up to the coming of Jesus.
Thanks, thanks, thanks.
I don’t know how to express my joy. I don’t know how.
May god bless and bless and bless and bless.
What I receive makes me feel like a woman now.
It doesn’t arrive every day to be in this kind of joy. But I am really happy.

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