Managing Director Susan Celia Swan traveled to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to join V-Day Congo Director Christine Schuler Deschryver for events in Kinshasa and visits to Goma and Bukavu as part of V-Day and UNICEF's joint campaign STOP RAPING OUR GREATEST RESOURCE: Power to the Women and Girls of the DRC. Following is an update:
The trip has been full of great highs and lows. We started in Kinshasa, the capital city, where the V-Day movement has taken hold. There are over 100 activists working on sexual violence in the city, inspired to change consciousness and initiate lasting change.
On June 5, Eve and Christine spoke to the Congolese Parliament of over 500 ministers followed by a meeting with the activists. The next day, five women from various provinces around the country, all survivors of sexual violence, broke the silence in a major event attended by government, diplomatic and United Nations officials, activists and members of civil society. The women also delivered over 4000 letters to President Kabila written by campaign activists to the representative of the DRC's First Lady, who attended in her place. They told their stories with grace and heart and the over 500 men and women in the room listened with tears in their eyes. Each survivor demanded that the audience support the campaign, and commit to real actions to stop the violence that has affected hundreds of thousands of women and girls.
One woman explained her reason for speaking out, "...It is a cry on behalf of all women, those who have spoken out, and those still in hiding because of the stigmatization and the shame. ...in my eyes, all those who tolerate sexual violence, turn a blind eye, refuse to denounce and condemn these barbaric acts - they are all as guilty as those who commit these crimes...."
Another survivor acknowledged the power of the community that is building around the STOP RAPING OUR GREATEST RESOURCE efforts, "...We have chosen to speak out so that we can help each other to get back to our families and our lives... I know now that there is a network of activists all over the country. I am now a member, but until you speak up you cannot be heard. The solidarity from these groups helps a lot with the healing."
The finale of the day was a performance of The Vagina Monologues by five extraordinary Congolese actresses. The audience at the Hotel Sultani included hundreds of government ministers and diplomats, activists and civil society. Following the performance, the audience committed to address the issue and not only asked that a performance of the play be staged for the Parliament but that the play tour Congolese cities and villages, particularly where the people live without water and electricity and are cut off from television. The Congolese participants made the play their own, sparking an unparalleled dialogue between men and women in Congo. As a woman said at our follow up activist meeting - "the culture of Congo changed yesterday. The taboo was broken." We wish you could have been there to hear the men talk about what they've learned about vaginas, and what women said about needing to look at themselves and needing men to look at their vagina. The Human Rights Minister and Gender Ministers were chanting 'vagine.'
Our next stop was Goma where we visited with Heal Africa. The women and children there are extraordinary, however the stories are impossibly hard to bear. We met young women, ages 6-9, who are being put through school on V-Day scholarships. Each had been raped, as well as their teacher. Their spirits are strong, and we learned that while the girls are often shunned by their families after being raped, upon being educated the families accept them again. This is such an important message for us to take back and share with all of you.
In Bukavu, we met with Dr. Denis Mukwege at the Panzi Hospital and visited the future site of the City Of Joy, the leadership and healing center and safe community that the campaign is creating with your support! Dr. Mukwege and his team at Panzi continue their work daily, repairing women who have been brutally raped. The situation on the ground in Eastern Congo is volatile, with the threat of increased violence looming daily. The site for the City of Joy is near to the hospital. Traveling with UNICEF and local experts, we assessed the land and placement of the buildings. The community surrounds the site, and we will be sure to involve them in our programming at City of Joy, so that the center is a focal point for all, and the women's message of "turning pain to power' carries throughout.
While at the site, we visited with a group of soldier's wives and children who live in a camp next door. The camp is made up of more than 300 women, children and babies who were recently abandoned with NO AID at all, no food, no water, no medicine, etc. In May, thanks to the generosity of the Koinonia Foundation who gifted us 500 soloar lanterns, we distributed PiSAT solar lanterns, complete with solar chargers, to the women at the camp. The lanterns were the only form of assistance that the women had received since arriving the camp and they were so thankful and proud of their solar lanterns that they said we brought "light in the darkness." We also distributed lanterns to 30 other families surrounding the hospital. We will distribute the remaining lanterns to additional groups including small medical centers and schools next week.
Eve remains in Bukavu for meetings about the planning and programming for City of Joy. An Arte TV film crew joined us for the trip filming for a documentary that will air in France and Germany later this year.
We thank you all for your continued support of the women and girls of the DRC. Things are changing here and your dedication to raising funds and spreading the word are integral to ending the violence and changing the story of women.
Christine and Susan
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