Odunola Ojewumi is a student at Howard University. She is serving as List Management Intern at Population Action International for the Spring 2009 semester.
On February 21st, I attended a meeting sponsored by Friends of The Congo. “It is our call to action to save the Congo” stood as the message and slogan for this conference. The meeting offered a great amount of information about the devastating tragedy in the Congo. There were four key speakers including a Congolese speaker who fled from the violence there.
Nearly six million Congolese have been killed in this genocide yet the average American knows nothing of their struggle. We viewed a slide show of the organization’s last expedition to the Congo refugee camps. A large percentage of the refugee camps they visited were heavily populated by women and children. Each photograph told a story of hardship. One picture truly stood out for me. It was a picture of a home for a family of five, made of wood and twigs which truly re-defined the term “singe family home.” This conference made me re-evaluate my priorities and examine the effects of war on the innocent.
The conference also included the perspectives of Congolese women. Rape has been used against women as an instrument of war in the Congo. Many women are raped with blunt objects, sticks, and machetes. The women are scarred physically and emotionally, and many must have surgical operations to repair their reproductive organs from the damage. Friends of the Congo is currently raising money to fund these surgeries.
Attending this meeting opened my eyes to the fact that the struggle for women’s rights is still very much alive. Friends of the Congo’s work in the international community shows the spirit of International Women’s Day–men and women unifying to advocate for the rights of women. This day celebrates the lives of women, who have overcome insurmountable struggles and highlights causes that promote reproductive health rights, and condemns sexual violence against women and children.
Congo is the one of the world’s largest producers of coltan, or columbite-tantalite, a material found in almost all of our cell phones, laptops, video cameras, Bluetooth and other devices. Congolese mine workers are so underpaid that they can barely feed their families. The average annual income for a Congolese family is $800 and $100 for an individual person.
As the conference came to an end, I learned as a consumer it is my obligation to protect the people of the Congo. We use the products they help produce yet this issue remains a silent issue. The voice for the women of Congo shall not be silenced on the eve of International Women’s Day. The Friends of The Congo have set up fundraiser events in Maryland and D.C. For more information visit their web site at http://www.friendsofthecongo.org/