Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Eve Ensler on Women in Congo

Eve Ensler is a gifted writer, known to most people as author of the Vagina Monologues. She is also an activist dedicated to stopping violence against women worldwide. Her foundation, V-Day, began to focus its efforts on DR Congo several years ago and, through her efforts, has raised awareness about the desperate plight of women there.

This is her most inspired, poignant article yet.


If you do nothing else today, or this week, please read her article. Hopefully, it will change your life and move you to action, as her writings and the women of Congo have changed mine.

Pygmy women in Kamanyola, DRC

With love and gratitude,

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA)

Little girl stands with friends in Nyangezi, DRC

OK, this is the big enchilada-- an initiative set before the US Senate to take a stand to protect women worldwide against violence.

To quote www.womensedge.org:

Imagine a world without violence against women.
Finally, after decades of silence and inaction, there is one bill that will bolster US efforts to end violence against women across the globe:
The International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA)

Violence against women is a major cause of poverty and a huge barrier to economic opportunity. In addition to being an extreme human rights violation, it keeps women from getting an education, working, and earning the income they need to lift their families out of poverty.

To support this bill, go to the link below. It's an easy 1 minute sign-up, but registering against violence is a HUGE step toward respect for women and world peace.


This is the opening, the opportunity, we've been waiting for to make violence against women a crime! Hopefully, when the USA takes a stand, the world will follow. Let's all add our voices in support of this bill!

With love and gratitude,

Monday, May 11, 2009

Getting the Goats (3)

At Nyangezi market, many goats were for sale, but none were quite right.

But I still wanted to get pictures of the goats being bought and loved by their new owners, so you could see where your donations go. . . and again, things don't always turn out as planned in Congo.

The idea was to go to Nyangezi on market day, buy the goats, and bring them back to the compound where I would photograph them with the midwives. First problem was that majority of midwives live 1-4 days walk away from Nyangezi; it seemed excessive to ask them to walk all that way for photos.

The main problem was that the goats offered at market were not of good quality.

The Nyangezi market is very busy, sellers and buyers walking for hours to get there. Many booths were selling clothes, much like flea markets in the US.

In the food areas, women merchants sold corn and cassava flour.

Small beans that look like lentils were selling well, and . . .

there were bignets, my favorite, which are cooked right there and still warm when you eat them.

And although many goats were for sale, we could not find what we wanted. We searched for sweet young female goats that would bear kids, give milk, and increase the herd, but most were too old,

(see the horns)

or they were male.

(you get the idea)

Finally, we decided it would be best to buy the goats from neighbors, since their quality would be assured, and if any got sick, there was reciprocity. This is one of the cute, young goats we finally bought, tethered in the grass near the compound. I have been told the calf is on its way.

I am always reminded to stay with the process here, hold tight onto the goal, and don't quit until you get what you want . . .it's just that process takes a long time and lots of effort here in DRC !

With love and gratitude,

Friday, May 8, 2009

Getting the Goats (2)

Midwives stand in front of soon-to-be finished goat shed. Georgette is far right.

In the meantime, I had become better acquainted with a group of 21 women who call themselves, Midwives of Congo. I first met them last August in Nyangezi where they were being trained by American midwives, Jennifer Vanderlaan and Tammy. Their training lasted 10 days and covered all areas of pregnancy, delivery and infant care.

Midwives are a brillant solution to lack of medical care in the rural areas of Congo. Women can be 2 days to a week's walk away from medical help, which is a major cause of infant death and obstetric fistulas, which cripple women for life.

Her T-shirt says: Life Chain, Saving Moms and Unborn Babies

The Midwives of Congo are scattered throughout Walungu Territory, where they educate pregnant women and make their expertise available in isolated areas. Their goals are: 1) to promote birth ontrol as well as healthy pregnancies, 2) insure safe delivery of babies, and 3) advance the health of both mother and child through education.

Their leader, Georgette, is in the process of developing a farm, where pregnant women can grow nutritious food for themselves and their children, as well as make money to support the midwives' work in Walungu Territory.
So far, they have built a compound where rabbits, ducks and guinea pigs are raised for protein. It made sense to pass our largesse on to this project, so I donated 6 goats, 10 chickens, some chicken food, and a cow. Due to inflation, we could afford only one young cow, but its manure will fertilize the garden while the animal grows into a calf-producing, milk-giving adult.

Empty shed waiting for calf.

I think this is a great group, one worth supporting as they grow. These women are dedicated, educated and willing to work hard to achieve their goals.

So how did we get the goats, finally? Tune in for the next installment!

With love and gratitude,

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Getting the Goats (1)

              Walungu Territory is about the size of Belgium.

OK, remember I told you that I’d have photos of the goats that I bought with your donations . . .  Well, things don’t always work out in Congo as planned.  

First off, I had planned to give the goats to widows in Mususu, Walungu Territory, which is a 2-3 hour drive away depending on weather and road conditions.  What I did not realize (had not asked nor even imagined!) was that we had to buy the goats in Bukavu, then transport them ourselves to Mususu by pick-up truck.  Apparently, there are few goats in and around Mususu, which is why we had to buy them in town, then transport them to the country.

Our guard, Edou, and the Chief of Bozonga.

Now picture 18 goats in the back of a pick-up truck, with two of us sitting in back holding onto their leads so they don't jump out, bumping along on roads with potholes the size of craters.  Pretty wild, eh? That’s what I thought, but I continued to consider the idea until fighting broke out in Ulvira, which is in the vicinity of Mususu, and it became clear that giving goats to widows in Walungu Territory was NOT happening. 

Country kids bringing home firewood.

Traveling around Walungu without a guard with a truck-load of goats would not have been a smart thing to do. Not only would the goats probably not get there,  but we might have been confiscated as well!

Driving in Walungu on a good day.

So I decided that giving microloans to the widows next trip would be with wisest thing to do.

What happened to the donations meant for goats? 

Well, check in tomorrow and you'll find out . . . .

With love and gratitude,

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Mothers at Panzi Hospital

When I reviewed the photographs from my last trip to DRC, I realized I had some wonderful portraits of mothers with their babies at Panzi Hospital. I'd like to share them with you.

Most if not all of these children were born of rape. There are few babies at Panzi Hospital who are not the result of violence. Women who come to Panzi for treatment of obstetric fistulas lose the child over 90% of the time, mainly because they have walked too far and waited too long to get medical treatment.Thus, because these babies are alive, they are most likely the result of rape.

The women do not want a child born of rape. They beg the doctors to abort them, but the doctors say, We are here to save lives, not to take them away.

Often the mother, the newborn, and her other children are sent away by the husband, because she has become the rapist's "wife". Her shame is so great that she dishonors both her husband and the community, so they are cast out.

Yet, I've heard that children to a Congolese mother are as the trunk is to an elephant. People say that a child in Congo is a king or queen in his mother's eyes. So the women are torn between hating how the child was conceived and loving the child because it is hers.

This little guy has AIDS, as do many children at Panzi. The happiest child I have ever seen, he runs through the hospital corridors, bursting with energy, greeting everyone with a huge smile.

Let us cast our lot on the side of Love! Let us all be so happy!

With love and gratitude,

Monday, May 4, 2009

Mushenyi Schoolhouse Gets a Roof

A school gives these boys hope for a better future.

From previous blogs, you may remember Mushenyi, the remote mountain village that needed help to finish its schoolhouse.

My heart went out to this village, because there are only elders and children left here. Over the years, maurading armies have stolen everything of value, including the young men and women.

Now the elders, who are mostly women, worry they will lose the remaining children. Without an education, the only future for boys is to become bandits and rebels. The girls will be dragged into the bush, victims of sexual, gender based violence (SGBV).

A school can change all this!

Senator Mubalama and I made two trips to the village in April. Thanks to generous donations from people like yourself, I was able to contribute enough to finish this project.

Preparations for construction had already begun when we arrived. Long eucalyptus poles had been collected for the roof transits and stacked near the schoolhouse shell.

When we returned 10 days later, the roof was almost finished. What a beautiful sight it was, glimmering in the sunlight!

The builders, architect (r.) and small friend.

The builders wanted to finish the roof before our return, but the rain prevented that. They assured us there was enough money to buy the sheet metal needed to complete the roof.

Gunilla, a therapist from Sweden, shows off the building from the inside.

Woman to my right is the school teacher; the Chief stands next to her, the is Senator to my left.

We admired the building, then stood happily for photographs in front of the schoolhouse.

This may seem like a small accomplishment in a country, on a continent, with so many problems. Yet I believe that change begins with small steps, one at a time, grassroots to grassroots. Both Senator Mubalama and Dr. Roy, an internist from Nyangezi, grew up in this remote area before the war. Who knows what will be nurtured in this small schoolhouse, given peace and some time, on a mountainside in the jungles of Congo. . . .

With love and gratitude,