Friday, September 18, 2009

Layover in Kenya

Right now I'm in Nairobi, a necessary layover when traveling to DR Congo due to flight availability. The weather is hot and dry; two years into a drought, Kenya is a dustbowl with everyone waiting, praying for the seasonal rains that should have begun in August.

Found a good internet café in one of the big shopping malls, the Village Market, where just about everything I need is available. Because it's Friday, there is also a Mini Maasai Market upstairs that I'll check out later.

I am fortunate to be able to stay with friends here, women I originally met on the internet who have become great friends. Both Johara Bellali and Sonia Nugent work for the UN, building capacity in countries threatened by the effects of global warming. Johara has been busy all week chairing a workshop she designed that takes a holistic approach to solving these problem, and which has been a great success. Go Johara!

More exciting news is that we are traveling to Lake Baringo tomorrow, a 5-hour drive to a peaceful lake where bird-watching is supposed to be fantastic. We'll be staying at a camp on an island in the middle of the lake! Can't wait to take a break for a couple of days!

With love and gratitude,

Monday, September 14, 2009

Back to Bukavu

Today I’m taking off for DR Congo, this time from Boston’s Logan Airport, after spending 10 days here on the east coast visiting friends and fund raising for Empower Congo Women.

Before beginning my African leg of the journey, I want to thank all the “large-hearted” people, to use President Obama’s term, who have contributed to my projects in Congo in the last 3 months:

First, I want to thank my Bay Area friends for their generosity: Bill and Gloria Symon, John and Judy Black, Robin Fine, Cara Brown, Karen Friedman, and Gena O’Neil. . . and Gary Paudler, who although not from northern CA has given generously to ECW.

My trip east has been both beneficial and lots of fun, full of new and old friends. Many thanks go to three special women who graciously hosted events to support Empower Congo Women: Ellen McCurley, from Newburyport MA, Executive Director of in Malawi; Margaret Johnson and her loyal group of friends in RI; and Pam Driscoll, of Concord MA, for the creation of her brilliant new non-profit, the Singing Bowl, which sponsored an event that paired me with Iyeoka , a beautiful woman of Nigerian descent with enormous talent as singer and poet, and a fellow sister activist.

Many thanks also go to the Dawson Clan: Charlie in Montclair NJ for his generous donation and loyalty to my cause, to his parents who opened their home to me and taught me how to celebrate Labor Day “Italian style”, and to his two lovely young daughters who are activists in the making!

Wonderful folks and new friends along the way include: Michele Bonner, who is helping import bags from Ushindi Center to Salem MA; Alice Locicero, an email acquaintance who turned into a good friend and talked me into getting a GPS with my rental car; Mark Johnson, husband of Margaret, for introducing me to the Wakefield Rotary and serving on their International Committee for me; Ashley Johnson for helping me bake 3 cakes for the event; and John Swallow, last but not least, the best friend/cousin a girl could ask for.

Thanks for Larry Thompson, of Montecito Rotary, who is now carrying the ECW torch for me to the District: Go Larry, and Good Luck! And to Carolyn and my awesome daughters, Kether and Sarah, for hanging in there with me, doing “just one more event” cheerfully! The last 3 months have been very busy while Empower Congo Women got non-profit status, a website, and an amazingly poignant DVD, directed and edited by Mark Manning.

I am learning there are many large-hearted folks out there, people who did not know me or anything about the women’s plight in DR Congo, but who support our cause nonetheless.

I am traveling to Bukavu again, this time to expand the Ushindi Center so that it can be both a training center and retail store. This will allow the women to become financially self-sufficient and the Center to become self-sustaining. I feel like this project has turned a corner, become more substantial with more potential to achieve its goals than ever before. So stay tuned to this blog—I am committed to bringing you all along with me on the journey, wherever it is headed.

With love and gratitude,

Friday, September 11, 2009

Become a Fan of Empower Congo Women!

Dear Friends,

If you have a Facebook account, you can become a fan of Empower Congo Women by putting our name in the Search box, and then clicking the Fan button on the left.

Or you can become a fan by clicking

I'd love to see you all become fans, which will help spread the word about the need for Peace in DRCongo.

Every little bit helps, and Congo needs your help more than ever now that the Congolese National Army has joined forces with the Rwandan Army in an attempt to rid the countryside of Hutu rebels, who settled in eastern Congo after committing the genocide in Rwanda 15 years ago. Although many rebels are said to have repatriated, civilians continue to suffer horrendously. Human Rights Watch estimates that 1.7 million Congolese have been displaced since January when the campaign began.  To read more, go to:
With love and gratitude,

Much progress and good news!

Hi Everyone,

So much has happened that I've neglected my blog and summer has flown by! I hope you all enjoyed the last couple of months-- juicy ripe tomatoes, time spent outdoors, trips out and about, and just plain ole down-time with friends and family. Santa Barbara was hot this summer, but the beach was great. No complaints on this end!

The Good News:

Earlier this year, I founded Empower Congo Women (ECW), a public charity dedicated to helping Congolese women heal, rebuild their lives, and prosper.  After a 6-month process and convincing Homeland Security I could be trusted, ECW achieved non-profit status on August 11, 2009. We are now a legal 501(c)3 charity, an incorporated not-for-profit business registered with State of CA and Internal Revenue Service.  This gives us credibility and allows your donations to be fully tax-deductible.

Another big step forward is the completion of the Empower Congo Women  website  Now you can get an overview of the projects we are doing in eastern Congo.You can also DONATE online through paypal . . . and you can still send a check to the address listed on the site.

The website was designed by Amber Wallace at Dowithcher Designs in Santa Barbara (a dowitcher is a sea bird-- not Amber's last name!) I think she did a great job! Take a look at the geometrical background design-- it is based on a pattern on a piece of Congolese fabric on display in the Metropliton Museum of Art in NYC. The fabric piece dates back to the mid-1800s.
Amber and Jill have also been helping me get my social media act together. I've been on Facebook for a while under Vicki Bentley. If you aren't already, make me a friend of yours today so we can stay in touch.

With love and gratitude,