As nonprofit campaigners who work on some of the toughest issues facing our world, we sometimes forget how powerful individual activists can be. I was reminded on July 22, at the 2011 Bridge to Integrated Marketing and Fundraising Conference, when I had the privilege of hearing Lisa Shannon, author of A Thousand Sisters: My Journey into the Worst Place on Earth to Be a Woman, speak. She talked about the horrific conflict that has ravaged the lives of Congolese women for over a decade – and how we as individuals can stop the violence.
Walking into the luncheon, I didn’t expect tears with my meal. I had not heard of Lisa or her book; but after travelling through a first-person account of her involvement in the fight to end Africa’s World War, I was extremely moved.
Lisa was mobilized when she first learned of the millions in Congo that had died from a war that was so rarely mentioned in the U.S. press. Rather than waiting to take action, she immediately decided to sponsor a Congolese woman through Women for Women International, a non-profit that provides women in conflict areas the tools they need to gain stability. In addition, she set up a solo 30-mile run, which raised enough money to sponsor 80 women. Still, this did not satiate the need to treat the disease of warfare. Instead, her early involvement prompted her to organize more runs, beginning the grassroots movement Run for Congo Women.
But raising funds is different than creating awareness. People hadn’t heard of her cause. Rather than wait for the war to become mainstream news, Lisa traveled to Congo to get the scoop herself. She interviewed women about their lives and experiences, wrote a book on these too often heartbreaking accounts, and created another grassroots organization, A Thousand Sisters.
1. To raise money to help those who are suffering.
2. To raise awareness of the war that has killed 5.4 million people to date.
3. To inspire people to take action and end the violence.
She spoke of villages where 90% of the women had been raped. She spoke of the frequency of gang rape and torture. And, although she spoke of the horrors of mutilation and forced cannibalism, I was left with more than a wretched mix of grief and outrage – I was also left with both hope and a sense of responsibility. Because even through all of the suffering that they had endured, the women that Lisa interviewed still felt joy, love, and had hope that one day this brutality would end. If these women can be so buoyant even in a sea of sorrow, I can do more than have faith – I can take action.
Bethany is currently a Marketing and Management student at the University of South Carolina who has been interning with Care2’s Business Development team in Washington, DC.