On The Ground’s Project Congo concentrates on gender equality and women’s empowerment initiatives in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In the DRC, the inferiority of women has always been embedded in the social system, and starvation, lack of healthcare, and rape are just a few issues that Congolese women face daily. Since 1998, the beginning of the Second Congo War (also known as the Great War of Africa), the International Rescue Committee (IRC) estimated that at least 5.4 million Congolese have died, making this the deadliest war since World War II. Due to the economic crisis and extreme poverty, families are forced into deadly situations to buy and trade essential items.
WHY ARE YOU RUNNING?
Last year I participated in my first organized run- 40 miles for the Winter Solstice Run. Since then, I fundraised for and participated in Run Across Congo, a 7-day 7-marathon run across the eastern DRC for women’s empowerment projects. While there, I witnessed the impact that these initiatives have on the people of Congo.
Before I decided to participate in Run Across Congo, I heard a story about a woman named Zawadi, her husband, and her four boys who live in a community on the shores of Lake Kivu. Last year, when the family needed to purchase sheet metal for the roof of their home, Zawadi’s husband attempted to cross Lake Kivu to Rwanda. Like many others, he drowned, leaving Zawadi a widow. Last year, Zawadi became a member of the Muungano coffee cooperative and funds from the Solstice Run are going to help her and other women in her community. Project Congo is utilizing the GALS system (Gender Action Learning Systems) and a series of workshops through which the women learn leadership, business, and basic accounting skills. Furthermore, the women have the opportunity to participate in micro-loan projects to help generate their own funds to better support their families and lift themselves out of poverty.
While I was in Congo in May, I had the opportunity to speak directly with women and men who are benefitting from the GALS system. IT IS WORKING. The interactions between men and women participating in the GALS system were shockingly different than in other areas. Whenever possible, the 9 female runners asked to be addressed by a woman. In most communities, a man would stand behind the speaker and whisper in her ear, with the other men talking loudly and giving her little to no respect. In Muungano, with the help of the GALS project, the men would invite their wives to speak or step aside to stand next to them while sharing their stories. One man, who had been spending his family’s money on beer and prostitutes, let his wife tell his embarassing story without interruption or input. Before entering the GALS program, the woman had been hiding money in order to feed her children and take care of their needs. Once she began the program (which her husband had refused to participate in), she decided to be honest with him about the money she was hiding. Afterwards, he simply said, “What my wife says is true” and explained that, once he saw the benefit of the program, he attended the workshops and they began working together as a team to reach their goal of buying a boat for fishing.
Gender equality is an extremely important issue to me. As a female, I have experienced gender-based prejudice and discrimination first hand, yet I am lucky to live in a place where I have rights and my criticism is welcomed. Whenever I hear stories and statistics about the DRC, I think of my three-year-old daughter. It’s hard to imagine a life where I don’t know how I am going to feed her, or if she’ll live to the age of five. It’s hard to hear that approximately 40% of the women in the DRC have experienced rape, and about 48 are happening every hour.
Please donate to Project Congo. There are women in the DRC who will be empowered so that they may learn trades and skills, lift themselves out of poverty, and change the lives of people in their communities.
ABOUT ON THE GROUND
On The Ground’s purpose is to support sustainable community development in farming regions across the world.
The 2015 Winter Solstice Run is an ultra-run of 40 miles on December 19th, raising awareness and funds to support On The Ground’s Project Congo.