A Thousand Sisters

039A Thousand Sisters by Lisa Shannon

In the heart of remote forests in the Congo, those responsible for the Rwandan atrocities have taken shelter. In 1994 they fled Rwanda and hid in refugee camps. Known in the Congo as “those who kill together,” they continue to work every kind of violence on the men and women of the Congo. As author Lisa Shannon notes, “the Congo is the worst place on earth to be a woman.” In the ongoing African battles raging in the lands of the Congo, over five million people have died.

Lisa Shannon learned about the horrific conflict in the Congo from Oprah Winfrey. Oprah covered a story on the nonprofit organization Women For Women International, a group that connects sponsors with Congolese women in need of aid. Lisa decided to take a stand. The path she chose was to run thirty miles to raise funds for Congolese women. With that one determined act, the Run For Congo Women took form. Her first race raised almost thirty thousand dollars.

It wasn’t nearly enough for Lisa. She headed to the Congo.

In villages and tribal compounds, Swahili voices surrounded Lisa, conveying stories of broken lives. Boys as young as nine told her about life as a child soldier, impressed into Hutu and Tutsi militias. They had to join the militias or die. They slept in the mountains without blankets and with nothing to eat, attacking defenseless girls and women under the orders of the chief. Those who failed to carry out the ruthless orders were shot immediately.

Congo has a wealth of diamonds and gold, and large amounts of tantalum, a metal widely used in electronic devices. Congolese mines are heavily controlled by the militias, who employ locals to mine and carry ore through the forest to cargo planes bearing the wealth away from the Congo. Profits may reach as high as US $80 million a year. Such high stakes fuel inhuman violence and corruption.

In Congolese villages, Lisa met with the Congolese “sisters” sponsored by Women for Women. These women had watched their houses burn to the ground, experienced mass killings, and still held on to the little hands of sons and daughters conceived in violence. As she hears the stories, Lisa recognizes the beauty in each soul. In her presence, the Congolese glimpse the American “sisters” they will never meet in person. Through their sisters’ efforts, the women of the Congo are rising beyond the fury and the hatred. They are receiving medical care. They are buying chickens. Their children remain alive. Furaha sana. So much joy.

At the time Lisa completed A Thousand Sisters, she has been involved in sponsoring one thousand Congolese women, who are raising more than five thousand children.

To find out more, visit Lisa’s website: lisajshannon.com.

–Kate Calina

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