What can possibly make someone put their great job, future marriage, and secure life on hold to help women they’ve never met thousands of miles away? For Lisa Shannon, watching an inspirational Oprah show on how women were being killed, starved, raped and tortured in Congo inspired her to start sponsoring Congolese women victims of one of the most brutal wars on the face of the earth. Later, Shannon created the organization ‘Run for Congo Women,’ the first national grassroots effort to raise awareness and funds for Congolese women. Starting with a solo 30 mile run on Portland, Oregon’s Wildwood Trail, Shannon managed to raise more than $28,000 for Zaineb Salbi’s organization Women for Women International which sponsors war-affected Congolese women.
Nobody knows exactly how many rapes are committed in Congo’s North and South Kivu provinces because many women stay silent for fear of being treated as untouchables never able to marry. However, it has been estimated that tens of thousands of women, possibly hundreds of thousands, have been victims in only a few years time. The horrific mass raping has been described as a “weapon of war” used to punish communities for their political loyalties or as a form of ethnic cleansing. While numerous assaults and attacks on women continue to occur, the silence is being broken as there has been more media coverage and awareness of the issues thanks to organizations such as ‘Run for Congo Women.’ After Shannon traveled alone to Eastern Congo’s South Kivu province for five and half weeks in January- February 2007, and again in May 2008, her organization has grown rapidly sponsoring over a thousand women. Shanon has become an ambassador for Women to Women International and continues to work full time for the cause at no salary.
In her first book ‘A Thousand Sisters,’ she shares her experiences and tells about the the world’s deadliest war through the eyes of women she befriended and sponsored. All of you in NYC, if you can, I encourage you to go hear Shannon speak this Wednesday April 14th at 7pm, at the Barnes & Noble located 2289 Broadway and 82nd Street. You might also choose to check out the site of Women for Women International and sponsor a Congolese woman. This is a tragedy that has for too long been ignored and is hardly discussed in the United States. One story inspired Shannon; I hope her story will inspire you as it did me.