300 schoolgirls. 300 schoolgirls. 300 schoolgirls…stolen from their classrooms, kidnapped by men. 300 schoolgirls kidnapped by men who have publicly announced their intention to sell them as slaves. To sell them into slavery. To sell them to men who would rape them and terrorize them into drudgery. No more school.
This morning I kissed my daughters as they went off to school. I didn’t remember the 300 schoolgirls waiting to be sold. I didn’t remember them until I read a headline on a left-wing blog and I think I know why. And it’s the ugliest of reasons. It’s a reason I only impute to others in the most severe situations. It’s the reason that people were stolen from Africa and sold into slavery for centuries. It’s the reason that stands behind slavery, murder, torture, humiliation, lynching. It’s the reason that 6 million members of my own community were exterminated. Racism.
Virunga National Park is the jewel of the African rainforest. It is perhaps the most biologically and geographically diverse area on the planet. Its borders contain a vast array of species and lakes, as well as tropical forest, savannahs, and volcanoes. A UNESCO World Heritage Center, this park has come to represent the African forest that supports the planet.
And it’s in trouble.
Aside from the continuing African World War that is being fought inside its borders, a corrupt charcoal trade that is toppling its trees, and rampant poaching that’s endangered its unique species, Virunga National Park has another rival: SOCO International. This park — that is intended to be some of the most protected land on the planet — sits on top of a store of oil. And yes, SOCO set its sites on drilling there. They are exploring as we speak.
Some of you here know me and are familiar with my interest in development and gender equality in Democratic Republic of the Congo. You have extended kind comments and interest in diaries I’ve written about HEAL Africa in the past, and expressed interest in new projects I stumble across. Well, today I want to tell you about something new and wonderful. I also have an action item for you at the end.
First, I want you to meet Judy Anderson. Here, she is being interviewed at Clinton Global Initiative while she was director at the US based HEAL Africa, which she and her husband Dick founded:
Judy is a talented facilitator. She has been working with national leaders, vulnerable people, and communities to find real solutions so people in Congo can build a better life. She grew up in Congo, and has been focused on helping groups address health, leadership, gender equality, economic growth, and conflict resolution for most of her adult life. Her focus and commitment recently lead her and Dick to found a new non-profit organization called ACT for Congo.
ACT’s website is under construction and the tax status is still pending, but Judy is hard at work supporting real change. I think this organization is a genuine treasure. Following lessons learned by Robert Chambers (see Rural Development: Putting the Last First or Whose Reality Counts: Putting the First Last) and Paulo Freire, her goal is to find a way to support effective development projects in Congo that are run by proven Congolese community leaders and grassroots organizers. She partners with credible organizations who are doing effective work and demonstrating measurable, positive change in DRC communities.
International relief organizations have their role in helping countries ravaged by famine, upheaval, and war, but they execute temporary projects with finite goals. External relief does not often create any lasting positive change. Lasting change in Congo has to come from the people of Congo.
I recently had the pleasure of listening to a fascinating presentation in my Introduction to International Relations class. The professor showed the class pictures what one family in a variety of different countries ate during the duration of a week. The pictures came from the book Hungry Planet, by Peter Menzel. Time Magazine published a series of excerpts (part one and part two) of these pictures.
It was quite interesting to see the typical weekly meal of one family in several countries, ranging from Japan to Germany. The American photo, unfortunately, was the picture-perfect stereotype of over-consuming pre-prepared food (rather than real food).
There was something else that caught my eye, however, as the presentation went on.
I recently had a conversation with a college student hailing from the great country Spain. After talking about my summer activities, I asked him about the internships and jobs he had available in Spain.
He said that there was nothing. No jobs, no internships for anybody his age in Spain. No work at all. It was a crisis that had become normality. A global crisis.