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Congo Video Contest Winner Aims to ‘Restore Life’ Though Education, Advocacy

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Congo Video Contest Winner Aims to ‘Restore Life’ Though Education, Advocacy

Posted by Eileen White Read on September 24, 2009

Congo Video Contest Winner Aims to 'Restore Life' Though Education, Advocacy

New media aficionado Matt Smith, a Bend, Oregon, graduate student, knew he had to work fast when he heard about the Enough-YouTube Come Clean 4 Congo video contest a few days before the submission deadline.

Driving home from volunteer work, Smith wrote a script and cast a video in his head. In the next days, he whipped together a team: a former intern who’s a student and a rap artist in Chicago to perform, a video editor, musician, and photographer – all volunteers – and got the video submitted to the Enough Project in Washington, D.C., on time.

The result, Life Should Be Free, is a compelling rap monologue that won over thousands of viewers around the world and beat out stiff competition from other video artists. Speaking into the camera, rapper Micah Bournes, 21, vividly articulates the connection between the armed rebel-controlled trade in conflict minerals mined in Congo and the widespread sexual violence against women perpetrated by the rebels – and the connection those issues have to cell phones and other small electronics that are powered by Congolese minerals. An excerpt:

"It’s right here, right now, today
Hiding inside the price we pay
For the brand new phone that says we don’t know or we don’t care
That death and despair and war are what provide the means
To have our own well-connected lives."

Next month, Smith will fly to the Hollywood Film Festival in Los Angeles as Enough’s guest, where his video will be screened at an October 24 symposium to address the issue of violence against women in Congo. He’ll receive an award from actress Sonya Walger from the ABC’s series “Lost.” Smith’s video is being featured on Enough’s website and YouTube page, where it has been seen by more than 100,000 viewers.

The 27-year-old intercultural studies major saw the strife in Congo’s mineral-rich eastern region first-hand as a humanitarian volunteer earlier this year. "Three months before we got there, the whole region was evacuated and houses were ransacked, looted and emptied, crops destroyed, livestock stolen," he says. "There was a distribution of food and fuel, and basically entire towns, entire villages, were lined up. We talked to people and heard a lot of stories about rape and gender violence."

Working in Congo and on a previous project with homeless children in Ethiopia, Smith says, made him certain about his career path: "It was me realizing that what I want to do, with everything I’ve been given, I want to give back – to help restore peace, to help restore justice, to restore life."

While in graduate school, Smith works as a youth counselor at a church in Bend and is volunteering with World Relief Next, a project focused on the Great Lakes region of Africa. Affiliated with the relief and development organization World Relief, Smith’s group works on projects to engage younger audiences through online organizing, videos, and blogging, and fundraisers like foot races, film screenings, and a benefit CD.

The project’s motto, love-learn-engage, Smith says, is what he lives by too. "Recognizing that there’s a bigger story out there in the world is really the first step.People knowing about what’s going on in the Congo is next,” he says. “Then we engage with the right tools and the right information."

 Smith’s winning video, Life Should Be Free: