Activists from across the country descended upon the nation’s capitol this week to discuss and bring awareness to the raging conflicts in eastern Congo and Sudan. Jewish World Watch, or JWW, organized and hosted the two-day event “Hear Her Voice” that featured an advocacy training and meetings with legislators and foreign policy experts. It brought together Jewish, Congolese, and Sudanese activists and other allies in the fight against genocide to collectively bring a voice to the women affected by violence in eastern Congo and Sudan.
On the evening of February 29, activists gathered for the “Hear Her Voice” reception on Capitol Hill, featuring House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Congressman Pelosi shared moving experiences about her time spent in Sudan, and told stories of traveling to internally displaced persons camps and seeing families surviving in make-shift shelters. Children—she noted— had witnessed so much brutality as their mothers and sisters were sexually assaulted that they had lost the “twinkle in their eyes” by age five. After hearing about these atrocities, Congressman Pelosi met with Sudanese officials to demand that they take action against the violence taking place—instead of responding to the atrocities the officials simply denied their existence. Congressman Pelosi confided that she had never been so dismayed than by this inaction, and implored the audience to continue to “Hear Her Voice” and speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves
Following her remarks, the audience had the unique opportunity to meet Amani Matabaro, one of the Enough Project’s Congolese field researchers who is currently visiting the U.S. to attend a series of events and bring a local perspective to the conflict in eastern Congo. Amani shared uplifting stories about his childhood in Congo filled with carefree soccer games, until the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Amani lost both his parents as a result of the conflict in the ensuing years. He emotionally described the tragedy and explained how it shaped the rest of his life. Now, many years later, Amani has a family of his own and works to bring peace to his native South Kivu. He founded Action Kivu, an organization that works with conflict survivors, especially women and children, to teach them skills and help them provide for themselves and their families. He also built a peace market to give these survivors a closer and safer venue to sell their goods, showing the broad smile of one Congolese woman in a video as proof of progress.
To liven up the crowd, Omekongo Dibinga, a second generation Congolese immigrant, performed his spoken word poetryinspired by both the atrocities being committed against women and children in the Congo, and the hope of what could be done for the country’s future. At the end of his performance, every activist chanted in unity, “Knowledge is power, ignorance is bliss, I will do all I can to end this crisis.”
The final speaker of the night was Representative Ed Royce (R-CA) who has long been a champion for conflict resolution. Representative Royce received a thunderous applause when he reported progress on a bill he recently introduced into the House with the cooperation of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that aims to expand the state department’s Rewards for Justice Program to bolster initiatives to arrest and convict individuals wanted by the International Criminal Court, including Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, and notorious Congolese rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda.
Photo: “Hear Her Voice” Capitol Hill Reception on February 29, 2012. JWW Co-Founder and President Janice Kamenir-Reznik, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Enough Field Researcher Amani Motabaro, JWW Board of Directors Member Vaughan Meyer, and JWW Executive Director Fred Kramer. (Tracy Fehr/Enough Project)