Editor’s Note: Our guest blogger is Eric Daniel Metzgar, who directed the documentary film REPORTER, chronicling a trip to Congo by New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof.
I've decided to take a bike ride. A long one. Starting on my birthday on November 8, I'm going to ride from New York to Virginia. It should take about a week. I've been training for months, and I'm incredibly excited. Here’s why…
My trip to the Congo was a turning point in my life. While we were there making the film, we witnessed some god-awful suffering. We also saw plenty of soul-restoring joy and resilience. Indeed, that country bears the best and worst of humanity. A day doesn’t pass that I don’t think of the people we encountered, though it has been four years since our trip.
REPORTER premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2009, was broadcast on HBO in 2010, and was nominated for an Emmy Award in 2011. All of this has been quite exciting, and I'm grateful that the film has done (and hopefully will continue to do) its small part to raise awareness. But in the meantime, the crisis in Congo rages on, and the latest statistics are just unbearable. Brace yourself.
About 50 women are raped in the Congo every hour. That's over 1,100 a day. That's why Congo has been dubbed "the worst place in the world to be a woman." Congolese live at perpetual risk of violence, rape, theft, famine and disease. Much of the instability is due to the fight for Congo’s vast mineral resources – many of which end up in our high-tech gadgets. Currently, almost 2,000,000 people are internally displaced. 5,400,000 people have died in the last 10 years as a result of the ongoing warfare, making it the deadliest conflict since World War II.
These numbers are pretty much incomprehensible. Those of you who have seen REPORTER might remember the concept of psychic numbing, which describes how such statistics deaden our compassion, instead of stimulating it. But these statistics are growing, so what can we do?
For one, we can support organizations in Congo that are doing meaningful work to relieve suffering. One group that I particularly admire is Women for Women International. That’s why I’ve decided to create this fundraiser in order to support their vital work.
During our trip, we visited the group’s headquarters in Kigali, Rwanda. The red brick building was packed full of beautiful, smiling women, each a survivor of violence. Each was busy learning skills that would enable her to thrive in her communities. Each was receiving emotional counseling. Each was healing in a safe environment. Each was learning to live again.
As Nick has stressed again and again in his columns and fantastic book Half the Sky, investing in women has broad multiplier effects. Women’s well-being directly correlates to how a society fares overall. Sounds like a no-brainer, but as we all know, much of our world just doesn’t work this way. Real progress requires deliberate action towards this goal, and Women for Women is leading this charge.
Though the problems in Congo are vast and complex, broken lives can be mended. Our donations can make a difference – I’ve seen it with my own eyes. So I hope you can find it in your heart to donate – as much or as little as you like – it all helps. I’ve set up a page for my fundraising efforts on the Women for Women website. As of today, I’m well over half way to my fundraising goal of $5,000. Every penny you give will go directly to Women for Women International's Congo Project.
At the end of my trip, I will post my reflections on the film’s website: www.reporterfilm.com.
Eric Daniel Metzgar is a Brooklyn-based filmmaker.