Editor’s Note: Our guest blogger Verna Krishnamurthy is a senior and student activist at University of Pittsburgh. She interned with Enough’s Raise Hope for Congo campaign last summer.
In my junior year at the University of Pittsburgh, I learned of the conflict raging in the Democratic Republic of Congo, one that has claimed well over 5 million lives in just 15 years. I knew that the war was unique and tragic in the prevalence of rape used as a tool of war. The trade in minerals by armed groups has perpetuated the conflict and disorder within the country. I had always felt that something had to be done about the Congo, but I didn’t know how I, a college student worlds away from Congo, could do anything to have an impact.
All of this changed last year when I organized a fundraiser in Pittsburgh for the Panzi Foundation USA, an organization that directly supports the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, eastern Congo. Panzi is one of the only facilities in this conflict-ridden region that is equipped to treat victims of war-related sexual violence. After becoming exposed to the ways that organizations like Panzi can have an impact, I knew I had to find a way to use the knowledge I have and the networks I’m a part of to make a difference in whatever way I could.
My desire to do something more led me to connect with other like-minded students who were undertaking tremendous efforts to bring peace to Congo through the Conflict-Free Campus Initiative, or CFCI. What started at Stanford with a few student members of the STAND chapter on campus is now an outstanding movement for students at over 60 campuses across the country.
By using their power as individual consumers, and as members of universities that hold large contracts with electronics companies, students can keep sustained pressure on electronics companies to take responsibility for the minerals in their supply chains. CFCI is building a movement to demonstrate to electronics companies that there is a constituency who wants conflict-free products.
As an intern at the Raise Hope for Congo campaign this past summer, I was able to connect with other students interested in taking action for Congo, and I was awed and inspired by the awareness that students have raised on campuses all over the country as part of the Conflict-Free Campus Initiative. Already, campuses including Stanford, the University of Pennsylvania, Ohio University Honors Tutorial College, Westminster College, and Pomona College have issued statements in support of the conflict-free movement, calling on electronics companies to comply with standards to clean up their supply chains.
At a recent summit for activists and academics working on resolving the conflict in Congo, the host of the conference, Clark University in Worcester, MA, announced its pledge to become conflict-free. I was fortunate to have attended the conference, and I felt empowered by the amazing stories I heard of young people raising their voices to send the message to electronics companies that it is no longer an option to continue business as usual and risk helping to perpetuate some of the worst human rights atrocities in history. I knew that I had to continue this work in my own capacity, and so I have been hard at work planning a conference with Global Solutions Pittsburgh for students from college campuses all over Pittsburgh to learn more about the steps they can take to help put an end to the conflict.
The success stories of these young people, and the interest and dedication of so many more that I met throughout the summer, and at the Clark University conference, is a testament to the power of our leverage as consumers in the conflict-free movement. I have always believed that if we can do something to better the lives of others, then we absolutely should. It is critical that we as students continue to raise awareness, raise our voices, and raise hope for the people of Congo. In this way, we will be remembered as the generation that did not watch from the sidelines, but took a stand and used the tools at our disposal—our knowledge as students, our organizing talents as activists, and our influence as consumers—to help end one of the most vicious conflicts of our time.
Verna Krishnamurthy is a senior at University of Pittsburgh, majoring in political science and Spanish.