Home for the Holidays – Exposing Hope’s Safehouse Project

Over the Thanksgiving Holiday, 285,000 people were displaced in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Sadly, several women in our safehouse program suffered greatly.

The rebel group M23, which has been found guilty of “summary executions, rapes, and forced recruitment,” took over the city of Goma and displaced thousands. As a result, children are orphaned or separated from their families.  Many are now homeless and vulnerable to disease, sexual violence, and forced military enlistment.

Words from Goma:

“We hid in our homes for three days with the sounds of gunfire and bombs. It was terrifying. The staff at the hospital and emergency room couldn’t reach their families or find food to eat. There was no running water or electricity, no open schools or stores. The fighting was very close to our houses in Ndosho and Buhimba and the women there have been terribly traumatized. For them, the greatest gift would be occupation.  Sewing, weaving baskets and gardening gives them income and hope. We also have urgent needs to help the women of Kibumba and Rutshuru who are displaced and in the camps.”

 

This Holiday Season, Exposing Hope has one thing on our wish list: to help families in the DRC find shelter, food and safety.

In the month of December, our goal is to raise $8,000 for our Safehouse Project. These safehouses will provide hundreds of women with counseling, medical referrals and essential materials to help them rebuild their lives.

But we can’t do it alone; we need your help. Please go to our Crowdrise campaign to make a donation today!

By registering and donating you are directly supporting Congolese women and children. An added bonus of donating now is a prize being offered by Firefox, who is donating $100,000 to charities that raise the most money before Jan 10, 1st place wins $50,000 (second place $30k, third place $20k).  The Firefox Challenge ends at 11:59:59 PM Eastern on January 10, 2013.

Thank you and very Happy Holidays to you and your family!

Alissa Everett

Executive Director
Exposing Hope

 

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Behind the Images – Debut

 

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Giving Thanks

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Welcome to Exposing Hope’s new e-newsletter! In this month of Thanksgiving, we are sending our deepest gratitude to all of our supporters, volunteers, friends and family who have made Exposing Hope possible.In this year alone, we have served over 2,000 survivors of sexual violence in Eastern Congo in the past two years. Your donations have purchased land and constructed safe houses in the villages of Alimbongo, Nyamilima and Pinga; trained over 1,000 women in literacy, sewing, bread-making, basket-weaving, animal husbandry, and money management and savings; and funded three rotating credit funds of $8,000 empowering the women with credit needed to start their own small businesses. We have also recently begun teaching the women about repayment with interest, our goal being self-sufficient houses (the interest payment paying the salaries of the guardian and counselors) within two years.

We’d love for you to consider supporting our programs in the Congo and this month we’re asking that each of you share our newsletter with five of your friends. Please help us spread the word! If you’d like to contribute to our work, you can do so here. Happy Thanksgiving!

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Be There: The Congo

Thanks to all who attended Exposing Hope’s debut photography exhibition in San Francisco!  The event was a great success with over 100 people donating almost $10,000 for our safe house in the remote and vulnerable area of Pinga. The funds will be used for literacy and sewing classes for survivors of violence in the area. Thank you!

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Opportunity Collaboration In September, our founder, Alissa Everett, was honored as a Cordes Fellow at the Opportunity Collaboration where she spent four inspiring days at a problem-solving, strategic retreat for nonprofit leaders, for-profit social entrepreneurs, grant-makers and social investors.

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“Behind the Images”

We’ve been hearing from many of you that you’d like to hear the story behind our images and we’re responding. This is the first edition of a new monthly audio series featuring the work of our founder Alissa Everett.  See below for her stories from the field and behind the photos.

 

 

 

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Exposing Hope in the Congo

I just returned from an eye-opening trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo. I visited Exposing Hope’s four safe houses and met with the women and our partner HEAL Africa; and with the increase in violence, also reported on the situation of displaced Congolese in Rwanda and in and around Goma. The impact of this violence has been devastating to the region, and the women and children suffer most.

Some of the women I met with were safe at the houses, others had been displaced, but all shared stories of what impact Exposing Hope’s houses have made in their lives, the lives of their children and their community. Having a place to go to meet other women with the same challenges, learning to overcome obstacles and take away practical skills gives them hope and makes me realize how important our efforts are in each women’s lives.

I’m sure you’ve heard of the continuing violence in the DRC, and the sad, systematic use of rape as a strategy of war. With the help of the efforts of the Exposing Hope’s funding, over 200 women have significantly changed the course of their life and the lives of their children.

PLEASE JOIN US IN SAN FRANCISCO
Tuesday October 23rd
BE THERE: THE CONGO
Buy tickets online

I am inviting you to make a difference for the women and girls of the Congo who have been victimized, ostracized by their communities and are desperate for a helping hand. Please join me for an exhibition of my images from the DRC in San Francisco and in making a financial contribution to help these women. Even a small donation will make a difference. Attending this event, you will learn how even a small donation that goes directly in the hands of the local communities can make a life changing difference. Through photos and awareness, you will learn more about the issues and how you can help.

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Updates from the North…

I have just spent the past four days traveling to the north to finally visit our house in Alimbongo and wish you could have all been with me. When I arrived at the house, women and staff came out with a drum and began singing and dancing.  They then presented me a letter of gratitude for the house, along with some needs, then the children’s  club sang and gave me flowers from their garden. Was amazing to be there!

Just a few words from the women:

“I never knew how to read or write, but thanks to Wamama Simameni, I now know how to read and write.”

“You have written Wamama Simameni on the door, and I knew this was a place where we would have to get up off the ground and stand tall!”

And a photograph of all of the women who escorted me down the hill, following me in procession, singing, “we will carry you on your way. we will accompany you.”

Thanks to all of you for supporting me and the women of the Congo today.

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The rain continues to pour down…

The rain continues to pour down.  Amid claps of thunder and bright flashes of lightening, the rains pours down as no where else in the world, and all I can think of are the tens of thousands of internally displaced here in the congo.  Even if they have shelter, it’s likely to leak in this onslaught. Women, children and men with nothing but the clothes on their backs, braving the elements.

The fighting grew closer to Goma today. I was able to visit the safe house in Kibumba, just 20km north of Goma city center. Yet when we called to let the supervisor know, she said the M23 had come to the town.  They were fighting with the FARDC and the whole village was fleeing. We could hear gunfire in the background.  UN gunships began circling overhead, heading to the front lines.

The trip has been intense and fruitful so far.  Immediately upon arrival in Goma, I was able to jump in a HEAL Africa vehicle heading north from Goma to Kiwanja and Rutshuru, neighboring towns and key positions for the rebels controlling transit and supplies to Goma and the north. Rebel activity had decreased in the area so I took the chance and was able to visit the houses of Kiwanja, Kisharo and Nyamilima. Each of the houses was alive with activity, women threshing recently harvested soy beans and working on sewing, embroidery and basket-weaving projects. Rape cases have grown with military activity, and the staff are no longer paid (two at each house receive $100/month as a token), but continue to work.

Travel upon the road north from Goma is restricted to daylight hours between 8am-3pm so we spent two nights in Kiwanja. We left early Sunday morning for Goma, a driver, myself and two sick women we were bringing to the hospital. Despite our caution, about half way to Goma, we were ambushed by armed rebels. We were forced from the car, beaten with AK47s and thoroughly searched.  They stole most of my possessions which luckily were few, my phones, a camera and some cash – I had left
everything else in Goma just in case…. I watched as they unloaded an entire mini-bus of 20 people, forcing them to sit on the ground, kicking and butting them with the AKs. Luckily, no one was badly hurt, we were all released and allowed to continue our route.  Welcome to life in the Congo.

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The war in Congo never ends..

Its just after 6pm here and we’re on our way back from the refugee camp. So close to the equator, the Great Lakes Region year round has approx 12hrs of light and its already almost dark.

The camp was sobering – as refugee camps tend to be. Over 10,000 refugees from the latest fighting and approx 9,000 waiting to be transferred from the transit center on the border. Most fled as the fighting neared or had just entered their villages. The Congolese are sadly accustomed to war, and when they hear bullets they run. In the chaos, however, families are divided and women grab the children at home, having to leave husbands, other children, belongings, and animals behind. They literally have with nothing but the clothes on their backs and have no idea when they will go home or see their families again.

In the camps, they receive food (corn, beans, salt and oil) from WFP, a tent, cooking pot, spoon, blanket, soap and plastic bucket from the UNHCR, some firewood and very basic medical services. The kids play with plastic bags bunched together to form a ball or a car fashioned from empty plastic bottles.

While there, I watched new busloads arrive 260 in total, 78 families. Other refugees lined up, along each side of the road, everyone searching for missing family members or friends. Some embraced and greeted, other new arrivals continued walking searching for familiar faces.

And yet they smile. They laugh. They joke and greet you with openess and curiosity, they start small businesses (selling vegetables, telephone SIM cards, maize beer), help manage the camp, construct offices for the NGOs, etc. Their undying spirit and determination is humbling and inspiring. Facing war time and time again, losing all and rebuilding over and over, it is truly awesome. I met a man of 70 years old with his wife, “The war in Congo never ends..” He’s been living with this since 1959.

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Congo Emergency Appeal

Recent fighting and budget cuts in Goma, a city in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, have left many rape victims without access to life-saving medical care. Please join our emergency fundraising campaign by making a gift of $50 or more.

Help us give as much aid as we can to these women by asking everyone in your community to show their support. Our goal is to raise $7,500 to provide invaluable post-exposure medical care to recent victims of sexual violence in Goma.

Please make a special gift at this crucial time

 

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When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers…

My flight to Kigali was booked for May 7th.  My plan, to travel to Goma, and then into the interior of the North Kivu Province with our partners at HEAL Africa.  I was going to visit CTA sponsored safe houses in Nyamilima, Kisharo and Alimbongo, spend time with the women, see how the programming is progressing, photograph, take stories, and inquire into the current funding needs.  The plan was to then travel to even more remote areas, to shells of houses where funding had been abandoned to reach women who are in desperate need of assistance.

And then I received an email from Goma.  After over a year of relative calm, there has been new fighting in the region.  All mobility out of Goma halted.  And why?  I’ll try to make it brief…

Bosco Ntaganda is on the lam.  A former rebel leader-turned-army general, “the Terminator” is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of recruiting child soldiers and the international community has pressured President Kabila into going after him.

For the past few years Bosco has been living freely in Goma despite the court’s arrest warrant.  No one dared go after him as he was a key piece of the Rwandan-backed, Tutsi armed group, the CNDP, which in 2008 threatened to capture Goma, the strategic capital of eastern DRC.  To save the Kivus, Kabila struck a deal with Rwanda – arrest current leader Laurent Nkunda and neutralise the CNDP by integrating its units into the Congolese army.  In return, Rwandan troops could continue their pursuit of the FDLR (the militia responsible for the 1994 genocide) – all under the command of, you’ve got it, Bosco.

Fast forward and the tables turn against Bosco.  But, he is prepared, he has amassed considerable wealth from illegal mining and influence while commanding several thousand CNDP troops who were never fully integrated into the Congolese military.  He quickly disappeared into the bush with hundreds of loyal soldiers, and is creating havoc once more.

Now, Bosco and his troops are storming the countryside, capturing significant territory, and clashing with the Congolese military.  Sadly, this means that the average Congolese civilian is once again in the path of two mighty forces going to battle.  Reports are flooding out of civilian rape, murder, and tens of thousands of people fleeing to overcrowded camps or neighboring countries.  And the international community is warning of yet another humanitarian crisis

There is an old African saying, “When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.”  The Congolese are all too well versed at these battles and are bracing themselves for what is to come.  In the meantime, we can only step up our support.  CTA will be sending over much needed dollars to support the safe houses which provide shelter and post-exposure meds to women who have been raped.  And I will be traveling to Goma in the coming weeks to bring updates from the field.

Please consider making a donation at this crucial time.  Every dollar helps and I will see personally to your efforts going directly to ease the suffering of the women and children who have no one else to help them.

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$11k Raised!

Thanks to all who supported CTA’s “Send your love to the Congo” event in San Francisco. It was a special evening with beautiful images and over 80 old and new friends of CTA. CTA raised over $11,000 for our safe house program in eastern Congo. The money will be spent installing new sewing machines and a rotating credit fund at our newest house in Alimbongo. Stay tuned for news from the field!

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