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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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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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$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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A Safe House in the Congo

In the Congo, when a woman is raped, it often means much more than the loss of dignity and the immense fear and pain of the experience. She will also often lose an important connection to her community. The safe houses that we build and support in the Congo help to create a new community for the women who have survived horrific experiences of rape.

A safe house is much more than just a safe place to live. It is a place to gather and share stories and a place to learn new skills, a place where women are offered a chance to begin rebuilding their shattered lives.

The first house we built in Nyamilima works with a very successful microloan/revolving credit program. Some $7,000-8,000 are always in rotation among the women who live there. They are given money in the form of a loan and then taught various skills such as sewing, basket weaving and bread making. The women work together in small groups and earn money using their new skills so that they can repay the initial loan. 98% of the loans are paid back in time and in full. The women are then able to start new projects and continue to build their financial self-sufficiency. These stories of hope create ripple effects as the women will often use the money they earn to improve the lives of their families and their home village. We have been humbled to learn time and again, that when you help a woman, you don’t just help that one woman, because she will turn around and help her whole community…

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Into the Congo

girls in the congo

In early 2009, my sights turned to the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Stories of the civil war and atrocities against women had long been in my consciousness, yet information seemed harder and harder to come by.  At the same time, the George Clooneys and Angelina Jolies of the world had found Darfur, and were raising more attention and money than I could ever hope to.

I realized then that as a photojournalist, my niche, the area I could have most impact, was in areas that were dire, yet underrepresented by the mainstream media.  Places that need attention and help.

Thus I traveled to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to document the impact the ongoing civil war was having upon women and children.  Sadly, here the statistics were true and I found evidence of some of the most horrific human rights abuses upon the bodies of women.  If you do not know much about what is currently happening in the DRC, read this Huffington Post article.

CTA had its new focus, the women and children of the DRC, and a new partner, HEAL Africa.  HEAL Africa is a Congolese organization, and has been operating out of Goma, in the North Kivu Province of eastern Congo for over 30 years.  Because of their history, staff, knowledge of the region and the complicated nature of this conflict, HEAL Africa is able to operate in remote areas of the Congo too dangerous and in accessible for others.

Through HEAL Africa, CTA has been able to build two safe houses in remote, rural areas of Eastern Congo, serving hundreds of women.  The houses not only provide a place for women to go when they have been raped, but also, medical referrals to HEAL’s hospital in Goma, counseling, community support and small business training.

Most women who have been raped are abandoned by their husbands and left to care for their children alone, without any means of employment.  In the houses they learn skills (sewing, bread and donut-making, and basket-weaving) and receive loans to start a small business.  CTA has now financed three revolving credit funds providing loans to over 300 women, which, when they pay it back is loaned to another.  Over 98% of the women pay their loans back in full, on time.

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