I recently returned from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We arrived in the DRC via an amazing — albeit a little bumpy – drive through Rwanda, after flying into Bujumbura, Burundi. We went with Eve Ensler and other supporters of V-Day to join in the opening celebration for the City of the Joy, a place for women and girls who are victims of the war — from rape, mutilation, and other atrocities – to recover emotionally and physically.
V-Day and Global Green USA hosted a reading of Eve’s play, “OPC,” in June of 2009. Afterward, Eve and I took the stage with Pat — who moderated — and we got to swap roles for a moment, Eve talking about the environment, and me about violence against women. It sparked a deeper connection within me (as only Eve can help foster), about how we were destroying that which gives us life: Mother Earth, and our mothers. Or in simpler, more graphic terms, the raping of the Earth and of women. My commitment that night — as a man, an activist, and head of Global Green — was simple: to partner with V-Day, and help Eve green the City of Joy using the funds we raised that evening, and leveraging it 10 times to deliver solar power to the women and girls healing in the Congo.
Well, it took 18 months of knocking on doors to get solar panels donated, but I brought news of a 8kw solar photovoltaic system Global Green will help put on the roofs of the City of Joy. This is our small gift thanks to the generosity of donors and the Sun Power Foundation to provide panels, and staff to volunteer to install the system — to the women of the City of Joy so they have reliable, clean electricity. It will provide the City of Joy’s community center with lighting and cell phone charging without being dependent on dirty, expensive diesel generators or kerosene.
While in the Congo, I was humbled by the grace and fortitude of those individual Congolese women — and men — who have worked with Eve to build the City of Joy. I also began to better understand the connection of how we are enabling the destruction of the Earth in the Congo — in pursuit of minerals for our electronic goods, like our cell phones and this laptop computer I am typing on — that also fuels the destruction of the people, particularly women and girls. This is a story that most Americans are not aware of. Sadly, it is also not unique to just the Congo.
What can we do to help back in the U.S.? We would be well served to recognize that the resource intensive American lifestyle — we are 5% of the world’s population, but use 25% of the world’s energy and resources — leads us to see ourselves as consumers. As consumers, we can demand that companies ensure they are not buying conflict minerals that fuel the destruction of women and girls in the Congo.
But that’s not enough. We must shed our self perception as just consumers, and reclaim our role as citizens again, and make our corners of the world — our neighborhood, our community, our environment — a little better every day.
Just as the women of the City of Joy are, and so many other incredible people who helped make it a reality.