Huffpost Impact

Step By Step: Building A Movement In Congo

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LISA SHANNON

This is the first post in our month-long series featuring Greatest Women of the Day, in recognition of Women's History Month.

To nominate a Greatest Woman of the Day, email Impact@huffingtonpost.com.

A few years ago, Run for Congo Women founder Lisa Shannon didn't know where Democratic Republic of Congo was.

"I couldn't find it on a map of Africa and I certainly didn't know there was a war," she admitted.

But in 2005, an afternoon of "Oprah" opened her eyes to a conflict that continues to be the deadliest war since World War II. According to Shannon, the violence in Congo also constitutes the worst sexual violence perpetrated against women in the world.

After learning about the conflict in Congo and the work of Women for Women International, Lisa immediately sponsored two women through Women for Women International, an organization on the ground in Congo.

"That first step changed everything," Lisa said. "I felt like I had friend living through the conflict."

For her second step, Lisa decided to run 30 miles to raise money for women in Congo. Soon after, she founded Run for Congo Women, an organization that holds fundraising runs in the U.S. and around the world to benefit Women for Women International's operations.

Lisa raised almost $28,000 on her first run. To date, Run for Congo Women has raised over $1 million.

Today, Lisa remains frustrated by the lack of action from the international community. She frames the issues by recounting a conversation with a Congolese woman who had been gang-raped.

"She told me she was begging for her life and one man said: 'Even if we killed you it wouldn't matter, you're like an animal, you wouldn't be missed,'" Lisa said.

"I felt and still feel that the international community has sided with that guy in a lot of ways. By not taking action, we are sending the same message, that they're not quite human," she added.

This feeling was reiterated to Lisa by a reporter who said the press consciously ignored the ongoing violence in the region.

"He said to me: 'It's widely understood that Americans don't have room in their psyches for more than one international conflict and that was Iraq,'" she said. "And I just refused to accept that."

Lisa would like to see the international community, along with the U.S., develop a plan to address the conflict, instead of pouring $1 billion annually into the country without concrete demands for change on the part of the Congolese government.

"Fourteen years into the deadliest conflict in decades, we need to be able to say to their government: 'Our support of you is contingent on your engagement in ending this,'" she insisted.

For her part, Lisa is focused on building momentum behind her base of fundraising and media support.

"We've cultivated a lot of emotional bonds between women in the U.S. and in Congo. I want to leverage these to end the violence. I want Congo to be a movement, like Darfur."