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Matt Petersen

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Arriving in the Congo to Celebrate the #CityofJoy

Posted: 02/04/11 12:39 PM ET

BUKAVU, Democratic Republic of Congo, February 3 -- I just arrived in the Democratic Republic of the Congo via an amazing -- albeit a little bumpy -- drive through Rwanda, after arriving in Bujumbura, Burundi yesterday. I am here 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.

The road to my first visit to the Congo started at another celebration, a renewal of nuptials of two people deeply in love, and great activists to boot: Pat Mitchell and Scott Seydel (I am fortunate to not only have Pat and Scott be dear friends and mentors, they are incredible members of Global Green USA's board).

It was on the dance floor that I think I first really connected with Eve, Pat had wanted us to meet for sometime to talk about New Orleans and the work each of us were doing there: me, with my vision of the green rebuilding of New Orleans, and Eve taking back the Superdome to hold V-Day's incredible 10th anniversary in the Crescent City.

Before the event and after, Eve and I plotted on how we might build a women's resource center across from Global Green's Holy Cross Project in the Lower 9th Ward. When resources did not materialize to match our vision, I was moved to ask Eve how I could help with the Congo after hearing moving and gut wrenching recitations of testimony of the women and girls whose lives had been destroyed by the war in the DRC. Eve's courage touched me, as did those she rallied alongside her.

V-Day and Global Green 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 tomorrow when we visit I will be bringing news of a 8kw -- perhaps larger -- solar photovoltaic system. This is our small gift; thanks to the generosity of the Sun Power Foundation to provide panels, and staff to volunteer to install the system -- to the women of the City of Joy. When this system -- we are still raising the funds for the balance of the system, and the shipping costs -- is installed later in 2011, 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 am certain I will be 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 intend to listen, and better understand how we can make 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 lap top 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 US? 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 neighborhoods, 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. (NOTE: Follow the news of the celebration on twitter with #cityofjoy, and @vdayorg)

 

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