Restoring the shattered women of Congo | 

By Evelyn Iritani, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and senior editor at the radio production house Bending Borders. Iritani recently returned from the Democratic Republic of Congo to report on an initiative, partly supported by Seattle organizations and humanitarians, that empowers those most disproportionately and unfairly afflicted by the cycle of violence – women.

Women are especially at risk in the violence and instability that frequently erupts in DR Congo.
Women are especially at risk in the violence and instability that frequently erupts in DR Congo.

Goma, DR Congo – The first thing Modestine Etoy does when the young mothers arrive at her door is listen.

It may take hours, or even days, before they are comfortable enough to share their secrets.  But eventually they spill out.

The women tell stories of rape, incest or some other horrible abuse, often committed by people they trusted, such as teachers or relatives. They talk of being chased from their homes and raped by men with AK-47s, who left them for dead before moving on to claim a new woman or piece of territory in the civil war that has long decimated the eastern regions of this impoverished Central African country.

Almost always, they end with some version of “Fini mama” – Mother, my life is over.

But Etoy knows otherwise.

Modestine Etoy
Modestine Etoy

The 31-year-old Congolese native is the program manager at the Humanitarian Organization for Lasting Development or HOLD, a non-profit organization in Goma that helps teenage mothers rebuild lives shattered by violence, an unwanted pregnancy or sometimes both, sadly intertwined.

Etoy starts by trying to convince their families, or the families of the fathers of their children, to accept the young women back into their homes.

This isn’t easy in the Congo, where illegitimacy is shameful and pregnant teenagers are often rejected by their families or sent away to have their babies in secret. Continue reading

A visit to iLEAP: Seattle’s quiet, boring work in support of revolution | 

Flickr, djbones

WTO Seattle riots

The “Battle in Seattle” street protests around the 1999 meeting here of the World Trade Organization left much of the rest of the world with the impression that Seattle is chock full of subversive people, would-be revolutionaries who want to change the world.

And it is, still, even though I bet half the people on the street these days don’t even know what WTO stands for.

Today’s Seattle subversives are much more low-key, superficially boring even — smiling at you in their wrinkled clothing, offering tea and cookies, mumbling quietly about equity and justice and gently nudging you toward whatever might be their most ambitious goal.

Take the iLEAP program, for example. Continue reading

Turning Seattle’s hodgepodge of do-gooders into a community | 

Flickr, papalars

Seattle has become a hub, or more accurately a hodgepodge, of international do-gooders.

To begin with, there’s that internationally oriented foundation based in Seattle run by a couple of mega-billionaires.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest philanthropy, has made the Emerald City (do we still call it that?) an epicenter for matters of global health, poverty reduction and such.

But there’s much more going on here than the Gates Foundation. And, well, nobody seems to really have a handle on everything going on. It’s a hodgepodge.

That’s where another internationally oriented foundation in Seattle comes in. Appropriately enough, it’s called the Seattle International Foundation.

“We live in this amazing community where so many people are trying to make a difference,” said Maurico Vivero, executive director at the Seattle International Foundation (aka SIF).

But most of these people, and their organizations, Vivero says, have tended to work in relative isolation on their causes. The goal of SIF, he says, is to encourage collaboration among the literally hundreds of local organizations working globally to fight poverty and improve the welfare of the world’s poorest. Continue reading