Sometimes “doing a little good” looks very normal and everyday, as it should. Buying fair trade coffee. Choosing to buy used rather than new. Taking 30 seconds to sign a petition about an issue that is important to me. Calling my senator. Donating to a worthy cause.
Sometimes “doing a little good” will take you far outside your comfort zone. Like 20,000 feet above your comfort zone in my case.
Next year, I am joining a ragtag group of gritty and passionate women (different ages, races and religious affiliations) committed to raising awareness and funds for our sisters living in some of the most violent conflict zones. On March 8, 2016, International Women’s Day, we plan to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro, the “Mountain of Light” in Tanzania, Africa. We want to raise a banner of peace, literally and figuratively, on the summit of the largest free-standing mountain in the world.
WHY IS THE WORLD LARGELY SILENT?
Violence against women in war zones, especially mass instances of rape, is often perpetrated as an actual act of war. According to the UNHCR in 2013,
Statistics gathered by UNHCR in North Kivu point to an alarming rise this year in acts of violence against women and girls in the province, particularly rape. “Our protection monitoring teams have registered 705 cases of sexual violence in the region since January, including 619 cases of rape,” said a UNHCR spokesperson. “During the same period in 2012, our staff had registered 108 cases. The survivors of SGBV [sexual and gender-based violence] included 288 minors and 43 men.” Most cases of sexual violence are committed by armed men. Out of the 705 cases of sexual violence reported to UNHCR staff since the beginning of the year, 434 were perpetrated by armed elements.
The devastation is hard to comprehend, but violence against women and children in war torn areas creates a unique deluge of issues and problems that desperately need the world’s attention.
Since May 2015 alone:
• Over 100,000 people have been displaced by renewed violence
• Relief efforts across Unity State have been halted by warfare
• Millions critically need food – and many farmers are still unable to plant or harvest
Since 1996: DRC has been engaged in a cycle of conflict and violence which has cost more than 5 million lives. Rape is used as a weapon of war. Every sixty seconds, a woman or girl is sexually assaulted. According to a report by the UNHCR in 2013, “A total of 967,000 people are displaced throughout North Kivu as a result of years of conflict.”
World Relief is working with local churches to provide urgent supplies in Jordan, Turkey, Syria, and Iraq meeting practical needs at this critical time, supplying temporary shelters, hygiene items, trauma therapy for women and children, and more. They are responding to a growing threat of human trafficking by educating and empowering families to recognize the methods and motives of human traffickers. Chaos, violence and displacement is a prime breeding ground for traffickers.
One Million Thumbprints (1MT) began with a single thumbprint. Esperance, a widow in the Congo shared her heartbreaking story of assault, rape, and survival with 1MT founder, Belinda Bauman. When asked for her signature to have permission to share her story with others, Esperance stamped her thumbprint and asked her pastor to write the words “tell the world.” She could not read or write, but her thumbprint represented all she was and all she had to share and say. She was and is not voiceless. She just needs and wants the world to hear her. I think it is safe to say she represents the 17 million women who live in active conflict zones and experience horrific violence in war.
(photo credit: Christine Anderson)
We think there are at least a million people in the world that could possibly have ears to hear her plea and the ability to lend their own thumbprint, their voice, even their money, to the issue of violence against women in war.
1MT partners with organizations who have been and are still doing grassroots peace work in three of the most dangerous places to be a woman today: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria/Iraq and South Sudan. Our first implementing partner, World Relief, has been working tirelessly in these areas for years now. Their programs vary from place to place and even community to community, but they generally revolve around three concepts:
SURVIVAL – Helping women in their communities simply survive via disaster and emergency relief in the wake of violence. This is usually in the form of food, clothing, shelter and sexual assault care (rape kits).
STABILITY and SECURITY – Helping stabilize communities in the wake of violence and war. This varies country to country but can look like establishing village peace committees, carrying out ongoing trauma counseling, human trafficking prevention and education etc. We believe it is imperative that women are empowered and equipped to be a voice and presence in conflict resolution and peace building initiatives.
SUSTAINABILITY – Creating sustainable economic and educational programs like micro-finance, savings programs, job creation, education and the like are the key to sustainable peace and progress in these communities.
Our approach it two-pronged.
First, it is advocacy. Thumbprints are currency that can make a difference. When you give your thumbprint you join thousands of peacemakers who are fighting one of the most difficult problems we face in the world today— violence against women caught in conflict. One Million Thumbprints began with one thumbprint, and will end with millions. But your thumbprint is not just a message of solidarity. Each time we reach a milestone of thumbprints collected—1,000, 5,000, 10,000 and more–we will share with the UN Secretary General, members of the UN Women Executive Board and other policy makers. Our desire is to “break the silence” and encourage the UN to continue the support and work towards the goals defined in UN Resolution 1325 and UN Resolution 1888. Your mark will advocate for tangible change by the international community.
Secondly, it’s fundraising. Along with the thumbprints, we also need money. There are good, local-led, grassroots programs aiding women in communities ravaged by war and they need funds to continue and expand the work. Our 1MT Climb for Peace is the primary vehicle for raising these funds. Currently we are raising funds for programs run by World Relief in the DR Congo, South Sudan and Syria/Iraq.
I would greatly welcome your support on a number of levels. Here are 4 different ways you can join me on this journey:
1 – Will you go to the 1MT website and give us your thumbprint? Think of it like a petition you sign online, giving your name and email, saying “this matters to me.” We need your voice. We need a groundswell of voices to emerge calling much needed attention to an issue that is frankly being largely ignored by the world. It takes about 2 minutes of your time.
2 – Would you consider financially giving towards my climb? I have the extraordinary opportunity to be the campaign/climb photographer. I am humbled and extremely honored to have been offered this role. It’s the stuff this photographer’s dreams are made of. Every climber is raising funds for our partners programs. We are all volunteers giving our time, our health and fitness and our hearts to this cause. You can give two ways:
- On your computer, go to my climber profile on the 1MT website and click “support chelsea.“
- On your phone, text CHELSEA to 71777 and follow prompts.
Some fun facts about the 1MT Climb for Peace:
- It will take us 5 days to hike to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro and one day to come down the mountain.
- The summit is just shy of 20,000ft.
- It takes 38,680 steps to climb to the top.
- My training hashtag is #couch2kilimanjaro feel free to follow the journey on instagram and Facebook if you like.
- Our group of women climbers consists of singles, marrieds, businesswomen, moms, writers, educators, bloggers, abolitionists, CEOs. We have also found a company with women porters in Tanzania that will trek with us. Women’sempowerment is the name of this game.
- We will stop in the DR Congo for a visit with Esperance and see our implementing partner’s work before the climb. I think this will be highly motivating and inspiring.