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Politics, Religion, and Rape: Another Feared Topic of Americans

Jul 20, 2011 Posted Under: Commentary

This past week I have been working on reaching out to different groups in an effort to schedule screenings of the documentary and come out and speak to people about the organization and our work. Since a lot of the contact is done through email, sometimes it’s hard to say whether or not people have received my email or just read it and forgot, so usually I will check back in with the Rotary Club or church if I don’t hear a response from them. Anyway, I opened an email this week that read, “Not an appropriate topic for our luncheon”. No greeting or signature, just that one line. Now, its not uncommon for people to turn me down, but for some reason this particular email rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe it was the length, maybe it was the I wanted to write back and say, “Not an appropriate topic? When is rape an appropriate topic? Do you save the more violent topics for your dinner meetings? We’ll gladly come then.”

Unfortunately my response went unsaid, but I kept thinking about that email. Its not as if I haven’t heard things of this tone in response to our work before, but whether or not they want to hear about the violence, it is still occurring. The question I have asked before and will continue to ask is would you feel differently if this were happening to your daughter or sister? How about your mother? Do the women need to be Americans before you care, or do they just need to be white? Maybe it is the mere distance of The Democratic Republic of Congo that makes people not care. In a way maybe I can understand how a person could feel so distant from the women and girls there that the problems can just seem so insignificant. Even I feel disconnected to the people of Congo. However, we have to think outside of our immediate surroundings, outside of our day-to-day experiences and realize that the problem of one man or woman is a problem of humanity. The worst possible thing we can do is to close our eyes and pretend like you don’t know what is happening there. That is a crime against humanity, a crime against women, and a crime against yourself. It is time to wake up and offer aid to Congo, and acknowledge the scale of the problem.


Marie J. Targonski-O’Brien


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Grassroots Cookbook

Jul 20, 2011 Posted Under: Commentary, Featured, Media, WWZ Events

Grassroots and other aid organizations have a variety of methods to choose from in creating their programs to help their constituents. Each method has various connotations and requirements.  I’ve always felt that these methods are similar to recipes in a cookbook. Some are too simplistic, some too complicated, some don’t fit the situation, and some are just tasteless.   Charity is a tasteless word. It implies a recipe containing an abundance of pity and handouts. That just won’t do. Relief work might be a better word, but that recipe can go awry so easily. One minute you’re providing innocuous famine relief, next thing you know, you are requiring starving people to labor twelve hour days just so no one can say you’re providing charity. Social programs are my recipe of choice for aid organizations. However, the recipe requires some very specific ingredients or else it is useless.

The recipe for social programs requires that all ingredients be homegrown.  These social programs need to be tailored to the specific area; otherwise, the recipe will be ruined.  For instance, a program for the Congo should use beliefs, ideals, and already in place. After all, if the recipe adds to much flavor from the organization’s home country, it will overpower the taste of the Congo.  Another essential ingredient is a dash of hope.  This will counteract any natural bitter flavors.  Finally, add a pinch of realism do that you can look clearly at the situation, and see what need to be changed and what can be changed.  This recipe is best pared with a stimulating discussion and a refreshing drink.  If made correctly, it could feed millions. Serve warm.

Ashley Pfeiffer

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Luck Be A Lady

Jul 11, 2011 Posted Under: Commentary, Featured, Media, WWZ Events

Our more dedicated followers may be participating in a raffle tonight for a pair of U2 concert tickets. Pretty exciting, isn’t it? Raffles are always exciting, even if the prize is something inconsequential like candy or bragging rights. Something stimulates us when we enter a raffle. It’s all about winning and losing, but the loss should only be on a small scale. That’s the way us first-worlders raffle. We are careful to wager small losses against big gains; I might buy four dollars worth of lottery tickets, but if I win that’s ten million dollars in prizes. I can justify my waste of those four dollars by saying I’m simply playing the odds. After all, you can’t win if you don’t play.

Did you know they have raffles in war zones too? Every day, sometimes more than once a day, they participate in raffles. Of course, they haven’t got the hang of the small losses, big gains strategy. They’re all backwards about, big losses, small gains. Preposterous! They don’t even wager the right things! I mean, it is unbelievable. A woman might wager going to collect fresh water against getting raped. Well, that is not nearly as fun as the lottery or bingo. Couldn’t they just turn on their tap and get water? Why can’t these women in war zones learn to play the odds? They aren’t even playing for prizes; there is nothing to win, so why play?

They play because it is not a game. It is their life. The life of women in war zones is a raffle, but an uncompromising, unwilling one. They did not choose to participate and all they get for winning is another day of survival. We cruelly judge them by our own standards. Why do they put up this? Why don’t they leave? Why? Why? Why? They put up with this because they have to; they stay because they must. They have no choice. Choices are a luxury unavailable to them. We need to stop wagering on the future of citizens in war zones. No more attaching their futures to riders on silly congressional bills, no more corrupt charities, and no more empty promises. It is time to meet citizens in war zones on their own terms and understand the world they live in. It is time to give up your four dollars of weekly lottery tickets to charity. No more playing the odds. You are not going to hit the jackpot, so give it to some that can actually make a future from it.


Ashley Pfeiffer

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Why Rape?

Jul 09, 2011 Posted Under: Commentary

When hearing the horrific stories of rape in the Congo, my human emotions automatically separate the situation into innocent female victims and menacing male monsters. And for the most part I believe this to be correct. These women are certainly innocent and a man who mutilates woman with a bayonet is in my definition a monster. However, I do not believe that the situation is that black and white.

To truly understand the complexities of this crisis I think we need to look at what drives these men to commit such inhumane acts. I believe the problem often starts when they are young, as it is likely that these men are victims of violence themselves. I believe a cycle of violence breading violence is occurring in this country. The Democratic Republic of Congo has been in turmoil for many years and these men could have suffered from multiple forms of violence, such as being a child in a village that was pillaged. Many children are orphaned and or made to be child soldiers. When a child grows up in a world of brutality and is exposed to horrors, the adult they become often only knows violence. Sadly, the number of opportunities these individuals have is often limited. The choice to become a member of one of the multiple militia groups may be their last resort for survival. This choice will not only grant them protection from other groups but give them something they have never had before, power.

I believe there are several reasons why these traumatized men rape. A major reason is their deep desire for control. A person who has had little to no control over the outcome of their life yearns for power over something and they control their victims through sexual terrorism. The rapists are fully aware that their victims face serious societal repercussions along with devastating physically problems that may never heal. I believe men also rape because they are ordered to, as many Congolese soldiers believe raping before a battle will help them be victorious. Rape in the Congo is a deliberate tactic of war that has become more and more common in everyday society. Many men do not feel like rape is that big a deal. This is reinforced by the impunity men who rape are constantly granted. However, I also believe that some men are fully aware of the wickedness of their actions but group mentality and following orders make these men rapists too. I truly believe that sexual desire plays little role in these actions. They view rape as a common part of their violent world.

Through this blog I am in no way condoning the actions of these men. Their pasts and environment contributed to the problem but are not responsibly for the choices these men make. I firmly believe that given different opportunities and put in a different situation some of these men may have chosen more righteous paths. I believe that understanding the complexities of the situation may help us stop rape at its root cause.

Charli Strassman

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Monsters Under The Bed

Jul 01, 2011 Posted Under: Commentary, Featured

When Margot Wallstrom, the United Nation’s special representative on sexual violence calls Congo the “rape capital of the world” it is time to acknowledge there is a serious problem on our hands. The fact that such a place even exists is enough to make anyone shudder. It’s as if we permitting Hell to rise up to earth. A place that should only exist in a nightmare has become the reality for people in the DR Congo.

Rape as as it is known to people in the states is disturbing enough. Here, we see rapist as sexual deviants. The thought of a man seizing what is supposed to be an act of love, union, and celebration leaves American women feeling scared and angry. However, the kind of rape that occurs in Congo is horrifying in a different way. In Congo women are in most danger as they are going about their daily routines, in other words doing things they cannot avoid, like getting water. The rebels use their bodies to rob women of their worth and health. They pillage entire communities by robbing them of their women and children. What happens to women in Congo is in no way sex. It is slavery, terrorism, and torture. They force girls and women out of their own bodies and into a lonely place in between death and life.

People say to me you won’t stop the war in Africa. You won’t stop women from being raped, and I respond to them, “Why not?” Why can’t I be a part of influencing dialogue across the United States? Why can’t I be a part of empowering Congoleese women and girls and showing them that they are more valuable then what they have to offer a man as his wife? Change begins with small decisions and ripples outward. Power shifts and moves, it does not lay dormant. Congo has all the possibility in the world. The women of Congo have all the possibility in the world but it does take the United States and other world powers to begin acknowledging the current state of conflict.

In five years 5 million people have died. Can we all just take a moment to let that sink in?

Some women are raped repeatedly for months on end, by multiple partners until they die or are killed. The victims are girls 13 and younger and women as old as 90. This past week CNN reported that extensive studies claim that during a 12 month period for 2006 into 2007, more than 400,000 girls and women were raped. Unfortunately, the the war in Africa cannot be simplified down to good vs. bad which is why the dissention of Congo can seem so overwhelming. This is all the more reason that people need to delve into discussion about Congo and Africa as a whole.

Marie J. F. Targonski-O’Brien

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Shake It Up

Jul 01, 2011 Posted Under: Commentary, Featured, Media, WWZ Events

When I was younger and a jumping song used to come on the radio, one of my friends would announce a five minute dance party. Naturally, we would dance until the song ended. Recently, I also saw an episode of 30 Rock where the characters enjoyed a dance party as a break. Believe it or not, I still have individual dance parties when no one looks. I imagine that someone reading this is utterly confused as to how this relates to Women in War Zones. Well, calm down. Give me some time to explain. It may just blow your minds.

For those that are unaware, Women in War Zones had a fundraiser at a club called Brasil’s in Philadelphia. We raised over $1600, and everyone had a great time doing it. Why did they have a great time? Well, the event was a Salsa dance party. One could say that the important part of this event was the people who attended out of a desire to improve the situation in the Congo. However, it wasn’t just these people that made the event a success. It was people that stopped in for a drink, people that stopped in out of curiosity, and people that stopped in just to dance. Everyone in the club that night contributed to Women in War Zones and improvement in the Congo; whether they intended it or not. It is this unification of various intentions, the bringing together of charity and pleasure, that makes the dance party a wonderful, fundraising idea.

It is amazing to think that every time our feet hit the floor, or our hips shimmy we are making a difference. Finally, our revelry can be used to aid others; instead of just to satisfy our own appetites. Imagine if that dance party you had with your friends that dance your saw on television, even that prom you’re so looking forward to helped the Congo in some way. Why don’t you give it a try? Throw your own dance party on Women in War Zones behalf. You can choose the style, although personally, I think the world could use a little more soul.

Ashley Pfeiffer

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Pillaging for Profit

Jun 27, 2011 Posted Under: Commentary, Featured

Some friends and family of mine think it is strange that I have such an interest in travel. They don’t understand why I would go anywhere else, when “we have everything we need here in America.” I always laugh when I hear that comment. The person saying it usually has no clue that their shirt was made in Cambodia, their shoes in china, the coffee they are drinking was grown in Colombia, and that the 800 number they just dialed was answered in India. As I look around my room I can find almost nothing that was made exclusively in America. This certainly is a consequence of globalization and for many of us in developed countries it sure is great.

However, our ignorance is bliss. Most consumers have no knowledge of where their products are coming from and whom they might be impacting. Many products are the result of child labor, sweat shops, unreasonable wages, poor working conditions and collaboration with criminal groups. These problems are in depth and affect whole regions of the world.  The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) provides and extreme example with the mining of coltan, a mineral used in many electronics. The problems that result from this include children working the mines, farmers being killed for their land, money in the hands of criminals and long term environmental damage.  This mineral is in high demand globally and is an easy way for rebel groups to become wealthy. The lack of governance in the DRC allows these groups freedom and impunity as they pillage the land for coltan harming anyone in their path. This problem, and the many others like it, perpetuate poverty and seriously increase the large inequality our world faces. It is vital that people are aware of what they are purchasing and its effects on others.

Charli Strassman

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Jun 26, 2011 Posted Under: Featured, Wamu Project

Nafasi is Swahili for ‘opportunity’.

During my time in Congo earlier this year, I met several women with amazing drive and potential but with little to no opportunities available to them. Opportunities that you and I take for granted – like education, food, housing, and opportunities to develop ourselves. Women in War Zones and I saw this lack of nafasi and decided that this was unacceptable. We decided that every one has the right to certain basic opportunities and should be given the chance to live a fulfilling life -regardless of their gender or their citizenship.

The Nafasi Micro-Credit project that we hope to launch this Fall will grant 10 women a $50 loan to provide for their immediate needs and start sustainable small business projects. These small business projects could be as exciting and as innovative as the women choose – once the project is feasible and sustainable. This project could start with something as simple as the purchase of a goat, baking supplies,  the rent to a market stall or the purchase of seeds to plant.

The project will also foster community among these women as we will be gathering them as a group weekly for classes in basic math and small-business management and will encourage accountability among group members for stewardship of their loans.
This project starts us on the road to building sustainable economic opportunities for these women, development rather than aid. We want to see Congolese women take charge of their lives, and achieve social independence. While $50 in the States might not go that far – $50 in Congo can change a woman’s life.

Get involved. Contact


- Dominique Vidale-Plaza

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Women as Changemakers

Jun 22, 2011 Posted Under: Congo Current Events, Featured, Media, Wamu Project

For I, a woman, have only known
How the heart melts and the tears run down.’

‘Therefore,’ the voice said, ‘shalt thou write
My curse to-night.
Some women weep and curse, I say
(And no one marvels), night and day.

‘And thou shalt take their part to-night,
Weep and write.
A curse from the depths of womanhood
Is very salt, and bitter, and good.’
-Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “A Curse For A Nation”

So, the past two weeks I’ve addressed the importance of change and formal infrastructure in the Congo. Now it is time to explain the importance of women. It is simple to say that women are not baby-making machines; they are not sex on legs; they are not helpmeets to their husband. However, this raises the more complex question. What are women? We need to stop defining women by negative descriptions and absent qualities.

Women in War Zones believes that women are changemakers. The new, better Congo will begin with the women, some from the Wamu Center, and others from different parts of the country. However, no matter where the women are from they will be united by one factor, the desire to see a better country for themselves and the next generation. They want to avoid the “heart melt[ing] and the tears run[nig] down” of the previous generations. As the saying goes, change begins at home, and in many cases, the women are home. They may not be in positions of government yet, but they have raised and influenced future politicians. Women in the Congo yearning for change have already begun the process needed to change. They teach their children secret longings for women’s rights and gender equality. The message is passed on peacefully to some children; others cannot understand the message and household tensions arise. Someday, these women will be remembered as the generation that began a change that shocked the world.

The most important quality of women is their individuality. Perhaps, a ridiculous statement as women are referred to by general terms throughout this whole entry, but a true statement nevertheless. Women come in all different personalities. Some are timid, others bold. Some make soap. Others like to bake. Some dream of being teachers, while others hope to never have to work with children. Some women are handy, while others are clumsy. I’m sure you get the picture. Women, because they are people, are all important and unique. Never forgot that women are people. Treat them like people. To even consider that a woman is less than a person is mad.

-Ashley Pfeiffer


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The Disconnect

Jun 20, 2011 Posted Under: Commentary

Just this weekend alone the troubles that plague many parts of the African continent were brought to my attention twice. The first time in a comedy routine, in which the comedian sarcastically joked about the problems in Africa and how helping Africa does nothing for him. The second time was on Law and Order and detail was given about a woman who was brutally rape in the Congo. Seeing the issue of the turmoil in Africa spoken of on two commonly watched television shows made me realize that many people in developed countries must be aware of the grave troubles the world faces. Ignorance is not as widespread as I thought and this reflection deeply saddened me.

I began to think of why. Why are so many people that are aware of the issue not doing anything to help? How can they know of the tragedy and not want to reach out? I concluded that the main reason for this apathy is a disconnect, a separation from the crisis and the people who have the resources to help. If you asked the average person in a developed country about Africa I believe the first thing they would mention is poverty and trouble. However, then the individual would continue with their daily routine. They don’t see the rapes, the torture, the suffering and it truly is a case of out of sight out of mind. I don’t view these people as uncaring individuals. I believe that most of these people would help if they saw someone suffering. However, they don’t see it and most importantly they don’t feel for the people hurting.  

I cannot tell you what enable some of us to connect, to realize that even though on a different continent then us, a human in distress deserves a hand. However, I know that it is these people that make a difference.

-Charli Strassman

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