Loyola for Congo Women: Interview with the President

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Lynda Lopez
First Year, University of Chicago

ChiU recently spoke to Amber Beigay, senior at Loyola University Maryland and President of Loyola for Congo Women, regarding her organization's work.

I recently saw your facebook event regarding coltan coming from the DRC. What prompted your group to address this issue? Coltan is not usually something we hear about in the news. How did this issue come to your attention? How can we as a society actually help combat that problem?

 Loyola for Congo Women organized a "Cell Out" for many reasons. The Cell Out is an organized cell phone usage "time out" to bring awareness to the ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the vicious scramble for Congo's spectacular natural resources.

One such mineral, is columbite-tantalite or Coltan, a black tar-like mineral found in major quantities in the Congo. When coltan is refined it becomes a heat resistant powder that can hold a high electric charge. It is used in many electronic devices such as cell phones.

Why be concerned? Nearly 6 million people have died in the Congo since 1996 due to a scramble for Congo's rich natural resources. Coltan is a key source of the conflict in the Congo. This mineral is mined illegally in the Congo by rebel militia and foreign forces, and then sold to multinational corporations. 

The "time out" is a way to raise consciousness about the conflict in the Congo, which started in 1996 and continues to this day. We encouraged our Loyola Community to participate in this "Cell Out" to support the people of the Congo in our effort to bring about peace, stability and human dignity.

Tell me a bit about your group "Loyola for the Women in Congo." What is its mission and when was it founded?

Loyola for Congo Women was founded in 2006 after it was learned that women in the Congo were being systematically attacked and raped. We are a group of students, administrators, staff and faculty dedicated to raising awareness of the issues in Congo and fundraising to sponsor women in the Congo through Women for Women International. 

We are also working together with a campaign called "Falling Whistles", a campaign that started when it was learned that in the DRC child soldiers too small to carry guns are sent to the front lines of war armed with only a whistle. 100% of Falling Whistles proceeds go to rehabilitate and advocate for war affected children in the Congo.

What other events have you done as a group?

As a group we meet to educate ourselves about the current situation in the Congo and to discuss how to further involve the greater Loyola Community in Breaking the Silence. Our Cell Out was just one part of an entire Congo Awareness week here at Loyola University.

During this week we had presentations of the documentaries "The Greatest Silence" and "Lumo", which expose the affects of mass rapes in the Congo, and other steps for taking action to raise awareness about the crisis in the Congo.

We also sold hand-made bags and earrings made by members of Loyola for Congo Women made from fabric dyed by Congolese women who are participating in Women for Women International's program.  Proceeds go directly to providing other Congolese women an opportunity to participate in this program.

Later in the semester there will be a 5k Run for Congo Women also sponsored by Women for Women International in which Loyola for Congo Women will be participating. Students and community members can sign up for this walk/run to help raise money.

Why are the issues in Congo so important? There are different issues to tackle in the United States, nearby countries, and other countries around the world. Why focus on Congo?

What is so vital to bringing our attention to the Democratic Republic of Congo is that the war and its affects are so unknown in today's news. It is a silent epidemic. 

Loyola for Congo Women is continuing our work to bring awareness to the Loyola community about the brutal war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which has ravaged the lives of millions of civilians.   

Since 1996, over 6 million people have died, many of them under the age of five, and thousands of women have been brutally attacked and raped. The United Nations says that the war in the DRC is the deadliest conflict since World War II.  

Jan Egeland, the U.N. Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief, noted that Congo is the "killing fields of our generation."  Yet hardly any coverage is given to the Congo, in spite of the uncountable number of casualties that have occurred.  

Many tens of thousands of women and girls have been systematically kidnapped, raped, mutilated and tortured by the Congolese army and soldiers from foreign militias.  Additionally, Congo is being looted of its natural resources and minerals, such as coltan, which is an essential component in the production of many electronic devices including cell phones.  

This scramble for resources has fueled the war in the DRC. People can get involved in being an advocate for the Democratic Republic of Congo by educating others about this silent war. Thank you for your support, and together we can work towards peace in Congo.

Intrigued by this unique group? Comment below to start a conversation!

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