I’m back after a whirlwind six-day trip to Washington DC to attend Congo Global Action’s “Connect for Congo” Conference. As far as I’m concerned, the conference was a success. The US Holocaust Memorial Museum hosted the first two days of workshops and speakers, and the turnout was impressive. I thought I was making an effort to fly down from Maine, but at least a dozen people came all the way from Democratic Republic of Congo to attend. That’s dedication!
Because of the large number of French-speaking participants, the Museum provided simultaneous French-English translation of the panels and workshops. I received a tiny headset and was told to tune in to channel five for English. The translation was excellent, and I was able to follow all of the French presentations easily. It was kind of exciting and I may have pretended that I was a member of the UN for a few minutes.
In addition to an opening panel for the audience entitled “DRC 101: Current Issues in Congo,” there were six workshops to attend on topics ranging from gender-based violence to post-conflict nation stabilization and governance concerns. There was also a session on media training and blogging for action. A few highlights from the conference for me, were listening to Dr. Denis Mukwege Mukengere, the Director of Panzi Hospital in DRC, and Zainab Salbi, the Founder and Director of Women for Women International. Their insights and testimony on issues pertaining to violence against women were incredibly moving. I left their panel with an even stronger resolve to act for DRC.
The first two days of workshops and panels were followed by a third day of lobbying on Capitol Hill. I have to confess that I knew absolutely nothing about the lobbying process before this conference. Fortunately, I received training from people with Congo Global Action. We had a prepared agenda to present to members of Congress and the Senate. These points are called “asks” and there were four of them. One of the asks for example, was to urge members of Congress to support $25 million in additional funding for the DRC during consideration of the fiscal year 2008 Emergency Supplemental. It was a lot of information to try to remember and present, but I was able to do it. I ended up attending a drop-in and a meetings with staffers for my Senators. The staffers were very pleasant and amenable to the message I was delivering. It was a great experience and I’m glad that I’ll be comfortable doing it again in the future.
The reason I consider the conference to be a success, is that there has never before been a gathering of so many individuals from such diverse backgrounds, who have joined together to act to bring peace and hope to Democratic Republic of Congo. This was a point that was repeated many times during the conference. Despite the recent release of the International Rescue Committee’s mortality survey that counts 5.4 million dead in the last ten years in DRC, the country and its people are unknown or forgotten to many. I hope that this conference is the beginning of a citizen’s movement that will press for protection of and relief for the millions of people who continue to suffer in Congo.