April Houston shares a striking similarity to those in theCongoshe is about to help – they run. However, the reasons for their journeys are very different. On July 15, April will be taking part in the King Orthopedics Big Shark New Town Triathlon. She will be competing in her first triathalon that includes a 4-mile run, a .62-mile swim, and a 20-mile trek on her bicycle. April is currently raising money through this triatahlon for The Panzi Foundation, an organization that aids the victims of sexual violence in theCongo. While April pushes her body to the limit she knows it pales in comparison to the distance and the fear those in theCongomust conquer to escape the genocide and the violence being perpetrated there.
April has long been interested in genocide prevention. She notes, “I have always been opposed to injustices of all kinds, even as a child. I moved toSt. Louis and in 2006 I met a group of young men who were refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). I heard their stories of fleeing attackers in the middle of the night, running for days, seeing their friends and neighbors slaughtered in front of them, not knowing if their parents were alive or dead. At that point I told them that I would commit myself to do everything possible to help.” April is a former recipient of the Carl Wilkens Fellowship, an opportunity that “provides a diverse set of emerging citizen leaders with the tools and training to build sustained political will to end genocide.” The Fellowship was formerly offered through United to End Genocide (previously known as The Genocide Intervention Network).
For the past decade the Congo has been engaged in a power struggle between opposing political parties and armed militias from surrounding countries all of whom are interested in Congo’s vast wealth of unmined resources. The result has been the deaths of over 5 million Congolese natives, the rape of millions of women, and the displacement of hundreds of thousands more.
The Spine Africa Project has seen firsthand the catastrophic consequences of this violence during the organization’s many trips to the Eastern Congo. The Spine Africa Project is aNew Jersey based non-profit organization that provides spinal surgery to those injured as a result of the atrocities withinCongo. Unfortunately, the basic provisions for spine surgery do not yet exist inCongo despite the alarmingly high number of injuries. Sadly, the life expectancy of someone in the Congo with an untreated spinal injury is less than two years. The goals of The Spine Africa Project are to provide medical treatment for those in need as well as educate the local physicians in the field of spine surgery. This will allow them to address and treat spine related injuries within their communities.
Through a mutual friend at the Panzi Foundation, The Spine Africa Project learned about April’s endeavor. “Here was someone who was well aware of the situation in Congo and was doing something to help. To us, the value is not only in the financial contributions people make but also in raising awareness about what is happening in Congo. It is obvious that April is doing both of these things,” says Daniel Goldberg of The Spine Africa Project.
April’s website highlights her desire to raise funds and outlines what those funds could provide for the women of Congo. For example, as little as $340 will cover all the costs for a fistula surgery at Panzi Hospital. The Spine Africa Project strongly believes in April’s cause and donated enough money for her to reach her initial goal of $1,000. Shortly thereafter, April set her sights higher and doubled her fundraising goal to $2,000. Together, April and The Spine Africa Project are teaming up to raise awareness through social media and other marketing channels to spread the word of April’s mission and encourage further donations. As of today, April has raised $1,540 of her $2,000 goal. When asked what would be a single overriding goal to help those in theCongo, April didn’t hesitate, “Empowering the women. The Congo is full of strong women who have survived extreme emotional and physical trauma. Giving them the knowledge and tools to take control of their own destiny would put their entire country on a different trajectory”.
Grassroots fundraising projects such as this one truly make a difference in the war-ravaged areas of the Eastern Congo. This is because the funds are given directly to the institutions they support and not to governments which have been riddled with corruption. Donations can be made up until the day of the triathlon via April’s website. Please help support April as she endeavors to help those truly in need.