Four women are raped every 5 minutes in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Let's help them put their lives back together.

This year, I'm competing in my first triathlon. I will swim 1000 meters (0.62 miles), bike 20 miles, run 4 miles, and hopefully raise $2000 to provide life-altering surgeries to women who have survived brutal attacks in a country where approximately 400,000 rapes happen each year.

I was raised by two wonderful parents who ingrained in me a strong sense of compassion, fairness, and concern for right and wrong. When I was in college, I heard about the genocide in Darfur and my world was shaken. To learn that a government, in our day and age, is able to exterminate hundreds of thousands of people over a number a years with barely any comment from the rest of civilization was utterly shocking to me.

Shortly after graduating from college, I moved to St. Louis and met a handful of refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo and became captivated by their warmth and authenticity. Then I heard their stories. Some saw their family and neighbors slaughtered with machetes right in front of them. Some were forced out of their homes by armed men and sent running through the African wilderness for days and weeks, totally on their own. Many didn't know what became of their family members or if they were even alive. Yet somehow they had made it to the USA and met my acquaintance, changing my life forever.

It's easy as Americans to ignore what's going on in Africa, either because we think it's irrelevant or because it can be uncomfortable and ugly and complicated. But my Congolese friends cannot ignore or forget.

So my passion for justice lead me to Genocide Intervention Network (now United to End Genocide) and the Carl Wilkens Fellowship program. I learned more about what was happening in the DRC as well as Sudan, Burma (Myanmar), and what had happened in Bosnia, Armenia, and Europe during the Holocaust. I met other people who felt the same burden to humanity as I did. I became a full-fledged anti-genocide activist. And I haven't looked back since. One of my "fellow Fellows" was Lee Ann de Reus, professor at Penn State, frequent visitor to DRC, and one of the founders of Panzi Foundation USA - an organization raising and directing funds to Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, treating primarily women with gynecological trauma as a result of rape.

Four women are raped every five minutes in the DRC. Sexual violence is used as a weapon, effectively tearing apart the entire family unit with a single act. According to photojournalist Lynsey Addario, "Soldiers raped women to mark their territory, to destroy family bonds (women were often ostracized from their families once they were raped), and to show their power and intimidate civilians. They gang-raped women—they used their weapons to tear them apart, causing internal tears resulting in fistula—and they forced the families of the victims to watch gang rapes in progress."

Panzi Hospital attempts to help repair these wounds, physical and emotional. This is why I chose to support their incredible work.

As for the triathlon? It's not nearly as interesting a story. I have wanted to do it for a while and the New Town Triathlon, with it's training team and open-water swim seemed like a good one to start with. Inspired by Run for Congo Women and locally-based program GO! for a Cause, I decided to use the attention I'm gaining from the triathlon training to raise awareness of and funds for the Panzi Hospital. I'd love your support.

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