We made our way to the border and easily passed through Customs feeling a sense of enormous relief when suddenly a member of the Congolese military (I happen to have a slightly different moniker for them, which I’ll keep to myself) stopped us and instructed us to take all of our bags from the car and empty out all of our belongings. We tiredly acquiesced, smiled, and attempted a futile effort to charm. After a few agonizing minutes, which felt like years, we were then allowed into Rwanda. Thus began our 7-hour journey back to Kigali.
We were about four blocks from our hotel, when we heard a deafening explosion that sounded as if it was merely steps away. We learned the next day on CNN that there were three separate grenade attacks less than a mile from our hotel. Most Rwandans we spoke to felt it was the work of the FDLR. Welcome to Kigali, thanks to the FDLR.
Our workshop in Bukavu was immensely successful mostly due to my hero Christine Karumba and the amazing team at Women for Women International. We painted butterflies, wrote letters, taught jewelry making, and happily delivered hundreds of t-shirts made by homeless children in the United States. We danced furiously and sang until we were hoarse. But most importantly, we laughed with total abandon. To see a child’s tears replaced with a smile, and witness joy instead of sadness is a sight for which there are no words. We had the honor of working with over 1,400 women and children.
I would be remiss if I didn’t thank my rock star team, Samantha Coker, Vance Holmes and John Canning. They had my back and my blind side. The one lesson that I will take away from my trip this year is simple: I, an American woman, am no different from a Congolese, Iranian, Bosnian, or an Israeli woman. We are all equally the same. We are global sisters united. We must protect, love, honor and fight for each other. I will continue to speak out and fight for my sisters suffering in Congo. I do this because I am responsible for them, just as they are for me.
I beg all of you to join me and go to Women for Women International and sponsor a Congolese woman. For literally dollars a month you can change a life forever. I know some will find me foolish, the founder of another charity who desperately needs funds trumpeting for another organization. But partnership is what Children Mending Hearts stands for; it is at our very core. We have to help each other, lift each other up and do the work together. I believe in my heart if you do the work the rest will follow. So I beg of you, support WfWI, and my Congolese sister Rose Mapendo of the inspiring Mapendo International, and all the other wonderful NGO’s, which you can find under Our Angels on our website.
My work is finished here, for now. I will go home. I will return to my life. I will continue on my journey, and I will never forget the five women outside the gate at Panzi Hospital. Waiting.