Today is bitter sweet. Let’s start with sweet.
August 23 is the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition, “an opportunity to pay tribute to the struggle led by the slaves themselves to recover their dignity and freedom,” reports UN News Service. “An uprising on the island of Santo Domingo on the night of 22-23 August 1791 led to Haiti’s independence – the first victory of slaves over their oppressors.”
But now for the bitter. August 23 , there are reports coming out of Democratic Republic of Congo of almost 200 women gang-raped by rebels, part of an ongoing campaign over the years to terrorize and intimidate thousands. It’s a tragic reminder that conflict in the region is far from over. It brings back haunting memories of the tens of thousands of women and young girls raped as a tactic in the Rwanda Genocide.
But sexual violence and exploitation is not just a tactic of warring rebels and genocidaires.
We hear stories of youth, male and female, who are being taken advantage of, often because they are orphans, living on their own, struggling to provide for their younger siblings. They lack a trusted adult presence, support and protection. When they do receive adult attention, it is often the wrong kind – offers of help or support in exchange for sexual favours. It’s such a common practice, there’s a name for it, shugar mami/shugar dadi, and it’s fueling the ongoing HIV crisis. Exploitation is one of the topics to be discussed at the peace camp. We will hear courageous stories from young women and young men who have somehow survived and risen above incredible challenges in their life.
That brings us back to the sweet.
Over 200 years ago, individual people acted, to stop slavery. It took a long time and included the efforts of those being oppressed and well as those benefitting in some way. It’s disturbing to know that somehow we support all kinds of injustice today in ways we can’t even imagine, through our global economy. But we can consider the actions of just a few of your average tea drinkers who started a simple act, to boycott sugar, as their small part to stop plantation owners and businesses and others who were participating in the inhumane practice of slavery. Their acts and commitment are inspiring. And eventually it helped bring change.
Today we have a very small, but similar opportunity. Take the One Sweet Challenge. Do one small thing or give up one small thing, and help us raise funds for a peace camp in Rwanda. Each act will make a difference because you will help to train, empower and encourage over 50 youth to be leaders among their peers in a region that struggles to rebuild not only from genocide, but also the silent devastation going on such as extreme poverty and AIDS. Learn more about the peace camp.
A little more about the featured photo and photographer: Claudine, one of our gafotozi, took this photo (see above) as part of her essay on sewing “because I wanted to show others that we can sew…we can do this and earn a good living.” The poster is near the sewing shop that she and several other youth have started by pooling their small savings together. They received skills and business training and support from Children of Hope, a remarkable program among child/youth-headed households, and one of their first contracts – to sew school uniforms for other orphans in the program.