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A National Gathering of the Next Generation of Human Rights Defenders
As my travels continued, I made my way from Alabama to South Carolina to meet with even more fired-up Congo activists. After spending a day in Greenville with students at Furman University, who are now working to pass a conflict-free campus resolution, I made a trek out to meet with different members of the faith community in Columbia.
Pastors and leaders from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of South Carolina, or CBF, gathered to learn about the conflict in eastern Congo. During our time together, we discussed our unique connection to the conflict as the end users of conflict minerals in our electronics, but also the connection between the faith community in SC and the faith community in Congo through the support of CBF field personnel. Marion Aldridge, coordinator of CBF in SC expressed his initial reactions to learning about the conflict:
I am not a "what's the latest bandwagon?" kind of guy, but this one interests me for a variety of reasons. One of those had to do with the two field personnel of CBF, Jade and Shelah Acker, being near the conflict after reading their story in the CBF newsletter. I have been in this job for almost 15 years and this is the first time I have considered the possibility of a project such as this one.
Now we are seeing CBF in SC collaborate to learn more about the conflict and about how to tell the story of their connection through CBF field operations in Congo to local members of Congress. Telling her story and connection to Congo to her member of Congress is exactly what Charlotte White of Hilton Head, SC, decided to do.
Charlotte has a dynamic story and passion for Congo as she grew up in the African country where her parents were missionaries. Charlotte is now a nurse and activist for Congo through the Congo Mission Network, and she makes frequent trips to Congo in support of the Presbyterian Church USA mission co-workers in local schools, hospitals, and clinics in the country. Charlotte and I had the opportunity to meet with two of Senator Graham's staff members, Yvette Rowland and Rene Ann Brown. Charlotte brought pictures from her time in Congo. During the meeting Charlotte expressed her deep concern about the on-going conflict in eastern Congo and its grave impact on the rest of the country.
"Thank you for allowing me to voice my concern that the SEC ensure strong implementation of section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act on conflict minerals from Congo,” Charlotte said as we prepared to leave. She explained how the issue of conflict minerals is directly related to the fragile peace efforts in Congo. “As a South Carolina constituent, this was my first experience to come to the office of a United States senator. They were kind, and it was a good experience for a 66-year-old just now voicing concerns!"
I could not have been more encouraged by my time in South Carolina. As one student at Furman, Boone Pilkington, put it, "I'm really excited about the campaign and [about] passing a resolution at Furman to give our all to the cause while simultaneously eradicating complacency on campus. I'm moved to help end conflict in Congo, and I believe Furman can be a strong influence on the rest of SC to follow suit."
Just as with my time in Alabama, I am eager to see South Carolina be a strong influence on the rest of the south to follow suit.
Marion, Charlotte, and Boone are now spreading the word about Raise Hope for Congo in Greenville, Columbia, and Hilton Head. Pass this blog on to five of your friends and family and join this rapidly growing movement to bring peace to eastern Congo by sharing resources from our website on ways to get involved!
Photo: Student activists at a recent Congo rally in Washington, D.C. (Enough)