Special to The Seaside Times
This May, a team of women from throughout the United States, including two local women, will travel deep into the beating heart of the Congo along the shores of Lake Kivu in Run Across the Congo, an event put on by On The Ground, an organization supporting sustainable community development in farming regions across the world.
Their trip will be one of celebration (and sore muscles) designed to support gender equality and women’s empowerment initiatives while highlighting the re-emergence of the specialty coffee sector that is vital to the region’s continued growth. Twenty years of war and conflict has left nearly six million dead in a region that has been tagged by the U.N. as being “the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman.” Today, women are playing more and more of a crucial role in the revitalization of the region, and give hope to the prospect of a more sustainable future
Casey Tindell-Trejo, director of public relations, marketing and outreach for Amavida Coffee and Tea in Seaside, ran and helped organize the 2014 Winter Solstice Run, the first annual 40-mile ultra run across Scenic Highway 30A, and has worked on numerous campaigns to support On The Ground’s work around the world.
Colleen Duffley is a creative director and an international commercial advertising and magazine photographer who lives in the 30A community. Her photographs have been featured in national publications and she has worked on ad campaigns for nationally and internationally recognized brands. Duffley is also the creator of Studio b, and the creator and curator of Light Impressions, an art installation that features 40 iPhoneographers from around the globe.
Over seven days, the team will run seven marathons throughout the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) region. They will meet remarkable women who have overcome insurmountable odds. Through on-going efforts, they are partnering with them and non-profit organizations, government officials, and coffee cooperatives to build a movement and support system for a sustainable and just future that holds gender equality at its core.
The team will include small business owners, social justice advocates, mothers and wives — all with strong personal ties to the Congo. Each has been fundraising and promoting the run in their communities. Now the goal is to expand the ever-widening audience, connect with more potential partners and find new ways for Run Across Congo to expand its impact.
“This project means more to me than I can say in words. It’s my entire life,” Tindell-Trejo says. “My job involves buying and selling Fair Trade coffee directly from some of the women that this project will benefit. Every day I work to educate consumers on the impact of their buying decisions and this event illustrates that relationship in a more substantial way. The products we buy have a direct positive or negative affect on people all over the world.”
Funds raised by the runners and other project fundraising will directly benefit the women of three Congolese communities: female coffee farmers of the Muungano Cooperative, widows of slain Virunga National Park rangers and sexual assault victims receiving care in Lemare. As fundraising successes continue, more project support will be identified that coincide with the overarching aims of the Run.
“Gender equality has always been an extremely important issue to me. As a female, I have experienced gender-based prejudice and discrimination first-hand, yet I am lucky to live in a place where I have rights, a voice, and outlets for criticism,” Tindell-Trejo adds. “Whenever I hear stories and statistics about the DRC, I think of my two-year-old daughter. I try to imagine a life there with her and how a safe environment can be hard to maintain. It’s hard to hear that approximately 40 percent of the women in the DRC have experienced rape, and about 48 are happening every hour. If it were me, I would hope that someone cared enough to help.”
Duffley is participating as both a runner and the team photographer. “I have trained for two Olympics,” she says. “I have been blessed to own my own business for 25 years and I am lucky enough to live in a wonderful country where that is common place. For me to be able to use my talents as a photographer and my strength as an athlete to help change the lives of women and children is not only my honor but my responsibility to run for a reason.”
This article was contributed by On The Ground. For more information visit runacrosscongo.org.