Table of Contents
MORE PRAISE FOR
A thousand Sisters
AND LISA J. SHANNON
brings to unforgettable life dozens of the women and girls caught in the crosshairs of the worst, and most underreported, humanitarian catastrophe of our time. It takes us into a literal heart of darkness on a personal journey that is by turns enchanting and chilling, always achingly honest, and never less than beautifully reported and wrenchingly true. Lisa Shannon's brave book helps teach us how to care, and why.”
âLISA F. JACKSON, PRODUCER/DIRECTOR,
THE GREATEST SILENCE: RAPE IN THE CONGO
“Lisa Shannon's beautifully written memoir is for anyone who thinks one person can't make a difference in the world. A page turning read, A Thousand Sisters could inspire the biggest skeptic. Hard to put down.”
âEMILY DESCHANEL, ACTRESS AND ACTIVIST
Â “A Thousand Sisters
asks the question, âCan one person get off her couch and touch the lives of those in need on the other side of the world?' This memoir answers, with poignancy and passion, âYes, she can!'”
âJERRY FOWLER, PRESIDENT, SAVE DARFUR COALITION
FOR CONGO'S COUNTLESS QUIET HEROES
STEWART SHANNON ,
MY FATHER AND NOW SILENT GUIDE
When we stood close
Together and your eyes
Looked into my
Eyes, I felt that
Threads passed from
Your eyes into
My eyes and
Bound our hearts
When you left me, and journeyed across
The sea, it was as
If fine threads still united us,
And they were tearing at the wound.
BY EDVARD MUNCH
FOREWORD TO A THOUSAND SISTERS
BY ZAINAB SALBI
THE CONFLICT IN
the Democratic Republic of Congo has taken more lives than any other war since World War II, resulting in the death of more than 5.4 million people and the ongoing rape of hundreds of thousands of women. Despite these gruesome statistics, the conflict rages on amidst muted international response and blanket impunity for rape and war crimes in which all sides are implicated. It has been more than 10 years now, but every day, scores of Congolese people are still falling victim to some of the worst acts of violence known to humanity (if you can believe there can be a
worst act of violence
)âfrom the killing and mutilation, to the raping of women, men and children, violence continues to happen and the number of victims continues to grow. The world has yet to rise up with the political will to stop this war and the atrocities committed against not only the Congolese people but all of humanity as well.
It is hard not to be angry when you have witnessed the rape of your mother in front of your eyes, the killing of your child, the burning of your home, or the pillaging of all that you have worked so hard to build. The question for survivors is never their anger at injustice, but rather how to express that anger in a healthy way that can lead to building rather than destruction,
to reconciliation rather than hate, to a profound perspective that marries both the beauty and the ugliness of life. A survivor's need for action is understood and in many ways expected, even though at times that action can be destructive both for the self and the other.
That's the predicament of the survivor. Then there are the questions with which the rest of the world must wrestle: What if one has the privilege of not directly experiencing or even witnessing firsthand injustice in front of one's eyes? What if one never has to know what it feels like to be lynched, whipped, raped, chained, mutilated, enslaved; or know the pain of witnessing a loved one be killed without being able to do anything about it? What if one doesn't know what it feels like to lose a home because a bomb fell on it, or because it was invaded by soldiers or rebels in the middle of the night while you were sleeping in your own bed; or be forced to walk days and weeks in the middle of the forest without any food just to save your life and that of your loved one? What then? Is that carte blanche to ignore, to pretend, to do
For much of the world it is. Much of the world is content to stand by and do nothing while the war rages on in Congo, while people die by the millions, and while women are raped by the hundreds of thousands. But, thankfully, it is not so for everyone. There are activists worldwide who do what they can on behalf of others who are oppressed, though they may not share that plight. These are the people who realize that their own privilegeâthe privilege of not witnessing atrocities, the privilege of being heard, or having the resources to surviveâis a responsibility to humanity, a responsibility to be shared with others, and a responsibility to this world. That story, the story of a few individuals acting upon injustice even though they have not witnessed it firsthand has always existed, and that is the story that adds to the hope survivors share when they triumph over the evil they have witnessed.
With every story of injustice, there were always those who refused to stand silent, who made a conscious choice to act, regardless of the consequences, the price, and the impact on one's life. It was a few individuals who had never been part of the slave trade who decided to act in the late eighteenth
century in London, England, leading eventually to the global abolitionist movement. It was three white civil rights workers who were slain making a stand for equality in Mississippi in 1964. Like the abolitionists before them, they were making a political statement that slavery and segregation were not “black problems,” they were everyone's problem and responsibility to solve.
Similarly, individual white South African activists made the point that Apartheid was a moral responsibility for all to end.
We see that in every story of injustice there is a movement for the good, one in which there are always survivors who decided to dedicate their lives to ending it, as well as those who have not been victims but know of their moral responsibility to stand up and fight. Lisa Shannon is one of those individuals who has decided to take a stand against an evil that does not oppress her directly but offends her with its very existence. She runs for Congo women. Lisa Shannon is a woman no different than those who stood up against slavery and apartheid before her, who decided to act, watch, hear, and even go into the heart of horrors as she did to witness the atrocities and listen to those who have seen evil. For survivors, their perseverance is a triumph over evil, the sheer force of
to survive and to stand tall. For Lisa, hers is a heroine's journey of a woman who did not shy away from the ongoing horrors in the world. She is a woman who was not afraid to confront conflict in the Congo, who did not worry about how much it would cost her personally to engage. Hers is a story of compassion, clarity, determination, strength, creativity, and love. It is a story about the power of believing in the possibility of making a difference, in the possibility of good to triumph over evil, and in the power of love to triumph over hate.
I have witnessed the joy Lisa created in the hearts of women who have survived the horror of the war in Congo. I have seen their embrace, heard their laughter, and shared their joy when they learned that this one woman cares so much. Lisa loved them so much that she traveled halfway around the world to talk with them directly, touch them, assure them that there is still hope in this world, and that it is still possible for life to go back to normal. And, by
organizing the Run for Congo events, she showed them that women all over the world care enough to run, and run in order to draw attention to their suffering and to create change.
Through the most honest and sincere portrayal of emotions, balanced with an astute understanding of the politics associated with the conflict,
A Thousand Sisters
gives a human face to war by showing that the beauty and resilience of Congolese women shines through even the darkest of timesâthrough their sheer determination to stay alive, or love the child they bore out of mass rape; to process the pain they endured and the horrors they survived; to laugh despite all odds, dance despite all pain, believe in humanity despite all of the inhumanity they have witnessed; and to keep life going in the midst of death. That is what women always do in war, and they do that in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Lisa has borne witness to that; she has captured their strength expertly in this book.
A Thousand Sisters
shows the power of communication, of reaching out, of building bridges of hope. It is the story of individual women from around the world who decided to take full ownership of their voice and their resources and become one thousand philanthropists, one thousand advocates on behalf of one thousand women whose resources have been stolen and whose voices have been ignored. The horror in Congo has been going on for so long, it feels as if the world has put the sounds of the women's cries of injustice on mute. Lisa and a few American women have decided to turn up the volume, to shine the spotlight: they have listened and acted.
Public diplomacy, friendship, and peace come in many different forms, and Lisa's journey of sponsoring Congolese women proves that it also comes from individuals who have made the conscious decision to act, to represent the beauty of who they are as individuals. Her story shows the power of connecting through our humanity, connecting through our common love for simple thingsâour trees and gardens, the sound of running water, and all that we have in common, regardless of where we are and where we come from.