Women of the Congo
Jennifer Williams is living proof that anyone—even an unassuming mother of two from tony Westchester County, N. Y.—can make a difference to others, regardless of where they live. In 2007, Williams, a former banker, read a New York Times article by Jeffrey Gettleman that she couldn’t get out of her mind. The story, about the horrific abuses of women in the Democratic Republic of Congo, prompted her to do something to help, and this desire resulted in her amassing more than 40 women, mostly in their 30s and 40s, to join together to form a network of involvement in the cause they call Women of the Congo.
“We’re not an organized charity,” Williams says, even
though the group’s second annual fundraiser, held in October in New York City, boasted appearances by playwright
and activist Eve Ensler, The View host Whoopi Goldberg
and musician Madeleine Peyroux. The event, which included a silent auction, raised $125,000 with more than 500
people in attendance. “We’re just a group of friends throwing down and using those corporate skills we’ve honed
over so many years.”
Those are some skills.
It all started with an e-mail to the journalist Gettleman,
in which Williams asked if there was anything she could do
to help mitigate the horrors of the civil war in Congo
and its effect on women and girls. Gettleman referred
Williams to Panzi, a local hospital that could collect
100 percent of any donations, and Williams started
enlisting her friends—and their friends and their friends
and families—through e-mail, during play dates and at
her kids’ schools.
This word-of-mouth system led the newly minted
Women of the Congo to team up with lawyers from Avo-cats Sans Frontières; V-Day, the group founded by Ensler
to end violence against women and girls; and even the
“We’re trying to raise money, but it’s also a moment
to take a stand and raise awareness, too,” Williams says,
adding that anyone can do what her group is doing.
“We’re about anybody who wants to roll up their sleeves
and get involved in any aspect of what it takes to make
Williams isn’t surprised by the steamroller effect her
initial idea has had on others.
“We’re all connected; it’s not strangers,” she says. “The
only reason you’re with this group is because we’re friends
and there’s some connection—you’re passionate about
this issue.” womenofthecongo.com