Women’s activist Lisa Shannon shares story of congo war


Activist Lisa Shannon speaks on her efforts to help the women in the Congo during her lecture “Do It Yourself World Leadership” in the Kiva on Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2014.

Olivia Young

It started with Oprah and led to the war-torn country of the Congo. Lisa Shannon, a women’s activist and grassroots campaign organizer, told an audience of nearly 70 on Tuesday in the Kiva that her “make-a-difference” journey began after watching an episode of the popular TV show.

“It was right before my 30th birthday, and at that point, I could not have picked Congo out on a map,” Shannon said. “I had no idea there was a war happening there, but what I learned that day really shocked me.”

Shannon’s lecture, titled “Do-It-Yourself World Leadership,” was part of the Distinguished Lecture Series for International Education Week, which aims to educate students and faculty about the benefits of the international experience, according to a university press release.

From Oprah, Shannon learned that the war in the Congo was the deadliest war since World War II and that conservative estimates say 5.4 million people have died from the conflict, at a rate of 45,000 people a month. 

“I had never heard of this before and was quite shocked,” Shannon said. “(Congo) had the worst sexual violence epidemic on Earth. As horrific of a thing that rape is in itself, it’s almost a soft word for the sort of violence that’s happening for women in the Congo.”

Shannon decided to begin grassroots campaigns to raise money for and awareness about the marginalized women affected by the conflict in the country.

For the first fundraiser she organized, Shannon planned to run 30 miles to raise 30 sponsorships for Women for Women, an organization that has helped nearly 420,000 marginalized women in countries affected by war and conflict, according to its website.

Shannon said the outcome of the fundraiser surpassed her expectation, as she raised $28,000 and 80 sponsorships.

Molly Wrentmore, a sophomore education major, said that she was moved by the details of Shannon’s story.

“It’s not everyday that I get to hear a woman tell her story about how she’s trying to make a difference,” Wrentmore said.  “Women these days are praised in the media for doing outrageous things, and I think more women, like Lisa Shannon, deserve some recognition for the impact they are creating.”

The turnout for the event was better than Linda Robertson, director of the Gerald H. Read Center for International and Intercultural Education, had hoped for. She said she hopes students walked away from the event “believing in themselves and to have empathy.”

Jess Glaser, a junior business management major, said she was surprised to learn that Shannon’s inspiration came from watching regular TV.

“She really inspired me because often times, I feel that I don’t know where to begin to try to make a difference,” Glaser said. “And her story changed my outlook on what I can do to help.”

Contact Olivia Young at [email protected]