The Democratic Republic of the Congo, a large, mostly rural and extremely mineral-wealthy nation in the heart of Africa, is also the home to one of the world’s longest-lasting conflicts. Since 1998, roughly 5.4 million people have been killed, and untold numbers have been forced to flee into neighboring countries as refugees. Due to the extreme nature of the violence, rape and sexual slavery in the region, the DRC has been called the “worst place in the world to be a woman” by groups such as Human Rights Watch.
Saturday, a group of Weber State University students joined in the effort to end the conflict by participating in a 5K run for the Congo at Wheeler Historic Farm in Murray. The race, now in its second annual running, drew a crowd of more than 120 volunteers, runners and supporters from all across Utah.
Abbey Porter, a junior at WSU and member of the student council at the WSU Davis campus, helped organize the event with her friend Missy Lambert for the two years has been in existence.
“Missy is very passionate about the Congo,” Porter said. “We picked the Congo because we feel that women in the Congo need the most help. The turnout this year has been incredible. The first year we did it, we just sort of had to see how it would go, but this year we’ve had a lot more. But really, any turnout is good when you’re doing it for a good cause.”
Among the WSU students running in the race was Natalie Cole, a WSU freshman who insisted she wasn’t the famous singer people sometimes mistake her for.
“I really like to support events like this,” Cole said. “We get to run and we get to make a difference at the same time, so it’s really great, especially here; it’s been beautiful and has had a great atmosphere.”
WSU was also represented by several alumni. WSU alumnus Cameron Morgan, a psychology major and former president of WSU’s STAND, an anti-genocide student coalition, was present at the event.
“I love running for a great cause,” Morgan said. “I’ve worked with the Congo before, so this was a natural fit for me.”
The event featured much more than just a 5K run as well. The organizers brought in a number of local singers to perform, and events were also set up for the children of the runners. A children’s run and fishing game were available, and a raffle ticket drawing was set up. The two main prizes in the raffle were new Nook Color e-readers, a prize that Lambert admitted she wasn’t too sure about.
Lambert explained to the crowd before the drawing that much of the violence in the DRC is linked to what are known as “conflict minerals,” which are found in electronic devices. Though there was no way to be sure if the Nooks in the raffle were made of such minerals, she asked that the winners use their new tool to download and read a book about the Congo and the conflict minerals crisis in the region.