January 26, 2013

Bio + Upcoming Events

Below is a bio that I had to submit for something particular, related to Miss AfriCanada. I encourage you all to read it, to gain a better sense of who I am. It also discusses some of things I will be working on, or accomplishing this new year. So, check it out:
Christine Likwekwe Kitoko – Bio

            My name is Christine Likwekwe Kitoko, and I was crowned Miss AfriCanada 2012 on August 11th, 2012. Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), I have always felt strong ties to my cultural origins, despite the fact that I was raised in Canada and have acquired a proud Canadian identity. It is what encouraged me to participate in the Miss AfriCanada Pageant; I wanted to showcase the pride I felt in my Congolese heritage. In so doing, I also aimed to raise awareness about the sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) happening en masse, in the eastern DRC, in the midst of the civil war. The war is a result of conflict over minerals, among many things, in which civilian communities are being terrorized and destroyed through the sexual brutality inflicted upon women. From the time I was 16 years old, it has been my cause to inform people about this issue, because the SGBV happening in the Congo is labeled as being worse than anywhere else in the world. 
Today, as Miss AfriCanada, I continue with this cause by holding fundraisers in my local community, in support of Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, DRC. The hospital is a major treatment and recovery centre for victims of SGBV in the region. Since reading about the work that has been done by its director and lead surgeon Dr. Denis Mukwege, in helping to repair these women’s lives, I have felt compelled to do my share as well. My first fundraiser, titled A Night for Change, A Night for the Congo was held on October 20th, 2012 for Congo Week. It proved to be a great success, and allowed us to receive over $1000 in donations. Our ultimate goal is to raise $2000 for Panzi Hospital, so that the funds can be donated all at once. Moreover, I will be now be working through my official charity organization Hands for the Heart, to continue to do my work for the Congo. Certain things that I have planned for this year, in support of my cause include: the Cupcakes for Congo bake sales (Feb. 1st, 12th, and 14th), A Night for Change, A Night for the Congo: Montreal, a D.I.Y. hair care and beauty day fundraiser, for young girls and women, and a month-long trip back to the DRC during the summer. A way to keep up-to-date with what I am doing, is to regularly verify the posts I add onto my blog Miss AfriCanada Journey, where I write about my experiences and endeavors as the 2012 Queen.

Aside from being Miss AfriCanada, I am also a 3rd year student at York University, enrolled in the 4 years B.A. Honors program of International Development Studies. As a development enthusiast, global political and social issues have always interested me. It is what has lead me to undertake different initiatives and to participate in various organizations, dealing with the matter. My earliest form of involvement in a club relating to this field, was in The Social Justice Club of my former secondary school. It helped me develop a sense of social responsibility, and to choose my area of study for postsecondary school. Since then, not only has my knowledge and understanding of global development issues increased, but I have felt intrigued to acquire experience working in the field as well. It is why I believe that my title as Miss AfriCanada has been so well-suited. It has continued to provide me with opportunities to see and be involved in community and development work, not only at the local level, but internationally as well. Raising money for Panzi Hospital is only the first step in carrying out my initiative globally; travelling to the Congo and being able to work on-site will be my ultimate achievement. It is, therefore, something I look forward to accomplishing.

January 8, 2013

What about the west, and the rest?

Source of all Images: Mark Craemer

This post serves the purpose of explaining to you why my initiative leans torwards making a difference for the women of eastern Congo, as it may appear that I am leaving out the rest of the people and the rest of the country. Furthermore, I will explain my choice of Panzi Hospital as being the recipient of the money we continue to raise.

Firstly, based on my general knowledge and understanding of the DRC's situation, I can tell you that the entire country is in trouble. The citizens residing outside of the war zones in eastern Congo may not be directly  affected by the civil war in the sense that they're not being physically hurt, abused, murdered, and traumatized, however the effects of the war remain prevalent and visible in the current state of the entire country.

Although the war in Congo is extremely complex, and fueled by politics and capitalism, there is a general consensus among those who have examined the situation that it is strategically maintained and carried out for the purpose of destabilizing the country, to make way for the illegal exploitation of the its vast resources. Due to the fact that the resources that are most high in demand (ahem coltan, for example) preside in the eastern region of the country (so far as we know, because over 80% of the Congo's resources have yet to be explored, due to the depths of its forests), the war is consequently being carried out there. As a result, I choose to focus my efforts on drawing attention to the situation of the eastern region, because the ending of that war would at the very least provide the chance for the Congolese to rebuild their country and to live in peace (something they have had little, to none of, ever since the post-colonial era began). Nevertheless, poverty and suffering is prevalent throughout the entire nation. This is evident, for example, though the lack of social structures that are in-place to support civilians and provide them the chance for upward mobility. In the Congo, just as in all other economically developing countries, social services such as education and health care are privatized, meaning that people have to pay to have access to them. However, this is problematic because the majority of the population is formally unemployed and lives on a day-to-day basis, therefore has a difficult time keeping up with such costs that arise, when they barely have enough to take care of themselves and their families. Furthermore, there are enormous economic disparities in the Congo, meaning that the richest minority lives side-by-side to the poorest majority, and take advantage of the system of exploitation to maintain their wealth and power, at the expense of the poor. So, in this sense, yes, the entire country is in trouble. However, I don't wish to be broad or too general about the important projects that I undertake. It's why instead of talking about all of the the Congo's endless problems (and I don't say that light-heartedly), I choose to focus on the sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) against women, in the eastern region of the country, where the war is prevalent.

This is not to say that the rest of the country does not suffer from SGBV, patriarchy, or gender inequalities (in reality, the entire world is in the same situation), but it is simply to say that the case of eastern Congo is overwhelmingly worse. The atrocities committed against women, range and vary from burying them alive, gang raping them, raping them with sticks and object, to mutilating their vaginas and other parts of their bodies... And it is not an issue to be taken lightly. Therefore, as a woman first and foremost, I choose to take a stand against it.

Regarding Panzi General Referral Hospital in South Kivu, I chose it as organization to raise funds for because I felt that the stories I read about some of the patients from that hospital marked me, and led me to develop in interest in the issue of SGBV in the Congo, as I had previously been unaware of it. I believe that Dr. Denis Mukwege, who is the founder and director of the hospital, is doing a great job in providing a recovery centre for the women who fell victims to sexual abuse in eastern Congo. Therefore, I wanted to direct part of my efforts towards supporting his hospital.

If I can at least make a difference in one particular area of this complex and unfortunate situation, then I will feel good, and not in a bashful manner, but in the sense that I am at least doing something. I am at least caring. That's what's important. In conclusion, I leave you with the following words: the problem is not that the Congo does not have enough potential, but rather that it has too much of it. Exapand on that.

Until then, remember to #BreakTheSilence and keep up-to-date with the new things I will be doing this year for my cause.


In case you're interested: