Congo Student Will Put NPU Degree to Work Back Home

Post a Comment » Written on February 5th, 2009     
Filed under: News
By Stan Friedman

CHICAGO, IL (February 5, 2009) – Sarah Thontwa is the first undergraduate student from the Democratic Republic of Congo to attend North Park University, which means she probably could stay in the United States and earn a good income in an attractive job after she completes her studies in May.

She plans on returning to Africa instead.

Thontwa“I want to inspire girls in my country and stand by them as they struggle to find their own voice,” she says.

The women in Congo are all too familiar with struggle. The United Nations has declared the African nation one of the poorest in the world as well as one of the worst in terms of the incidents of violence against women.

Thontwa wants to inspire Congolese by finding ways to offer them opportunities to acquire education, escape abuse, and develop businesses. She already has started her own nonprofit venture in this country to advance those goals and plans to do the same when she returns to Africa.

Thontwa returned to her hometown of Gemena and visited other parts of Congo in 2007. “I was just heartbroken by what I saw,” she recalls.

When she returned to the United States, Thontwa went to a crafts store, purchased a variety of beads and began making jewelry to sell to her classmates and friends. Proceeds from the jewelry are dedicated to paying for the education of girls in Congo.

She learned that it costs $150 per year to send a girl to school. “I thought, I can do that.” She now supports two girls and hopes to add two more. Click here to see additional photos, including the two girls being assisted.

Other students and friends – who are among her list of customers – encouraged her to start the nonprofit organization, “Little Things.” Now the students and others sponsor parties (accompanying photo) where they make jewelry that is sold to raise funds for Little Things.

Thontwa also wants to “break the greatest silence in Congo,” which is abuse – especially sexual violence – against women.

JewelryShe recalls a teenage friend who was raped while in high school. “No one wanted to talk about it,” Thontwa says. “People would say, ‘Don’t talk with her because she was raped.’ ”

Women often are blamed for being raped, Thontwa says. Because of the stigma, “You know to keep your mouth shut because you don’t want to be an outcast.”

A lot of people think the violence is the result of tradition, Thontwa says, but she believes a misinterpretation of scripture also is to blame.

“(Men) will give you quotes from the Bible,” Thontwa says, including that women were killed in the Bible for committing adultery. “The church has a lot to learn.”

To combat the abuse, Thontwa will bring back knowledge she learned when she participated in coordinators training for the Advocacy for Victims of Abuse (AVA) initiative developed by the Department of Women Ministries of the Evangelical Covenant Church.

“It helped me understand why it is important for Christians to advocate for others who cannot advocate for themselves,” Thontwa says. That advocacy will include educating church leaders to be proactive in stopping the abuse.

Thontwa also is looking at the possibility of opening a shelter for women.

The ability to have economic independence also is vital to improving the lives of women, she says. To that end, Thontwa also hopes to provide micro-financing through a nonprofit organization.

She picked up valuable experience and made important contacts during a recent internship at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. She was the only intern from a non-Ivy League school.

Thontwa worked with donors to the nonprofit organization. Her duties included developing communication strategies as well as initiating new relationships between the nonprofit and universities and colleges.

“I expect great things for her,” says her supervisor, John Macha.

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