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July 30th, 2014

The Truth Told: Stories of the women and girls in the DR Congo

Posted by liveBooks

Photographer and humanitarian Sarah Fretwell has been called an unreasonable activist. She formed The Truth Told Project to help the girls and women of the Congo share their stories of sexual violence with the world and serve as a catalyst for change. She tells us about the project and with what we can do to help.
The Truth Told

Kavira Kabambi, 15 year old survivor. Photographed by Sarah Fretwell.

The Truth Told Project

One girl or woman is raped every minute in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The rape is not random, as you might think. It is a power play that targets those who are not in a position to fight back. The rebel and military groups use rape as a scare tactic and way to control and destroy local communities. The DRC’s society is so broken rape is now “normalized.” Millions of girls, women and men have been raped. Many more will be raped in the time it takes you to read these few paragraphs.

Photographer Sarah Fretwell woke one day from a nightmare and realized she was “supposed to go” to North Kivu, a warn-torn and mineral rich region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Shortly after, in December of 2010 she arrived and spent 50 days photographing and filming the girls and women of the DRC. She absorbed and chronicled their stories of terror and tragedy. Fretwell passionately formulated what is now called, The Truth Told Project.

The Truth Told

Goretti and her daughter Waridi. Waridi was born after her mother was brutally raped by 10 soldiers. Since Goretti was only 16 years old when she gave birth she is known as a “girlmother” – a mother who is still a child herself. There are thousands of girls mothers across the DRC. Photographed by Sarah Fretwell.

Her mission is to assist these girls and women to tell their stories. Fretwell’s compelling photographs capture the pain, despair, innocence and hope of these women and children. By using photography, videography, art and written words, Fretwell generates conversation and brings awareness to something each of us can actively participate in to end.

Sarah challenges us to live our life’s purpose, “The mistake I was making was waiting for someone to hand me the opportunity to make a difference instead of creating it myself.”

Upon returning to the US, she was invited to present at the 2012 SXSW Interactive Conference and presented at TEDx Skid Row Unreasonable Activism, but it is each of us as individuals that need to actively help in the cause.

The Truth Told

Kavira Kahundo, 40 years old. “For the future? I want my life to be good. For my children? I want them to go study. For the Congo? I want stability.” Photographed by Sarah Fretwell.

“We vote with our dollars,” says Fretwell. Countries such as Rwanda, Uganda, elite Congolese, and foreign mercenaries profit from mineral resources because of the unregulated supply chains that feed the high technology consumption of the world.

Fretwell’s call-to-action is for all of us to be mindful of what happens when our technology thirst is constantly quenched. The photo industry specifically with our high turn over of electronics can have a huge impact on this issue by demanding that all of our technology companies are doing their best to use conflict-free minerals from the DR Congo. Canon and Nikon, specifically, have received a red light ranking on the “Conflict Minerals Ranking“. According to the Enough Project who conducts the study, “These companies have done next to nothing to shift their practices toward conflict-free from Congo. They are not members of industry-wide efforts, have not taken the proper steps to investigate their supply chains, have said nothing about legislation, and are not actively engaged with other stakeholders.”

In every aspect of the photo industry we should all be actively commenting on the way our tech companies are conducting business. What are their environmental and social impacts? It is our “need” for these electronics that is ultimately helping fund the fighting in DR Congo. The reality is that many companies will not change their practices until their customers and stakeholders demand it.

To that end, here are some actions you can take now:

1. Email your tech companies and tell them to Make Your Products Fully Conflict-Free with minerals from the Congo (via Enough Project).

2.  Visit the Conflict Mineral Company Ranking to see how your brands of choice stack up.

3. Email your electronics companies and let them know you want your electronics to be conflict-free.  

4. Sign the Conflict Free Mineral Pledge and share it on Facebook.

5. Urge Samantha Power, United States Ambassador to the United Nations, to help sanction key conflict gold smugglers by signing this online petition.

6. Ask the US State Department to hold Rwanda accountable by commenting directly on their Facebook page.

7. Send an automated message to your state representative to Co-Sponsor House Resolution 131.

Please visit to view more of Sarah’s compelling portraits and learn more about how you can make your community conflict-free.

The program is actively seeking funding to expand its reach. Please email to offer your assistance and support.

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