Why I’m climbing Kilimanjaro on International Women’s Day
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Why I’m climbing Kilimanjaro on International Women’s Day

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By Leia Johnson, ONE volunteer and president and co-founder of Somebody’s Mama

On any given morning, I pack lunches, brush hair, and kiss faces. I coordinate with my husband to see who is taking the kids to karate or Cub Scouts. I check email, pay bills, and pick up milk at the store.

And then I train to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.

Photo credit: Chris 73 / Wikimedia Commons

Photo credit: Chris 73 / Wikimedia Commons

In February, I will join a team of sixteen people from around the United States on a trip to east Africa. We will spend time in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) before traveling to Tanzania to summit Kilimanjaro on International Women’s Day on March 8.

Our team is campaigning with One Million Thumbprints (1MT), a grassroots peace movement for women who experience violence in war. We are inspired by Esperance, a fifty-year-old widow and mother of four from the DRC. Esperance’s story is representative of so many women living under the threat of war. She watched her husband die at the hand of rebels. She was violently raped and would have died if her sisters had not rescued her. She is a survivor of the worst violence imaginable, a violence that has plagued nearly 60 percent of women in the DRC.

Photo credit: Christine Anderson/One Million Thumbprints

When our leader, Belinda Bauman, met her, Esperance told Belinda, “Go tell my story” and gave her thumbprint as permission. Today, because of the work of 1MT, Esperance has a voice, and the world will know the story of a gentle peacemaker living in a war zone.

Our campaign purpose is two-fold. First, we want to give tangible hope to women in Syria, Iraq, the DRC, and South Sudan, four of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman. Secondly, we are gathering thumbprints and names for a petition to take before the United Nations and other policy makers, asking world leaders to remember women caught in conflict.

The question I get asked most is some form of “Why?” People want to know why a stay-at-home mom from middle America would leave the comfort of home to climb a mountain in Africa. The somewhat abstract answer is that I believe violence against any woman is violence against every woman. 

A more specific answer is that statistical and anecdotal evidence points us to the empowerment of women every time. When women are empowered and supported, families thrive. When families thrive, communities thrive. When communities thrive, desperate populations become far less volatile and less likely to engage in conflict. It is a simple but profound truth that empowering women is the beginning of world peace.

Leia Johnson, ONE volunteer and co-founder of Somebody's Mama, a 501(c)3 that exists to fund global women’s empowerment projects.

Leia Johnson, ONE volunteer and co-founder of Somebody’s Mama, a 501(c)3 that exists to fund global women’s empowerment projects.

I am the spouse of an Air Force pilot and the mother of two boys. Our family knows all too well that war in far off places does not just affect people living in those places. Women and children in war zones are arguably the most vulnerable people on earth, and I am honored and humbled to advocate on their behalf as my life’s work.

Being a part of the 1MT climbing team allows me to combine purposeful advocacy as a citizen of the world with my passion for helping women. Our collective efforts send a message to world leaders that we care about correcting injustices and seeing our fellow human beings rewrite their stories. Violence will not have the final word. 

For more information about our ongoing work and how to support this project, visit Somebody’s Mama. To add your thumbprint to the campaign, visit One Million Thumbprints.

Leia Johnson is a ONE volunteer and the president and co-founder of Somebody’s Mama, a 501(c)3 that exists to fund global women’s empowerment projects. You can find her work at leiamjohnson.com.

Join Leia and become a ONE member, then read about more inspirational girls and women on the ONE blog!

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