Annie came here from an African country that gender experts consider one of the worst places in the world to be a woman. She was a radio talk host in the Democratic Republic of the Congo until a few years ago when it became too dangerous for her to do her job because of her message to fellow Congolese women.
"You can stand and do something! You are woman. Some of us went to school. Why would you just stay like that and then they treat you as they want to treat you?" Annie would ask on her radio show.
After completing a one-year course in journalism, she felt compelled to use her broadcasts to tell the truth about what was happening in her country. The United Nations calls Congo "the rape capital of the world." Aide groups say many thousands of women and girls are raped each year by invading rebel soldiers, by poorly disciplined government soldiers who are supposed to protect them, and increasingly, by civilians in a society that has seen so much sexual violence during the past 15 years of conflict.
When Annie spoke out about these atrocities and called for more protection, respect, and opportunities for Congolese women, she says government soldiers tried to silence her violently.
"If someone doesn't listen they pull the ears. 'You don't listen!' they say," she said.
Annie showed us the scars on her ears. The soldiers ripped off her ear lobes when they showed up at the studio, and right there, she became one of the hundreds of thousands of rape victims in her country.
"When they do that to you, they know you will be in shame and then you will not do that job again," Annie said quietly. "It's not easy. It's not easy."
Annie wasn't willing to give up. She continued her radio show until she says the threats became just too much. Fearing for her life, she traveled to the United States where she received asylum. While learning English, she has been working as a maid and going back to school to earn nursing credentials. Even though she may never work as a broadcaster again, she is still using her voice to call for help for women in Congo facing the heart-breaking challenges of life in a society fractured by years of violence.
"My sisters are suffering," she said. "I'm here. I'm safe. I can go somewhere. I'm safe, but what about them?"
Annie agreed to talk with 9NEWS hoping to raise awareness of this issue. She is working with other women in Colorado who organize an annual fundraiser to support the programs of Women for Women International. The Run for Congo Women is a 5k run/walk that will be held this Sunday, July 31 in Denver's Washington Park. To find out more and to register, visit www.rfcwdenver2011.kintera.org. To find out more about the work of Women for Women International in Congo, visit http://www.womenforwomen.org/global-initiatives-helping-women/help-women-congo.php.
(KUSA-TV © 2011 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)