Team Congo Races the 20 Kilometers of Paris

Paris is known for its incredible light. When I was training for the 2009 Paris Marathon to race for Girls on the Run International, one of my last training runs found me at Place de la Concorde. Just as my running shoe hit the center, the Eiffel Tower lit up as did all the surrounding street lamps. The natural light here can be just as profound.

This past Sunday Alice Phan, pictured here triumphant at the 20K de Paris finish line, took to the city streets along with Run for Congo Women's Team Congo Paris in sunlight that marked beauty to the highest degree. Autumn. 20,000 runners. Unite.

In early September, I met Alice in person as we ran Parc des Buttes Chaumont together in training for the 20K de Paris. At the time, she was running about five miles. Later that month, we chatted excitedly at the start line of La Parisienne, a 6K for women's health, which also marked the ninth anniversary weekend of September 11.

When Alice initially emailed me about joining Team Congo Paris, she shared how she had always wanted to work with Girls on the Run Manhattan while living in New York, but that her work hours had always been an obstacle. Phan, an optometrist, is now living in Paris due to her husband's job transfer, and while acquiring her work visa, she volunteers at a hospital and has also become an invaluable asset to Team Congo Paris. To explain Alice's energy is like harnessing a surge of fresh air, a full deep-belly laugh; she is the kind of person who congratulates herself out loud on a fantastic idea and keeps on in the face of adversity with determination and a smile.

For the first ten minutes of the 20K de Paris race, I ran alongside Alice before I launched onward. On Sunday night post-run, I checked in with her and she shared that the first eight miles she was at a consistent 10 minute mile pace, but then a major cramp kicked in. "I probably could have walked faster than what I was running, because I was pretty much crawling," she told me, "but then when I saw the 19 km sign, I was so excited and was ecstatic to finish!"

She finished in under 2 hours and 15 minutes.

Born to first-generation parents who came to the United States from Vietnam then settled in Southern California, Alice often embraces Run for Congo Women's shared reason for being. She gets it. We are out there running together raising awareness, pushing our own bodies as a metaphor for Congolese women and children whose bodies and beings have been pushed far past any fathomable sense of resiliency. We keep on as a testament to their profound hardship. Around the time I met Alice, I wrote Resiliency, Congo, and Rape As a Weapon of War, which highlighted the July 30 attack of 300 women and children in Eastern Congo, only ten to twenty miles from a UN compound.

According to the Guardian's October 6 article, Militia Commander Mayele Arrested After Mass Rape of Congo Villagers, "Over four days, at least 303 people were raped – 235 women, 52 girls, 13 men and 3 boys – according to a preliminary UN investigation published last month. Many of the victims were raped repeatedly."

In a statement from Congo, Lisa Wallström, the UN's representative for sexual violence in conflict, says the arrest of Mayele is a victory for justice. "The numerous criminal acts committed under 'Lt Col' Mayele's command cannot be undone, but let his apprehension be a signal to all perpetrators of sexual violence that impunity for these types of crimes is not accepted and that justice will prevail," she said.

Although human rights activists have commended the arrest, they have also highlighted that Mayele was not a major player or the only assailant, and this act of small justice is only one step toward a more comprehensive and effective resolution. How that resolution takes shape – or if it will – ultimately depends on a variety of upcoming actions, reports, and initiatives.

In the meantime, Team Congo Paris will continue to race in support of the women and children in Congo. For their deserved safety and well-being, at least.

You can still join Team Congo Paris and race on November 7, 2010 or you can support us via donation.