Non-profit group blows whistle on the Congo
To most children in America, the sound of whistles can mean many things. From the halt of cars by a crossing guard who is escorting them across the street at school, to the screech it creates at beginning of a basketball game during recess.
To thousands of little boys in the Congo, though, the sound of a whistle means something else: the approach of the enemy, and unavoidable death.
What began in 1998 as a war between various local and international groups over the abundant natural resources in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has spiraled into what is being called by Time Magazine as "The Deadliest War in the World".
It is estimated that about 6 million people have died already, while about 1,500 people continue to lose their lives daily. Among these people are the children who are forced to participate. The boys who are too small to carry a gun, are sent to the front lines with only a whistle to announce when the enemy is approaching, ultimately acting as a human shield.
While the war is occurring this very second, hardly anyone is aware of it or of the vast amounts of devastation it is causing. "It's as if World War II was happening and no one knew about it," says Sequoia Ziff, an intern at Falling Whistles. "It's horrible that something like this can go so unnoticed."
Falling Whistles, a non-profit organization founded by Sean Carasso only two years ago, is determined to help the children that have been forced to partake in the war, as well as the children who have been lucky enough to flee.
Falling Whistles began as an online journal about these boys during Carasso's trip to the Congo, however after deciding to take action, it developed into an organization dedicated to raise money and spread awareness for the cause.
"With falling whistles, their only choice is to feign death, or face it," wrote Carasso.
After receiving a whistle as a gift when he returned home, Carasso decided what needed to be done. The organization decided to sell whistle necklaces. They believed that "hanging just over the heart, the whistle kept the story of falling whistles alive and caused conversations" allowing the wearer the chance to spread the word.
Falling Whistles also set up instillations in stores such as Fred Segal, to educate the shoppers and allow them to purchase the necklaces. The money is then sent to various organizations throughout the Congo that attempt to rehabilitate the children in numerous ways.
This fall they have embarked on a cross-country tour to spread the word and urge everyone to use their voice as a weapon and educate others about the conflict in the Congo. They will stop in numerous cities, including San Diego, Phoenix, Dallas, New Orleans, Memphis, Chicago, and New York. This will be the second tour for the organization, the first being a tour last spring that proved to be very successful.
"We want to build a coalition of whistleblowers so that even if this shut down, people would still be talking about it," says Brittany Bledsoe, the tour coordinator. "We want to continue educating people about the Congo, but also empower them so that they can become whistleblowers in their own communities."
They have organized high school and university speaking events along the way, as well as more social events such as retail store openings and benefit concerts. "We like to find out what people are passionate about, and try to accommodate to that to try to raise awareness," says Bledsoe.
After visiting the headquarters in Downtown Los Angeles, it is clear that every member of Falling Whistles, almost all of which are volunteers, is deeply dedicated and driven to making a difference. "People dedicate their lives to this. One man hitchhiked from New York to LA just to help when he didn't have money for a plane ticket," says Ziff.
As the conflict continues in the Congo, it is clear that Falling Whistles will do everything in their power to help make a difference for these young boys. And as they constantly stress, "Our voice will be our weapon."