CANTON What started as a class project for a St. Lawrence University student has grown into an annual act of international philanthropy.
At 10 a.m. April 14, the universitys Womens Resource Center is sponsoring a 5K Run for Congo Women at the Canton Partridge Fitness Trail.
The event is the brainchild of Shawn E. Austin, a philosophy major who developed the idea while working on a class project for proposing activism last spring.
We didnt have to follow through, she said. But I got personally involved. Once I started working on it, I became really invested in what I was doing, and I wanted to see it through.
Her efforts attracted 100 runners and raised $3,000 for Women for Women International, an organization that supports women in war-torn regions. After a trip to Africa last year, Ms. Austin decided to organize the event again.
Last spring I went to Uganda and had the opportunity to work with women from Uganda, she said. That motivated me to do it again.
So far, the Run for Congo Women has raised more than $1 million internationally for Women for Womens outreach programs in the Congo.
They run a facility for women in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ms. Austin said. They offer medical treatment and educational services to women.
Ms. Austin said that helping Congolese women is particularly important because they were targets of violence during the countrys prolonged civil war.
More people died in that war than any war since the Holocaust, she said. Rape was used as a weapon of terror against women, and so many of the men died that the women are now left to rebuild the country. They have to lay the groundwork, and these programs exist to help them.
This year, the event has expanded beyond the St. Lawrence University campus to earn the sponsorship of the St. Lawrence County branch of the American Association of American Women and to attract runners from communities around the north country.
It is difficult because a lot of people dont know what has happened in the Congo, Ms. Austin said. We dont seem to have a national political interest there, but it is important when you live in small communities and in the bubble of a college campus to know what is going on in the world around you.
Ms. Austin said registration has just started for the event, but it already has attracted 50 participants.
Theres going to be people running and walking, biking, roller blading, she said. Weve invited the Nordic ski team to see if they will come out and go roller skiing with us.
The Womens Resource Center is a residential program at St. Lawrence University formed to raise awareness of gender issues on and off campus.
Registration for the event is $10. Runners may register in advance at the Sullivan Student Center on St. Lawrence Universitys campus or on the day of the race.
The organization is also accepting donations at http://www.active.com/donate/runforcongowomen/stlawrence .