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Student creates organization to benefit Congo

April 20, 2011
By Kayla Green

With an upcoming benefit concert, as well as the constant fight against unjust practices in the Congo, senior Laura Schmalstieg delves into why she started the CSU Whistler Society.

Imagine you are 12. Imagine you are playing in the front yard of your childhood home, the warm grass beneath your feet, the cool breeze brushing up against your face. Imagine you are running and laughing with your siblings and friends, joking and playing with one another, each laugh a bit louder, each a bit more carefree.

Now imagine an army raiding your neighborhood. See the bullets fire, the flames, the rage and hate. See yourself in the middle of it, run. Run away. Run before they catch you. Before they abduct you from everything you've ever known. Run before you're captured, thrown into a deep hole, held captive, beaten. Run before you're forced to hold a gun, before you're forced to kill in a war you don't understand. Run, for the sake of your childhood... and for the sake of never being a whistleblower.

A reason to take actionPhoto by Laura Schmalstieg

For many young boys living in the Congo, this is a daily reality. Children are abducted, abused, and forced into fighting in a war they don't believe in. For some boys too small to hold a gun, they are given whistles and forced to stand between the crossfire of two armies. The intent is to frighten the opposing army into shooting their weapons toward the whistling, making the young boys sacrificial to the war.

For senior Laura Schmalstieg, creator of the CSU Whistler Society, a local chapter originating from Falling Whistles, this very issue is what inspired her to take action.

It was in the middle of fall 2010 that Schmalstieg went to an Apparel Merchandising networking event when she first heard Sean Carasso speak. "He kind of just opened my eyes to this new concept of combining fashion with human rights," she said. "In his speech he said, 'Anybody can get involved and use their passion.'"

Following this event, Schmalstieg came back to Colorado State University and began working on the development of the CSU Whistler Society. "Basically, I kind of hope to just spread awareness of what is going on in the Congo. I believe word of mouth is very powerful and fundamental in our speech."

Speaking outPhoto by Laura Schmalstieg

Through her connections within the Design and Merchandising department and the creation of the CSU Whistler Society, Schmalstieg has had the opportunity to establish an empowering student organization that is striving to help young boys in the Congo.

This past fall she spent much of her time hosting "speakeasies," based on the traditional concept of meeting "underground" and defying unjust practices, and speaking to fellow student organizations about the cause.

The Design and Merchandising department also incorporated the philanthropic organization into their fashion shows, making it easier to purchase whistles and join the cause.

This semester, Schmalstieg, as well as the Design and Merchandising department, plan to be part of the fashion show again. "We're having all the models wear whistle necklaces while showing off their recycled garments," she said. And yes, they will be selling whistles there as well.

The whistle

"I think one of the most empowering things about this is everyone is going to ask you why you're wearing a whistle around your neck." The whistle, as used by the young boys in the Congolese war, was chosen by Falling Whistles Founder Carasso as a way of speaking out against the unjust practices in the Congo. By wearing the whistle and speaking out about the Congolese war and the young boys sacrificed, an individual would be seen as a "whistleblower for peace."

In essence, the whistle, which has assumed all negative connotations, is being redefined and used to speak out against that which has given the whistle its negative connotation.

Hosting a benefit concertPhoto by Laura Schmalstieg

The CSU Whistler Society will also be hosting a benefit concert at Hodi's Halfnote at 7 p.m. April 24. Tickets are $8 and all proceeds will go to the Falling Whistles. The event will host local band, The Heyday, as well as Falling Whistles Spokesperson, Yves Muya.

"His story is incredible, very inspiring," said Schmalstieg. According to Schmalstieg, Muya spent most of his life in the Congo and left when he was roughly 12 or 13 to escape the extremists. It wasn't until his early twenties when his determination paid off and he was offered a scholarship rarely given to Congolese natives.

Since arriving to America, he has spent the last year and a half speaking about his life and working with Falling Whistles.

"It's nice to see a firsthand story on what it's like over there," she said.

Appointing a special envoy

In addition to the fashion show and concert, the CSU Whistler Society has also been striving to help Falling Whistles and several other national organizations obtain signatures for a petition asking President Barack Obama to appoint a special envoy to help ensure the upcoming Congolese elections are fair and just.

"It's [the petition] been getting a lot of pull with Congress. With all the effort on Capitol Hill, it just shows that they're listening," said Schmalstieg. Currently, the petition has over 12,000 signatures, including 35 from Congress, and is still being signed.

Contact: Laura Schmalstieg