I noticed Ghisalne outside in the crowd: she is a "Little Person." Looking at her sponsorship booklet, her sponsor line reads "Lisa Shannon," not "Run for Congo Women." She is one of my own, private sisters. As the group settles into the dim training room, Ghislane sits in a dark shadow in the corner. I can barely make her out.
When it comes her turn, Ghislane speaks in a sweet, gentle voice. "At first I was reluctant. I wouldn't be in a crowd of other people. They would laugh at me. I asked my parents if I should join. They told me from a young age they would throw me away. They would not remain with a person like me. I lost self-acceptance.
"As a child, I was a babysitter, watching children laughing, joking with babies. For 12 years, I did childcare. I was not paid. I loved it so much, I did it for free.
"I was out cultivating the fields with four other girls when the Congolese Army soldiers came. They took all four of us. All seven men raped me. My mother was in the field. She wasn't raped, but she knew.
"I got pregnant. I wanted an abortion, but my Mother refused. I went to the hospital, I wanted to get an abortion there, but they said it was not possible because I was too close to term."
"What was it like to hold a baby you got from rape?"
"I was happy to have a child who was healthy. I could not reject him."
"What did you name him?"
"Shuza. It means 'answer.'"
"He was learning how to sit upright just before he died. He was coughing one day, after he had a fever, we took him to the hospital, but the next day he died. He was five months old."
"After the death of my child, I went back to the activity I like: keeping after children. I had stopped when I had my own child.
"It was like my life started when I got into this organization. I was trained in breeding. I have animals at my place. I sell them when I want money: 7 Hens, 3 goats, 20 guinea pigs, and 8 rabbits. If I'm in need of money, I can sell part of them."
Ghisalne has just given birth to a new baby.
"Congratulations. Are you married?"
She smiles. "I am a single mother."
"What about the dad?"
"Never mind about the man. The important thing is I have a baby."
I explain that my sister was a young single mother, who raised my niece with our parents' support.
"Is there anything you want for the future?" I ask her.
"I'm happy. What you've done for me is enough to set you as my sister and my friend."
"There are people your size all over the world. In the U.S. they have societies and conventions. They come together. There's even a TV show about a family of 'Little People' — like you."
"I thank you so much because I did lose hope. Now I've received another parent who can share my feelings with me. Life here is not easy. But I don't complain about my size. I'm proud of what I am. I feel like other women, so now I feel proud of myself."