Sarah Thontwa

Greenmash Congo

Location: Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo

"I asked myself one simple question: what does courage look like?"

Early this year, I packed my apartment, shipped my stuff and jumped on a plane for a new adventure. I left my life studying in New York City for a new job in my home country, the Democratic Republic of Congo. I had done my homework and was thrilled to take this opportunity. After all, it offered me exactly what I was looking for: private sector experience in Africa, a chance to use my education to benefit my country, and the ability to be closer to my family.

Having previously worked in the DRC, I had tasted what it was like to be a young woman in rooms where people constantly brought their expectations of what or who I should be -- and didn't try to hide it.

Shortly after settling into my new role, it became clear that the leadership there was oppressive and that they expected cult-style obedience from employees. They were not open to my attempts at constructive discussion. Like a fish, I invested my energy in figuring out how best to swim in toxic waters.

One evening, I received an email asking me to come for a meeting with my boss. At the meeting, I was told that I was fired. They said I needed to move out of my housing and I was presented with a return ticket to New York. This termination did not only violate my contract; it made me feel betrayed, because they did nothing to prove that I was not capable and was not performing.

I took the time to let my emotions settle over a few days. One night I turned down all the light in my apartment, hid under my blanket and asked myself one simple question: what does courage look like?

In that moment I weighed all my options and decided to do something. My hands were shaking when I went to hand in the wrongful termination notification suit to the company, reminding me that absolutely had no chance of standing up to a corporation in a place where justice was rare. I knew I had no chance of winning, I filed a suit mostly as a symbolic gesture so that one day, I could tell my grandchildren that at least I had done something.

To my surprise, it worked! In less than a month, my lawyer called and told me that the company was afraid of the public attention this could get and wanted to settle. And just like that, I had just won a suit in the Congo without paying $1 in bribe.

I learned to choose courage even when the outcomes are 100% uncertain. From then on, for every challenge, big or small, I have continued to ask myself this question: what would courage look like? And so far, my heart is finding the answer.