An update from Amani on the HIV/AIDS education, testing, and prevention project you support through your partnership with Action Kivu:
This month we jointly organized an anti HIV/AIDS campaign with our school kids with SOS SIDA, a Congolese organization focusing on HIV/AIDS. They brought hundreds of graphic pamphlets with key messages on how to prevent HIV/AIDS.The purpose of doing this with SOS SIDA is to create safe spaces where youth come together and talk about sex and reproductive health-related topics. As part of our All Together Against HIV/AIDS youth education, the students take the messages back to their schools and spread the word amongst other school children, and also pass on the messages to others at the community level. It becomes an unbreakable chain of communication.
These girls in the photo are my heroes as they want to go out and change our world!
Learn more how your donation is saving lives: To Protect One Protects Many: Action Kivu’s HIV/AIDS Education & Testing [Photos]
Join the movement today – every dollar makes a difference, and a monthly donation helps us plan ahead for this and all our transformational projects.
“Look for the helpers.” Fred Rogers’ memory of his mother’s wise words remind us how to act in difficult times. In Congo, Bulonza not only looks for the helpers, she is one.
“What I see in my life and in the world that I want to be a part of, that inspires me and excites me, is to be among those people who are helping others people in difficult situations,” Bulonza says. A recent high school graduate who was able to attend school because of our partner’s Education Assistance program in Congo, Bulonza is putting her words into action. While we work to find funding for her to attend university to study medicine, she is volunteering with our Education Assistance coordinator to help with home and school visits, during which we make sure the children are attending school regularly, and ensure that they are doing well.
Bulonza’s mother died giving birth to her, and to honor her birth in the midst of that loss, her grandmother named her “the will of God.” 19 years old, Bulonza believes that her life reflects her name – despite growing up in extreme poverty, and losing her father last year, she counts her blessings above all else: namely, the gift of education and the friends she made in school.
“When my father died, I went to live with my older brother who is very poor and does not have a job, and paying my school fees was a big problem. I come from a poor family; there are 12 children and I am the only one who went to school. I was going to have to quit secondary school in my third year (there are six years of secondary school in Congo).
“I was kicked out of class because I couldn’t pay the school fees, and on the way home, I spoke to my classmate Brigitte. She told me that she was not sure it was still possible, but perhaps I might get support to pay for my school from ABFEC, Action Kivu’s partner in Congo.
“The next day, I met one of the ABFEC local staff and they said they had to introduce me to Papa Amani since my case was special, as it was the middle of the school year. I met him, and he asked me a few questions about my life and what I wanted to become. For the rest of that year, he paid for my school fees from his own pocket, and the next school year I was officially enrolled in the Education Assistance program. I have just graduated this year (2017) and did very well.”
“I have no father or mother but I am achieving my dream, and there so many others like me, but who unfortunately are not lucky like me, which is why I have to do something to help others. What I see in my life, in the world, that I want to change is to give opportunities to orphans to get a good education and help them to live without being mistreated by other people, by constructing a place where they can be safe or support organizations already doing that work.”
Education doesn’t only impact the future for Bulonza, but has changed her life already. “So many things have changed by being at school,” she says. “I have new friends such as Brigitte, I understand what it means to be helped, and my behavior has changed, I am no longer lonely. Being in school gives me value and I feel worthy and empowered.”
Looking forward to attending university and studying medicine, Bulonza plans to use her degree to reinforce Action Kivu’s anti-HIV/AIDS education program. “I will set up a mobile nursing clinic and ask other nurses to join me,” she says.
“I advise other girls to continue to study anywhere in the world and to work for the positive change of Congo and the world in general. I encourage my African sisters from Nigeria who were abducted simply because they are denied the right to be in school. We have to fight.”
Commit today to invest in a brighter, more just world through education. One year of university for this one driven girl from Congo costs 7,000 USD and covers room and board and materials. Donate today toward Bulonza’s education (type Bulonza in the “note” line on PayPal) or on the memo line of a check.
Often when we envision teachers, we think of teaching to classrooms of young students, children eager to learn, some drowsy from a bad night of sleep, some goofing off, some reading ahead in the assigned book.
But what of those children who were not given the opportunity to attend school? Girls who grew into adulthood without teachers guiding them, checking in on their coursework, making sure they knew how to read and write, to count, to express their opinions through their writing, or their votes in the political arena?
Enter adult education in the form of Action Kivu’s literacy courses! This World Teachers’ Day, meet Bora, who teaches Level 1 (left), Bulangalire, who teaches Level 2 (right), and Furaha, who teaches Level 3 (center). These three teachers are truly angels, working for only $100 / month at this time to teach three levels of literacy for the women in this corner of Congo who were denied an education because of poverty or sexism.
Bora teaches Level 1 – girls and women who have had no education. This course is the entry level for the girls and women starting our vocational and job training courses. To be able to read a tape measure in the Sewing Workshop or to properly measure the space between plants on the demonstration farm, she must know numeracy. To be able to start a small business with a microloan, she must be able to count change and keep the books for her business. Graduating Level 1, the students move into Bulangire’s Level 2 class, where she focuses on reading and writing skills in Swahili, and beginner’s French. Graduating Level 2, the students move on to Furaha’s class, where they focus on speaking French.
What these teachers are doing is fundamental as the foundation for the women to thrive as agents of change in their homes and communities! We honor our teachers today, and every day.
As a small organization growing in capacity, our goal is to pay these teachers at least $200 / month, the wage of a worker in eastern Congo. If you’d like to invest in the education of women in Congo through Literacy Courses, consider setting up a monthly donation to Action Kivu, here!
Sending our continued gratitude to our donors and monthly donors – your giving makes an impact:
[From our Executive Director Rebecca Snavely’s visit this year to Congo.]
I returned to Congo for my second trip in five years this past February, and Amani once again took me to see Ernata, whom I’d first met in 2012, a sewing student in a small, crowded workshop. Today, you’ll most likely find her at her sewing workshop, a small wood-beam-walled room draped in bright African wax fabrics, cluttered with sewing machines and the tools of the trade, scissors, measuring tape. This is where she works, mentoring young seamstresses who sew alongside her. Here Ernata takes measurements from clients, creates garments, manages her time and finances in a happy, busy balance with caring for her nine children and husband.
Since graduating the Sewing Workshop with our sewing kit: a Singer sewing machine, an iron, fabric, and all the tools needed to start her business, Ernata launched her new life. “I have seen and heard many things and many people in my life but only two of these have made me feel the pride of being a human being,” Ernata says. “These two things are finally being a mother after I had waited so long, and also being a seamstress. I am the mother of three kids in addition to the seven children my husband got from his first wife who passed away.” Though her first-born died when he was just a toddler, she counts him amongst her 10 children. And shortly after losing him, Ernata became pregnant and gave birth to a second baby boy, who is now one year and seven months old. And soon after, she gave birth to another baby, named Ampire, which means ‘God has gifted me.’” Ernata was able to pay for her own cesarean sections and maternity fees for both new babies because of her work as a seamstress.
(On average, when not recovering from surgery and caring for a newborn, Ernata has been able to earn between $100 and $120 per month, whereas many unskilled women work for 1 dollar a day on other’s farms.)
“The one year training I went through is rewarding, and means I can pay food for my family, not only clothes for my children but also to repair their clothes whenever needed, it makes me able to pay the maternity costs unlike many other women who give birth and can’t go back home with their babies until someone pays for them. I also pay school fees for my husband’s children.”
So much had changed in five years, I said. Ernata nods. “I’ve been feeling that I am a strong woman, which I didn’t know before.”
We first met Ernata in early 2012. “Pretend that we’re not here,” we asked the women of the Mumosho Sewing Workshop as they huddled around the two sewing instructors and my Action Kivu co-founder Cate Haight and I hovered over them with camera hovered over them with cameras, trying to find the right light in the small, dark room, lit only by two windows. The workshop was at capacity with peddle-powered Singer sewing machines, tables for ironing with a heavy iron filled with hot coals, and over 25 women, a couple who carry quiet, wide-eyed babies.
We noticed that one woman, Ernata, had a hard time looking away from the camera, her smile wide and friendly and frequent. A bright red-orange scarf added color to her simple white tee-shirt, and like every other woman in the workshop, a measuring tape hung from her neck. Amani Matabaro, who started this sewing program in his home village of Mumosho in 2009 with his wife as a way to give job-training skills to women who had survived unspeakable violence in the war, explained to the women the impact of them sharing their stories with us. We would not ask them to relive or retell their trauma, but wanted to know more about their lives, hopes, and needs, so that people in the U.S. and around the world could connect to them, individually, and feel a sense of sharing life and building this community through their support of the sewing workshop.
Born into a society where women have very little rights or value and can be divorced without recourse for not bearing a male heir, Ernata’s own story was filled with pain.
It was Action Kivu’s first trip to Congo, in January 2012, and the people of Congo had just held a presidential election that many observers contested as fraudulent, after decades of fighting and two consecutive wars had decimated the country. By this time the estimates are that over 6 million Congolese have lost their lives due to the ongoing violence.
Traveling to a region highlighted in the news for violence, my Action Kivu co-founder Cate and I trusted our partner Amani Matabaro implicitly, both with the funds we were sending from Action Kivu donors as well as with our safety as we traveled to his home village of Mumosho, to see those funds being translated into job-training courses and literacy classes that were changing the lives of the women and girls in eastern Congo, offering hope and the first glimpses of a different future.
Ernata volunteered to be the first to talk with us, meeting us behind the building where Amani’s non-profit rents the room for the center. Sitting on a simple wooden stool, ignoring the crows of a rooster and the questioning looks and giggles of a few neighborhood kids, she eyed the camera with confidence, and looked directly at us as she answered the questions Amani translated for her.
“My first marriage, I spent two years in my household,” she told us. “I didn’t have any children, and I suffered a lot from my husband. He kicked me out because I didn’t have any children. After being kicked out by my first husband, I returned home, and spent six months at home. Another man married me. After about 6 to 7 months with my second husband, I could not conceive. He also kicked me out, divorced me.”
Then came another man, from a different village, whose wife had died and left him with seven kids. Ernata married for the third time, and after only three months, she conceived. “I was blessed to have one child, a boy, but it was after surgery (a cesarean delivery). After two years and three months, my only child died. I was there, living with my husband, but I was afraid, six months had passed after my child died, and I hadn’t conceived again. I was afraid, and things had changed again, become negative, with my husband.”
Though he already had seven children, he wanted another from Ernata. “And me, too,” she said. “Because if I have a child, I’m stable there.”
“I have a big wound inside my heart,” Ernata told us. “If I don’t have children with my husband, he will kick my out. I’m noticing some changes, bad behavior, from his family members, who might urge him to chase me (from the home).”
When asked what the village needs, to grow as a community, to provide better for its people, Ernata responded, “I don’t want to sound selfish, but I’m going to talk about the needs of women in this community. The women need to learn more professional skills, to make sure they can take care of themselves.”
Five years later, thanks in part to Action Kivu’s investment in her training and the community, Ernata is a vital part of her answer to that question, as she mentors others and steps into the unknown, taking risks, living out loud, and paving the way for equality.
To partner with this life-transforming work, please donate today! And when you make it monthly, it allows us plan ahead, creating sustainability in our programs as we work with alumni like Ernata to become the teachers and leaders in their community.
Tuesday, September 12 2017 was a day of harvest at the shared farm in Mumosho, Congo.
Our agronomist, a University student studying the latest organic farming techniques, shares his new knowledge and understanding of the land, producing beautiful, organic cabbages, fruits, and other veggies for the women to feed their families and sell at the local market. Salome is one of more than 85 women who have their own plot of land to farm through your partnership with Action Kivu.
“I am so happy to understand these farming techniques and be able to put them to use.” Salome, mother of 9 children.
Malnutrition is a constant threat the the lives of the children growing up in eastern Congo, despite the lush land. Our Founding Director and leader Amani Matabaro is excited to report on the growing success of our OFFA (Organic Food for All) program: “We use the compost from the pigsty to both feed the fish in the fishing ponds and fertilize the soil, and we water the crops with water from the fishing ponds as it has nutrients. Look at the results! Everything we grow is 100% organic,” he says.
Learn more about our work below, and consider a monthly donation to partner with these world-changers today!