What is the good life? In Mumosho, Congo, Riziki, a student in Action Kivu’s Sewing Workshop, takes a break from the class to share her story. The front room of the community center is quiet, the sound of the pedaled sewing machines bleeding in from upstairs as the class continues without Riziki. She is 22, and answers questions in Mashi and Swahili, looking at Amani, who translates.
My first day at the Sewing Workshop was a bad day for me, Amani translates Riziki’s words into English, then laughs, and in Mashi, quickly rattles off his question – why was it bad? Riziki replies: “I didn’t know anybody.” She felt alone. One of seven children, she was forced to quit elementary school in 3rd grade because her family couldn’t afford the school fees (approximately seven U.S. dollars each month), and wasn’t used to the strict tone of the sewing teacher. She sounded rude to Riziki’s untrained ear.
Despite a bad first day, she started feeling connected quickly, becoming familiar with her fellow students, learning new skills. Before coming to the Sewing Workshop, she had worked on people’s farms, back-breaking work in Congo that pays around one dollar for a day of labor.
Now, she says, I am gaining confidence. Polepole (slowly) I am becoming a strong woman. She is building her clientele: people are bringing me fabric to make them things.
Riziki leans back into the armchair, relaxing. I had to quit school because of lack of funds, she says. Pursuing an education was a big wish of mine, but it didn’t happen. I wanted to finish school, to live a good life.
What defines the good life? Assuming she will answer as an American might: a house, nice clothes, maybe even a car?
Because I am a girl, she says, a good life is to meet my basic needs: soap, shoes, clothes. When I am a mother, married, it will be to feed myself, feed my family. I don’t want to live like my mother lives. A widow, she works on her own farm, and then goes to work on other people’s farms. My brother travels to mining sites, and sends money back to their family.
How far are we all from the good life? Those of us whose minds have been trained to equate it with things on one end of the spectrum, and those who have yet to know the pride that comes with feeding their kids on a regular basis, of being able to send them to school in hopes that they, too, will have access to the good life.
Learn how your donation to Action Kivu is an investment in creating the good life for girls and women like Riziki, giving them the tools to feed their families, send their children to school, pay for medical care – helping to break the cycle of poverty.
On her way in to to the afternoon literacy class at the Mumosho Community Center, Mapendo stops to talk about why she works so hard to learn to read and write. In Swahili, Mapendo means love, she says. Love and luck go hand-in-hand. Before I came to the Literacy Program and Sewing Workshop, I felt I was nothing. Now I am somebody.
After learning the basics of counting, reading, and some writing in Literacy Class Level 1, Mapendo was able to attend the Sewing Workshop, graduating with a machine and starting a co-op with three other alumni. Determined to be able to communicate around the world, she worked her way through Literacy Level 2, where she focused on reading and writing skills, and began to learn some French. Mapendo is now in Level 3, where students focus on French language skills.
Before, to be able to buy just a bar of soap, I had to go work on someone’s farm, hard labor for less than one dollar a day. These programs have taken me from a deep hole, Mapendo says, allowing me to live with others.
Consider a monthly donation to Action Kivu to invest in these life-transforming programs, and partner with women like Mapendo today!
Meet Beatrice Ntankwinja – mother of five, grandmother of one, proud farmer feeding her family. Beatrice is one of the 83 women who now farm their own plot of land at the Action Kivu shared farm, learning sustainable, organic farming from our agronomist, Mukengere. Each woman tends her own organic compost for fertilizer, and is learning how to use a mix of grasses to combat pests and insects.
Thank you to our partners whose generosity is making a lasting impact in Congo! To invest in the future of food security and combat severe malnutrition in this corner of Congo, partner with Action Kivu today.
“Unfortunately, says Francine, many men in this country look at women as inferior human beings. For this to change in Congo, the authorities and leaders need to set the example, so that others will follow.
“Here it is the total opposite. At Action Kivu we have equality. Here we are on the front line, we are on top. “
Francine is following in her father’s footsteps, and pushing herself to travel even further than he did. He sewed garments to earn enough income to send her to school, but she was forced to drop out before she could graduate secondary school. She joined the Sewing Workshop late, starting weeks behind the other students in her class, but she was determined, and ended up graduating at the top of her class in 2016. She wants to learn as many skills as she can, from hairdressing to basket weaving to driving cars (why is that a man’s job? she asks) to have the means to support herself and her family.
The sewing machine Francine received when she graduated has given her a new life. She set up shop in a room at her family’s house, the pedal-powered machine stationed by the door, where the sun provides the light for her work during the day. “I sew my own clothes, I sew for customers and earn the money to help pay school fees for my nephews and nieces, brothers and sisters.”
Francine laughs easily and often, her wide smile breaking out just before offering truth and insight in her strong opinions. She comes to the Mumosho Community Center often, currently learning basket weaving to add to her skill set. “Before, it was the man who gives you anything you need. Now, I can provide for myself. Now, when I get married, my husband will respect me,” Francine explains. “After many years, a husband might leave you,” she says. “But even if a man leaves me, I will continue my life. My children will feel that they still have a father, as I will act as a mother and a father, providing for them.”
“At the Mumosho Community Center, I feel secure and safe. I’m focused. When I work at home, there are distractions, people stop by to talk, my family is there. I like to come to work here. Here, girls and women learn about their strength, about their equality, how to provide for themselves.”
Sharing her past, talking about the eleven children in her family and the deaths of several of her siblings, how she had to leave school because of lack of funds, Francine pauses. “I don’t know how to explain what it’s like to be sitting here, telling my story. Before I came here, I didn’t believe in myself. I used to neglect myself. Now I feel strong.”
As we enter the holiday season, we reflect on the generosity of our Action Kivu family – you! Though we can’t all gather around a table to celebrate and thank you in person, we gather online, in emails and Facebook posts and Instagram photos, to share stories of the lives of the children and women, siblings and mothers, who have new hope because of your support. We’re asking you to help us reach our $3500 goal to gather 300 kids together in Mumosho to celebrate with a pair of shoes, clothes, and a holiday meal, often the only shoes and clothes they’ll receive all year.
Many of the children in our Action Kivu family have lost a mother, a father, or both parents to the ongoing conflict in Congo. They are “silent victims of violence,” as this NYT piece reports, and “over 4 million kids have been orphaned in Congo.”
“These children have grown up amid conflict fueled by ethnic strife and the fight over Congo’s valuable minerals. The violence and displacement are eroding the tradition of families caring for their own.
“The breakdown in family means some orphans are forced to look after themselves and their younger siblings. Some are vulnerable to recruitment by armed groups. And many also face sexual exploitation, in a country where rape has become commonplace on the streets.
“‘They are the orphans with a story of violence since 1994 — it’s a generation of victims that continues,’ says Francisca Ichimpaye, a senior monitor at the En Avant Les Enfants INUKA center. And the children ‘lose their story in the violence.'”
We’ll share some of the stories of the kids we know to let them know that their stories are not lost. Kids like Arsene, who last year told us: ”I am so happy again today because the red t-shirt I am wearing was given to me last year at the Christmas Celebration. I have nobody since my father passed away 4 years ago. I am in school because of your support, every year I get a new pair of shorts and a shirt or a T-shirt and a pair of shoes.”
Please visit our Facebook, Instagram or Twitter page to help us share their stories and ask others to join you in investing in the kids and women of Congo. And please consider giving this week to buy shoes, clothes, and a meal for 300 of these kids in Mumosho!