Category Page: ABFEK

From California to Congo, Notes from the Field: Hope Happens

Greetings from Bukavu, Congo! We crossed the border into eastern Congo last week, to spend just over two weeks in the presence of Amani and the women and children he serves via ABFEK and Action Kivu. To see firsthand the sewing workshops, to meet the women gaining valuable skills and building community there, to say “Jambo!” (Hello!) to all the children who giggle wildly to see themselves on our cameras’ digital displays. To visit the children sent to school by ABFEK’s education assistance program and observe their classes. To shake many, many hands as we walk through the Peace Market to see the newly built latrine soon to be dedicated to the community there. To visit the goat project and the shared farm, and see the land where Amani envisions a Peace School, where the girls and boys in the surrounding villages can study without worries about tuition fees. Where the curriculum can be flexible to meet their needs, teaching not only maths, science, languages and art, but trauma therapies, animal husbandry and how to grow food to sustain the community. Amani wants a school that will educate and inspire the future leaders of the Congo in human rights.

We already knew that every penny we raised was going directly to the programs Amani has instigated, but being here, seeing it all in action, is inspiring. Amani is the unofficial Mayor of Mumosho, where he was born and raised, and a local celebrity in Bukavu, where he taught secondary school. Driving or walking down roads in either area, we are frequently stopped as people call to him, and he takes time to greet them warmly.

In only a few days of visits along the rutted road to Mumosho, a bone-jarring ride termed a “Congolese massage,” we have met women who are leaders in their community. Excited by the trauma therapy training they’re receiving from Gunilla of The Peaceful Heart Network, the women had the space and opportunity to share the stories of trauma in the community, from domestic violence that is too often the norm, to women’s rights around marriage, land rights, and the birth of a son as heir. Amani listened with a troubled face as the conversation in the local Mashi dialect grew louder and more heated, and when we asked him to translate, and why he looked so upset, he said, “Because I am man, and men are doing such terrible things.”

The women’s stories are not falling on deaf or uncaring ears. Amani is a man of action, and before returning the class to a semblance of order to complete the trauma therapy training, he began brainstorming ideas for group meetings to discuss violence against women and women’s rights, to provide a forum for discussion of women amongst women, men with men, and then bringing them together with the local leaders to educate men about equal rights. It might not change their behavior immediately, he admitted, but they will know they are doing wrong, and that others will be watching.

Everywhere we go we see faces of people, some traumatized and withdrawn, some open and smiling. The stories of atrocity and trauma are as numerous and varied as the handshakes we receive, but so are the stories of healing and hope. In her research for the book The Gifts of Imperfection, Dr. Brene Brown discovered that “hope is not an emotion, it’s a way of thinking or a cognitive process.” She quotes the research of C.R. Snyder, who defines hope as a trilogy of goals, pathways, and agency. “Hope happens when

  • We have the ability to set realistic goals.
  • We are able to figure out how to achieve those goals, including the ability to stay flexible and develop alternative routes.
  • We believe in ourselves. 

Amani is the face of hope in Congo. In over a year of partnering with him, and in the week we’ve spent in his constant peaceful presence, we have witnessed him set realistic goals, find the necessary resources, move with grace and flexibility through the obstacles he faces from both people and the physical terrain. He not only believes in himself, he believes in the power of the people of the Congo, particularly women and girls.

More times than we can count, he has expressed overwhelming gratitude for you, the people who support Action Kivu and make possible all that is changing the lives of these women and children. We can’t wait to share more stories, photos, and videos with you when we return to the U.S. and consistent power and internet connectivity.

“The human face is an artistic achievement. On such a small surface an incredible variety and intensity of presence can be expressed. This breadth of presence overflows the limitation of the physical form. No two faces are exactly the same. There is always a special variation of presence in each one. … In a certain sense, the face is the icon of the body, the place where the inner world of the person becomes manifest. … The face always reveals the soul; it is where the divinity of the inner life finds an echo and image. When you behold someone’s face, you are gazing deeply into that person’s life.”
~ John O’Donohue, Anam Cara – A Celtic Book of Wisdom (pp 38,39)

World Toilet Day: Peace Market Latrines Under Construction!

The Peace Market latrine, prior to construction.

What?  You didn’t know that November 19th is World Toilet Day?  I didn’t either, until I read Amnesty International’s post about “giving a crap for human rights,” and immediately thought of Robin Wright and Amani Matabaro.  Neither one who approved my using his/her name in conjunction with “crap,” but both have given time and money toward making sure the women, men and children who use the Peace Market have a safe and sanitary place to … well, poop.

It’s an unsavory subject, but one that is critical to health and human rights.  I never thought I’d be so passionate about the toilet, but lately I can’t forget the fact that 2.6 billion people don’t have access to basic sanitation.  Next time you flush, consider that open defecation leads to outbreaks of cholera, which is a horrifying threat to the lives of children, especially in eastern Congo, where 1 in 4 children who die before their fifth birthday lose their lives to something entirely preventable – cholera and acute diarrhea.

Immediately after Robin Wright heard of the need and generously donated the money, the latrine started started construction at the peace market!  Amani, who met Robin during her visit to eastern Congo with the Enough Project, sent us the photos of the construction and another thank you to Robin, saying “that she has saved lives with the donation!!!”


Peace Market latrine construction 11.2011

Peace Market Latrine construction_2 11.2011

Asked about the importance of these latrines, the leadership of the Market committee happily replied:

”These latrines are so important that they are going to prevent people from getting very dangerous diseases such as cholera. And we will be selling our goods, especially food, with no fear of contamination of any disease — these latrines are going to save lives! They will prevent us from getting problems with people living nearby the Market since they were already complaining about merchants. A crowd of upwards of 300 people gather at this market every day.”

And Amani’s thoughts about the importance of these latrines:

”A market is a place with large populations and when it has no latrines, it simply becomes a public danger. Building these latrines … is a great sustainable solution to the health threat which was already there since community members started using the Market with no latrines.  Many community members come to buy food, buyers and sellers both had no rest rooms and they were coming to use the Health Centre rest rooms, and the danger here is there are many communicable diseases in the area.  Patients admitted to the Health Centre sharing latrines with sellers and buyers puts everyone at risk–these latrines will minimize and stop once and for all the risk of communicable disease contamination among sellers, buyers, patients, children at school and those who come to attend the church nearby since all these facilities are very close.”

Cate and I are excited to visit the Peace Market in person later this month to see the completed project, and share more stories with you.

In the meantime, you can support human rights on World Toilet Day by supporting the Water for the World Act.  Take ACTION and sign Amnesty International’s petition today!

Back to School (and to the garden)

I remember the palpable current of a new year that ran through our house on the first day of school; my backpack at the ready with sharpened pencils, fresh notepads of lined paper, and a box of color crayons that hadn’t been smashed or eaten by the odd kid two desks over. 

The kids in the Congo are heading back to school this week too, 100 of them because of YOUR support.  Via Amani’s vision through ABFEK, not only will they study languages, letters and numbers, they’re also learning agriculture, and the art of growing gorgeous food for better nutrition. 

Amani writes about two children in particular, Manu and Namegabe, who over the summer break used their hands to study gardening, digging in the dirt of the shared ABFEK farm, in order to pass along their experience to their schoolmates.  They’re very interested in agriculture, and excited to teach other kids.
  The rainy season normally starts early in September, but this year has been special with rains off and on since mid-July. When it starts raining on a more regular basis, the garden will grow well. In the dry season people need to water the crops on a daily basis but as rainy season starts, there are no more water problems.

This shot of the shared garden shows cabbages, carrots and onions growing, where the women and children supported by ABFEK learn about agriculture. Most of the vegetables are native to Eastern Congo but not everywhere. In the Mumosho district, Amani writes, “people are not used to growing carrots, eggplant, peppers…we want to do it on a larger scale to fight malnutrition through the schools.”  Amani plans to use this as a pilot program to expand the experience in other communities based on lessons learned. 

As the kids head back to school, we’ll be sharing their stories of a new year.   What are your favorite stories of going back to school?

Isn’t This Progress? A Thank You, Straight from Bukavu

From Nabirugu*, one of the women in the sewing collective that is supported by your donations.

“My name is Nabirugu*. I am 21 years old. I have no father. I joined the ABFEK centre 10 months ago and today I am ready to go and start my own sewing workshop based on the skills I have [learned]. Today I am able to measure, cut fabrics and join them. I can now make dresses, skirts, a pair of shorts, pants, and blouses. Isn’t this progress? I learned to use sewing equipments in this centre, before that time I had never used a pair of scissors to cut fabrics or a tape measure. I am very proud of my training in this centre. Now I have hope and confidence. I hope for success in my life. If I succeed to get my own sewing machine, I can start a small business such as making school pupils uniforms,make [outfits] from fabrics when there is a wedding ceremony, make my own clothes without paying as I was doing before. We need to start learning embroidery and then people will not be taking their fabrics to Bukavu if they need embroidery. I am very happy and I thank everyone who has donated his money to provide us with the sewing equipment we are using in this centre.”

(*Names are changed to protect the identity of women in the workshops.)

Pass the buck. Action Kivu on – log on to donate a dollar!

Do you philanthrop?  (Philanthropize?  I’m always attempting to coin new verbs.) is sort of like those daily deal sites, but instead, they give you the option to do good, one dollar a day, if you choose.  And today, Friday, July 22nd, they’re featuring Action Kivu!

“Passing the buck” is generally not a flattering phrase, so we’re re-defining it, and asking you to pass along a buck to the women and children of eastern Congo. $1.  100 pennies.  You’ve got that to give, right?  Log in at, give a buck and tell your friends.  (If you missed our day and, naturally, you want to philanthropize for Action Kivu, you can always donate here.  In fact, you can make it a recurring donation  — 4$ / month, the cost of a latte, will send one child to school.)

Since we’re volunteers here in the U.S., every bit of your donation goes to the work on the ground in the Congo. (PayPal takes a tiny percentage, as does the bank fee for wiring funds.) Here’s a glimpse at where your money goes: to teach women who are victims of the ongoing conflict and violence how to sew, and embroider! Last year, with your generous donations, Amani bought an embroidery machine for the students at the Bukavu sewing collective. And just this week, Amani informed us that with the partnership and grant from the Rotary club, ABFEK bought another embroidery machine for the Mumosho sewing center. Amani’s wife Amini is training the advanced students in this art; as the demand for embroidered fabric and clothing is higher, the women will be able to earn more money with this skill.

So go on.  Log on to (if it’s Friday, July 22nd, 2011) or anytime at Action Kivu, and pass the buck.  This time it’s good for your soul.

Photos from the Bukavu Center