“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.”
The girls and women step inside the Mumosho Women’s Center, take off their flip-flops, set their kids down on the floor to play, and gather up handfuls of colorful bright rope. They watch and follow along to the basket-making teacher’s advice, weaving the rope into gorgeous baskets to sell at the local market and in their villages. For half a year, a class of women come together three days a week to learn the art of basket-making and marketing, so that, like graduate Chantal (pictured below), they can sell their art, and earn income to feed their families and send their kids to school. Depending on the size of the basket, they sell from $3 to $8 dollars a piece.
Many people agree, plastic bags are the bane of our modern existence. While convenient, they are not only unappealing when they escape to get caught in trees or stuck in gutters, but they are terrible for the environment: According to a 2014 report from the Earth Policy Institute, “worldwide, a trillion single-use plastic bags are used each year, nearly 2 million each minute. Usage varies widely among countries, from over 400 a year for many East Europeans, to just four a year for people in Denmark and Finland. Plastic bags, made of depletable natural gas or petroleum resources, are often used only for a matter of minutes. Yet they last in the environment for hundreds of years, shredding into ever-smaller pieces but never fully breaking down.”
The government in Congo banned the use of plastic bags, and when that law takes effect, it will mean even more need for and better sales of these beautiful baskets!
Read more about our work on our blog, and consider a monthly donation to partner with the women in our vocational training programs in Congo, from basket-making to sewing to literacy classes, your dollars make a difference, giving hope and empowering the girls and women with the means to change their lives.