The weather gifted the kids of Congo with a dry day in the midst of rainy season this Christmas Eve, and our Action Kivu family of donors gifted the kids with shoes, clothes, and a holiday meal of rice, beans, and a banana. The kids send their wishes for our beloved community to have a Merry Christmas, a happy New Year, and wish for the Congolese people a new year of stability and new hope.
Borauzima, pictured above, is the only of her family of 7 kids who is able to attend school. In the 4th grade of primary school, she is always at the top of her class, and dreams of teaching French as a university professor. When she learned what her tee-shirt says, she smiled, saying: That is what I want! To shine like a star.
In Alice Walker’s book We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For, Walker writes: “It was the poet June Jordan who wrote ‘We are the ones we have been waiting for.’ Sweet Honey in the Rock turned those words into a song. Hearing this song, I have witnessed thousands of people rise to their feet in joyful recognition and affirmation. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for because we are able to see what is happening with a much greater awareness than our parents or grandparents, our ancestors, could see. This does not mean we believe, having seen the greater truth of how all oppression is connected, how pervasive and unrelenting, that we can ‘fix’ things. But some of us are not content to have a gap in opportunity and income that drives a wedge between rich and poor, causing the rich to become ever more callous and complacent and the poor to become ever more wretched and humiliated. Not willing to ignore starving and brutalized children. Not willing to let women be stoned or mutilated without protest. Not willing to stand quietly by as farmers are destroyed by people who have never farmed, and plants are engineered to self-destruct. Not willing to disappear into our flower gardens, Mercedes Benzes or sylvan lawns. We have wanted all our lives to know that Earth, who has somehow obtained human beings as her custodians, was also capable of creating humans who could minister to her needs, and the needs of her creation. We are the ones.”
In this season of giving, if you feel moved to connect with the women, kids, and communities Action Kivu partners with in Congo, please take a moment to read more stories on our blog to learn how your donation is an investment in community building programs that are bringing new hope to women long denied equal rights and access to an education through our Literacy Courses and Vocational Training Programs, as well as life-transforming work in HIV / AIDS prevention, sustainable farming training, animal husbandry, and education assistance for kids like Borauzima.
We are grateful for all our partners who donate annually or on a monthly basis – thank you! We feel surrounded by the power of people reaching out to care for each other in this holiday season and into the new year.
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!
It’s Action Kivu’s birthday today, and to celebrate being 6 years old, we want to thank each and every one of you who has partnered with us and invested in the women, children, and communities of Congo!
Your generosity continues to make a meaningful impact in the lives of the people in Congo. Action Kivu began partnering with Amani Matabaro and his non-profit ABFEC in 2010. For five years before that, Amani / ABFEC had been operating a Sewing Workshop and Education Assistance Program out of his own pocket. In 2005, there were 7 women in the Sewing Workshop, and 15 children being sent to school. After launching Action Kivu and growing our family of donors, we have now graduated 236 girls and women from the Sewing Workshop, giving them the machines, necessary tools, and financial literacy to start their own small businesses, and are registering new students for the Class of 2017 now! With a grant from Jewish World Watch and your donations, over 400 children are now enrolled in school.
With your monthly donations and annual gifts, we’ve grown from those two programs to a variety of educational, vocational, and community building programs: 245 girls and women are in the Literacy Program, over 100 women and girls are enrolled in the Vocational Training Programs including basket weaving and bread baking. More than 100 families have been given goats and the animal husbandry support to breed them, to give back the kid to the next family awaiting a goat. Goats are a symbol of friendship and deepening connection, and a part of the circle of organic farming in our Shared Farm / Organic Food for All program, in which 180 women and girls are learning to farm, and growing healthy food for their families and to sell at the market.
With your support, we send a stipend for a nurse to teach HIV / AIDS awareness courses, family planning, and education to prevent and treat common diseases like malaria.
Without you, our Action Kivu family, none of this would be possible. Amani sends this message from Congo to honor the 6th Anniversary of our partnership:
“I’d like to thank everyone who has so far supported the work we do here via Action Kivu! That is the way to build a beloved community, to give hope to those whose hope has been stolen by the forces of evil. The support of our work is light in darkness, and communities feel a sense of worth that someone cares, and takes action.”
Visit our programs through a beautiful video filmed and edited by Hélène Estèves:
Thank you! Merci! Asante sana! We are grateful for you being part of our family, playing a part in creating the beloved community, taking action to invest in women and children and a brighter, more peaceful world for us all.
Read more about the impact of your giving:
How much does your birth certificate weigh? Likely not a question you’ve ever asked yourself. You may not know where it is, and if pressed to present it for a new passport, you’d have to go through the hassle of ordering another copy. Such a light piece of paper for such a weighty document: proving who you are, where you were born, what name was given to you. Yet for the children born because of rape in a country where sexual assualt is a common weapon of war and societal control, a birth certificate is heavy with meaning.
May 28th, 2016 felt much like any other day for these kids in Congo: waking with the sun, as toddlers around the world are wont to do, despite their mothers’ wishes for an extra hour of sleep. Eating breakfast. Melting down in a toddler-sized-tantrum as their developing brains fight to accept that they can’t have everything their way.
For their mothers, May 28th was a momentous day. It was a day of healing, of helping to transform the horrific memory of rape into a celebration of life. Born without a father on record, their babies didn’t have an official record of citizenship in their own country.
Six months ago, Amani Matabaro began work to rectify that. The co-founder and Executive Director of ABFEC – Action Congo, Action Kivu’s partner in eastern Congo, he is known to the kids in Mumosho as Papa Amani. And known to all of his friends and partners as an activist and feminist who believes that equality for women and the rights of children are the only way for us to move forward to create a more peaceful, just world.
A just world isn’t born without the work of many, and Amani, at heart a community builder and connector, knew just the organization to coordinate with: SOS-IJM, a civil society nonprofit which works tirelessly for human rights and the legal protection for the people of DRC. Working with a young lawyer named Nancy, ABFEC’s field team researched and investigated the mothers’ experiences of sexual assault and pregnancy. Together, with legal guidance from Nancy and SOS-IJM, they listened and recorded the stories of the girls and women, and SOS-IJM filed with the Congolese government for birth certificates for each child.
The official document holds great weight in legal terms for the future of the children, but for their mothers, that piece of paper represents acceptance. It signifies social standing in a place where most girls and women are shamed and shunned for being victims of rape. It is a picture of the transformation from being subjected to blame to recognition as a member in the community.
Join us in celebrating these children today, June 1st, known internationally as The International Day for Protection of Children (#ChildrensDay)! And consider partnering with the kids, their mothers, and the communities in Congo through the life-changing programs Action Kivu supports:
Read more stories on our blog, here.
“[My mother] had handed down respect for the possibilities—and the will to grasp them.” – Alice Walker
This Mother’s Day, we’d like to take you to a corner of Congo, to meet Mama Ernata. You’ll find her at her home sewing workshop, a small wood-beam-walled room that revolves around her Singer sewing machine. This is where she works, mentoring young seamstresses who sew alongside her, taking measurements from clients, sewing garments, managing time and finances in a happy, busy balance with caring for her nine children and husband.
We first introduced you to Ernata in 2012, when Cate and Rebecca (co-founders of Action Kivu, the American arm of Amani Matabaro’s local Congolese organization ABFEC) visited the Sewing Workshop in Mumosho in 2012. Since graduating the Sewing Workshop with our sewing kit, the Singer sewing machine, an iron, fabric, and all the tools needed to start her business, Ernata launched her new life. Amani and Horthense, our Program Director in Congo, caught up with Ernata last week to send us an update on her inspiring journey.
“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.”
Ernata had shared her difficult story with us when we first met her, a story that echoes that of a society where women have very little rights or value, and can be divorced without recourse for not bearing a male heir. “My first marriage, I spent two years in my household,” Ernata 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 has seven children, he wanted another from Ernata. “And me, too,” she said. “Because if I have a child, I’m stable there.”
Though her first-born died, she counts him amongst her 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, the little two-month old girl pictured here. “Her name is 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.
“The second thing which makes me a proud person of myself is simply to be a seamstress and able to take care of myself, my own children and my husband’s. Without my sewing business, I had no idea how I could be able to pay for the maternity fees. I was able to pay 60 dollars because my third pregnancy was a cesarean delivery like the first and the second ones. My husband has no job and all the income I make from my sewing activity has to be used wisely for our basic needs in the family. The month of April I was able to make only 50 dollars because of the new baby and needed to recover from surgery which is coming along quite well and I am hoping for the best!” Ernata says. (On average, when not recovering from surgery and caring for a newborn, Ernata has been able to earn $120 / month, whereas many unskilled women work for 1 dollar a day on other’s farms.)
When asked what the phrase “to mother” means for her, Ernata pauses to reflect on the concept that has become so very real for her in the past four years. “It means happiness, value and respect inside myself, in front of my husband and community. I hope my daughter Ampire will become a professional seamstress.”
“I am praying for my sewing business to grow and ensure I continue mentoring others, and that means become able to get a few more sewing machines, that’s the only way I feel I can give back what I have received from ABFEC / Action Kivu. The one year training I went through at ABFEC 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.
“The biggest challenge is that we have such a large family that depends on what I earn. Without the sewing training I went through at ABFEK, I wouldn’t have become the person I am today. Many of my sewing training classmates are far away and not living in Mumosho, but look, I was able to work, make money, save some and buy a cell phone and I am happy to be in touch with them and they are also happy!”
“I have no reason to not be happy and proud,” says Ernata. “I am blessed to have become a mother and a seamstress. May God bless ABFEC / Action Kivu and everyone who contributes in a way or another to transform people’s lives. Mine has been transformed. And if you were me, wouldn’t you be happy?”
We add our gratitude to Ernata’s for all our partners in this work. Your generous donations are truly changing Congo and the world, one mama, baby, and family at a time. Learn more about our work here!