Cito sits on the edge of the couch, balancing her baby girl on her lap, taking a break from her day at the Sewing Workshop upstairs. The sound of feet operating the pedal-powered machines hums from above.
“I didn’t know anyone my first day here,” says Cito. “I came with my baby, who was six months old. It wasn’t easy, but I remember meeting a woman named Francine. I had to learn how to pedal the machine, to practice sewing on paper. My life was very bad.” She waves one hand before her, her wrist twisting her palm up and down in the mas-o-menos gesture of Spanish speakers, which in Congo means “very bad.”
One arm wrapped around her daughter Iragi, Cito explains that before she got pregnant and had to quit secondary school, she had plans to become a nurse. She never talks to her baby’s father, who fled when he learned she was pregnant, leaving her to find ways to feed herself and her newborn.
“I was a different person before I came here, I was vulnerable. If I ever get married – I have no way to describe the power I feel now. If I get married, the man I marry will respect me. I will not jeopardize my life by making a bad choice.
Iragi is almost two years old now, and oddly serene for a toddler. Cito bounces her on one knee. “Iragi means ‘luck,’ she explains, “and I am praying for my daughter to have good luck. The sewing program has changed my life. I’m already earning money, bringing work from my village to class to work on it here. I am so proud, I can already pay for medicine when my daughter is sick. I plan to graduate, and with the sewing kit and machine, start my own co-op, and teach others how to sew. I plan to pay for Iragi to get an education, so she can get a good job, and have a good life.”
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.”
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!