Students line up to have their finger pricked, their blood drawn, and their HIV test taken to a clinic. Nurse Jeanine is matter of fact as she has the high school students role-play the situations that might lead to contracting HIV/AIDS, how to prevent its spread, and what it means to live with the disease. Her notebook and pamphlets use illustrations to reach those who cannot read or write.
Jeanine has seen a lot of changes in the two years of Action Kivu’s All Together Against HIV/AIDS education and testing campaign. “At the beginning, people were afraid to be tested. Now, with education, people show up and ask to be tested,” she says. The campaign is in its second year, and even churches announce meetings for testing and education. But religion still proves a problem, as the church in Congo does not condone the use of condoms, and yet will excommunicate a pregnant woman who has no husband. Amani, Action Kivu’s founding director, speaks up: The answer is to raise awareness, to educate the church leaders as well.
All Together Against HIV/AIDS educates the youth in this corner of eastern Congo, who then take their knowledge back to their schools, their families, their churches, to be the educators. “The work makes me happy!” Nurse Jeanine says as she pricks the finger of another student. “To protect one person protects many people.”
In just two years, we’ve tested over 1000 students and community members. One box of 100 test determiners costs $40, one box of lancets costs $40. The challenge is safe transportation to rural areas (Action Kivu does not have a 4×4) and the need is great. To invest in this life-saving work, donate today!
Scroll down through the photos to see the winces, grimaces, and grins of a day of testing and education.
“I am the last born child,” Nzigire says. She is shy, and looks at her hands while her words are translated into English. She is only 17, still a young girl, and warms up quickly, gaining confidence as she answers questions about her life. “My mother wanted another girl,” she says, explaining her name, “so she named me ‘I want.’ Nzigire.”
At 17, Nzigire has only an elementary school education. Her family unable to afford to send her to secondary school, she was excited to join Action Kivu’s Sewing Workshop to be able to earn her own income, and begin to plan for her future. The first day was nerve-wracking, she says. “I didn’t know anyone, but it felt so good to learn to work the pedal on the machine. In one week, I was making friends.”
What does Nzigire want? Not only to graduate with a sewing machine to open her own business, but, “I want more people in Congo to lead with the heart of the people she sees through Action Kivu. They have helped so many people.”
To invest in the future of girls and women like Nzigire, click here!
Farming my own plot of land is so sweet, not only to sell vegetables for income, but to eat them at times they’re not normally for sale. ~Jeannette
Jeannette is one of over 80 women in eastern Congo who now have a plot of land to grow fruits and vegetables, thanks to your support of Action Kivu!
Our agronomist Mukengere is a student at the university in Bukavu, and teaches the women the organic and sustainable techniques he is learning in his class on agriculture and climate change. They now use local grasses to combat insects, and each farmer has her own compost heap at home, as well as the shared compost for the farm.
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In eastern Congo, girls and women walk for miles – to find work, to find water, to find buyers for the fruits and vegetables they tended from seed to harvest. Many of these paths are not safe; armed militias patrol the same roads, and risk is a regular part of life. They step into the unknown each day, to forge ahead to meet the needs of their families. Courage is a daily part of life.
Merriam Webster defines courage as mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty. The word originated from the Middle English corage, from Anglo-French curage, from quer, coer heart, from the Latin cor.
We often say “take heart,” to rally one to be courageous is to be strong in what they’re doing, to reflect on what drives them to keep going. Don’t give up.
20 year old Bahati was tempted to give up during her first few days at Action Kivu’s Sewing Workshop. She had heard about Action Kivu’s Literacy Program and Sewing Workshop from a girl who had graduated from the vocational training, who told Bahati, “if you are a courageous woman and you go there, you learn, and your life changes.”
Bahati was desperate for change: After her father died, she had only been able to attend school up to the fourth grade. One of nine children, she was a new mother, and the father of her baby girl was gone, offering no support. Bahati felt like a beggar, asking for a bar of soap from her mother, to wash her clothes, to care for her baby. She took the girl’s advice, and beginning with the Literacy Program, continued her education in numeracy and writing, before starting the Sewing Workshop.
Those first few days in the course, Bahati almost quit. She didn’t know anyone in her class. Her legs and ankles hurt from the strange movements as she tried to find the right rhythm to move the foot pedal to power the Singer machine. She recalled the girl who had gone before her, and what she had said about courageous women. “I remembered the word courage,” Bahati recalled six months later, “and I took courage, and continued.”
Take heart. Take courage. Women aren’t taught to take. To “take what is yours” is a phrase often taught to men, and for many women, “take what is yours” has a negative connotation: it has been practiced as a way to deny others what is theirs in the process. In that light it is the product of the scarcity mindset, that there isn’t enough for everyone, so you must take.
It is time to redefine the phrase, and re-frame it in abundance. It is time for women to take what is theirs: equality. To step into the unknown, armed not with violence, but with the knowledge of self-worth. Bahati had been encouraged by another woman who had learned from her experience: that by stepping into the unknown, she learned, and her life changed.
Still a student, Bahati’s life has changed. She is already earning income for herself and her 16-month-old baby. “I didn’t think I was ready to be a seamstress, but people see what I do, and they bring me fabric to make things for them,” she says. “The Sewing Workshop created independence in my life. Before I was begging even for a bar of soap, to wash clothes, to bathe, to wash my child’s clothes. People realize that I am no longer the person they knew.”
Bahati sees a bright future for her daughter. “I plan to send her to school, and teach her everything I know.”
Your donation to Action Kivu is an investment in Bahati and the growing community of girls and women who will learn from her courage, and take heart to find their own. When she graduates this summer with a sewing machine, Bahati plans to start a business repurposing second-hand clothes from the markets of Bukavu, the city 25 kilometers from Mumosho. She’ll take what others toss aside, deconstruct them, sew them into a new style, give them new life.
Be a part of this movement: Give new life and new opportunities today!
In “Stolen Childhoods,” Save the Children reports that one in every four children, at least 700 million children worldwide, have had the promise of a full childhood brought to an early end. “The reasons vary from extreme violence and conflict, often driving families from their homes; early marriage and pregnancy; child labor; poor health; malnutrition and food insecurity; and not having the chance to go to school.” The Democratic Republic of Congo, where Action Kivu invests in the communities of eastern Congo, ranks 162nd, the 11th in the worst of the world.
We see so many of these children where we work in Mumosho, kids denied an education because of poverty, malnutrition and child labor in families desperate to survive the day. In response to these horrifying facts, we offer educational assistance, with the plan to open the first Congo Peace School (more on that soon), we invest in the lives of the mothers, providing vocational training and job skills to earn the income to break the cycle of extreme poverty, and a playground space for kids to be kids.
Join the movement! Learn more about Action Kivu, and consider donating monthly: we need your support to sustain and grow our programs investing in the kids of Congo.