Category Page: eastern Congo

Water is Life: The Lasting Impact of the Mumosho Water Project in Gender Equality and Education [Congo]

When Amani asked what this water tap means to this little boy, he replied: Let me show you!

2016-water-project_mumosho

Our partner Amani Matabaro’s leadership in his local Bukavu Mwangaza Rotary Club made water flow into areas where people previously had no access to clean drinking water. Thanks to a Global Grant facilitated by the Montecito Rotary club, Amani was in charge of overseeing the project implemented by the Mumosho Local Water Committee. The task was to build one large reservoir and repair three existing reservoirs in Mumosho, where Action Kivu works with Amani in vocational training, education, and community building programs.

Amani does not settle for what is, but asks: what might be? And in this case, his community organizing turned the 22 water taps scheduled to go in to six villages into 51 taps that now serve 12 villages! Mark Magid, a representative of the Montecito Rotary Club, traveled from California to Congo to witness the work, and was amazed by the success of the project, that also included repairing 30 dysfunctional taps, so there are 81 newly working water taps.

How did Amani more than double the impact of the grant? We witness this in his work with Action Kivu every day – how Amani engages people in his passion, giving them ownership of the project. He invests his time: connecting with individuals, community leaders, church priests and pastors, and small groups of people. Once they’ve embraced the vision, in this case – access to clean water for their communities – they reach out to bring others on board. The community also talked to their children who had moved away from Mumosho, and found one person able to donate 150 pipes to the project. Local workers volunteered their labor.

The water project now provides the Mumosho Health Center with a water tank and a tap to ensure clean water is available there, especially for the maternity clinic. The grant requires training for the water committee to maintain the reservoirs and taps, as well as instruction in water testing, sanitation, and the components of water and peace, and the protection of water infrastructures.

In more ways than one, water is life. The project is also training the community on gender equality: shattering myths and long held traditions, the training teaches men and boys that collecting water is NOT only women’s work, it is everyone’s responsibility. The training also highlights the importance of education – children should be in school, not walking long distances or waiting in long lines for water. The increased number of taps means shorter wait time for life-giving water.

We’re honored to work with Amani and invest in the various ways his tremendous community building leadership creates lasting change in Congo. Please read more about his life-changing programs on our blog, and consider investing in this work through a one-time or monthly donation today!

 

Students cheered for the new water tap at their school.

Students celebrate the new water tap at their school.

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A Birthday Video for our Family: Action Kivu Field Report

6 year anniversary collage

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:

Mother’s Day with Mama Ernata, seamstress in Congo: If you were me, wouldn’t you be happy?

“[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.

ErnataSewing_5.2016

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.

ErnataWithKids_5.2016

“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?”

Ernata baby and mobile phone

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!

School Stories from Congo: 3 Teen Moms on Bringing Back Lost Hope

“If there are people who think nothing can bring back their lost hope, they should come talk to me.” ~ Cikwanine, Secondary Student, Mother, Future Lawyer.

The three girls squint into the sun, posing for the camera in front of the Mumosho Women’s Center, their home for over a year.  Wearing white shirts and blue skirts, the uniform of the Congo student, they hold hands and radiate confidence in their smiles and posture, a hip jutted out here, shoulders thrown back there. Looking at these three girls, you’d never guess their stories of sexual assault, unplanned pregnancies, and being abandoned by their families, but you believe they’ll pursue their dreams.

Nadine is an 18-year-old student and mother, part of the Teen Mothers Program Action Kivu’s partner ABFEK runs at the Women’s Center.  With unplanned, unwanted pregnancies from rape forced upon so many girls and women in eastern Congo, they are often kicked out of their homes, abandoned with a baby on the way. Nadine had already lost both parents to HIV / AIDS when she was just 13, and was forced to drop out of school.  Her elderly grandparents took her in, but already lived in poverty, with no source of income to send her back to school.  Nadine found work on other people’s farms to earn a dollar to help buy food.

Nadine holds hands with Chanceline, her new friend and now adopted sister at the Women’s Center. Chanceline is also 18, and before moving into the Teen Mother housing, she was homeless, abandoned by her family after her sexual assault and resulting pregnancy. After learning about the Teen Mothers Program from a former classmate, she found her new home there, first learning to weave and sell baskets in one of the vocational training courses, then deciding to return to school.

Having just finished Grade 3 of secondary school, Chanceline is excited to start Grade 4 in the fall. Living at the center with the other girls, she is learning new skills with the women in the various vocational trainings, classes that give structure to her life. “Before [joining the Teen Mothers Program] my head and heart were always in the air, with no plans,” she says. “I was only thinking about being hated, but now I know that there are people who care about me, I feel I am not alone!”  Chanceline hopes to continue her education after she graduates secondary school: “Going to university will help me have the chance to access jobs, create change in my life, and help me care for others.”

 

Cikwanine stands a head taller than her friends.  At 20 years old, she had been out of school for five years after giving birth to her child. “I spent five years out of school as an unwanted pregnancy was forced on me,” she says. “I had no hope and was thinking that was the end of my life.”

A woman who is a member of ABFEK’s microloan program told Cikwanine about ABFEK’s vocational trainings for girls of her age.  The next morning, Cikwanine visited the Mumosho Women’s Center, where she was greeted warmly, and was instantly interested in the Sewing Program. Moving into the Teen Mothers’ housing in the center, she finished the sewing training, and decided it was time to go back to school.

The Educational Assistance Program, sponsored by Jewish World Watch, has transformed Cikwanine’s life.  “If there are people who think nothing can bring back their lost hope,” she says, “they should come talk to me and I will tell them how first of all the sewing program brought me back some hope, but the Educational Assistance Program is a recovery for me. I know my life has changed. My thoughts have changed, my feelings have changed, I have recovered. I am so happy, I have become a new person.”

Cikwanine’s plan for this new life? “My goal is to go to university and become a lawyer to be able to stand for and with the people who have no voice!”

Graduating from secondary school will give Nadine the opportunity to work as a primary school teacher, but she too plans to continue her formal education.  Having lost her parents to HIV/AIDS, she hopes to study medicine, but also dreams of becoming a lawyer, to defend the rights of the oppressed and create change in Congo.  “I thank everyone, and especially Jewish World Watch for supporting my education,” she tells Action Kivu’s partner and leader, Amani Matabaro. “Without you, I had no other hope, and now I have new hope for the future!  Being at the center has changed and transformed my life, it is a new experience living with people who show me love and compassion.”

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Your support makes a difference.  Consider a donation to ensure the continued success of all of Action Kivu’s programs, and follow Action Kivu on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and our blog for updates and stories from Congo: the women in our Vocational & Entrepreneurial Trainings including our Sewing Workshop, Literacy Courses, the kids and women in the Educational Assistance Program, our community empowerment meetings, photos of goats and chickens from our Animal Husbandry programs, and stories from the shared teaching farms! Meet our leader in Congo through this powerful video: “I am Congo: Amani, the Community Builder.”

Robin Wright’s Pour Les Femmes “Pajama Campaign” Changes Women’s Lives in Congo [Video]

Mumosho, Congo

Celebrating, the women held high their graduation certificates, sang songs of gratitude, and made plans for their new small business ventures as designers and seamstresses. It was Action Kivu‘s Sewing Workshop graduation day for 60 girls and women in a village in eastern Congo, a day made possible by pajamas, you, and Robin Wright!

Robin watched the video (below) of the graduates celebrating and sharing their stories of how their lives have been changed by learning to sew and starting small businesses, and sent this message to the women.

“Congratulations to the graduates of Action Kivu! This is only the beginning… You are setting the example and reminding all of us that self-reliance is the key to a sustainable and rewarding life. Bravo!!!” ~Robin Wright

(Filmed & edited in Mumosho, DRC by Patrick Byamungu.)

“Mama Robin,” as many of the Congolese women who met Wright on her 2011 trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo call the actor, is a vocal activist on behalf of the people of Congo. Late last year, Robin partnered with her friend and fashion designer Karen Fowler to create a campaign for the women of Congo through Pour Les Femmes, a luxury pajama company.  The profits from the PJ sales traveled 15,114 kilometers from Los Angeles to Congo, and purchased sewing kits for these women to start their own businesses, earning income to feed, clothe, and send their kids to school, helping to break the cycle of poverty and change the landscape of their lives.

Some women walked one kilometer, some trekked five or six, a few bused in from the city of Bukavu, braving the unpaved dirt roads made muddy and dangerous from two days of the non-stop, rainy season wet weather. It’s just this wet weather that makes travel in Congo so dangerous, yet also makes it look a lush, verdant paradise, with its rolling green fields and the wide leaves of banana trees leading up to the misty mountains surrounding the valley. But the potential for paradise in Congo has long been marred by conflict, extreme poverty, and violence against women as a weapon of war.

That Saturday in March, in a corner of Congo, a country in which it is reported that 2.5 million girls are out of school, 60 young women ages 14 to 28 made their way to celebrate graduation from Action Kivu’s 8-month sewing program. They walked through the rain to the Mumosho Women’s Center, the heart of Action Kivu’s work in Congo.

Amani Matabaro is the man and the inspiration behind Action Kivu.  In 2006, Amani and his wife created Action Kivu’s partner organization in eastern Congo, Actions pour le Bien être de la Femme et de l’Enfant au Kivu (ABFEK), after learning that his cousins, victims of the ongoing conflict, needed work and a place to live.  At the March 2015 graduation, Amani congratulated each seamstress for her diligence in learning a new skill and gaining an education, invoking empowerment that no one could take away from them.   Often overwhelmed by tears of joy, Amani handed each woman her certificate of completion, and draped her new tape measure around her bowed head, a sort of sewing stole denoting achievement in education.

Amani congratulates Cibalonza Claudine.

Each woman received her graduation kit: a push-pedal sewing machine (for working in villages with little or no electricity), fabric, a box of threads, scissors, and her tape measure.  The rain abated, and the women stepped outside to pose for photos and share their stories of how learning to sew and having the means to earn income has already changed their lives.

“I am the happiest person on the planet today because of this graduation kit, I had never expected this, I waited for a long time but today is the day,” said Cibalonza Claudine, the sewing program’s star student, who was wearing a dress she had made. Cibalonza walks an hour and a half each way to attend the sewing classes at the Center, and was never late, never missed a session, said Amani.

Action Kivu’s work in Congo provides women with a variety of entrepreneurial programs to create sustainable change in their community, from bread baking and basket making to the sewing workshops, from literacy classes to a demonstration farm for growing food to sell and eat, as well as education assistance for the kids in the community whose families cannot afford to send them to school.  Your partnership through Action Kivu, whether an annual gift or a monthly donation, changes lives.

“Before I came to this center, I was nothing, I meant nothing at all,” Cibalonza said at the graduation ceremony. “After learning the sewing skills, I started rebuilding my life and today, I AM SOMEBODY. No matter the rain I will carry my sewing machine and show my mom and my child that I have to start a new life.  My plan is to open a new business and I promise I will prosper – thank you ABFEK, thank you Action Kivu, thank you Robin Wright, God bless you all and keep you strong for changing my life.”

These women, who have so little in terms of money, power, or influence, have so much to teach us.  Their gratitude for what you give them to start them on their path to earning income and caring for their families, reminds us of our connection to everyone in the world.  Thank you for partnering with Action Kivu through the Pour Les Femmes campaign!

Please consider continuing your partnership with Action Kivu — it provides the means to continue these life-changing programs for the women and children of Congo.  All donations are tax deductible in the U.S., and make a tangible difference in the lives of these women, as they share, in the video above.

ABFEK is registered as a local non-governmental organization in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Action Kivu, Inc. is a registered 501(c)(3) charity in the United States. Our EIN is 27-3537799.

~Rebecca Snavely

Executive Director & Co-Founder, Action Kivu