International Women’s Day is a special day for me because it is a moment for me to remember, to be aware that I have rights as a woman and my rights must be respected. I am aware I can stand up and speak in front of others, men included. This year we are standing up to tell the world we are equal and we should be looked at equally. Young girls must be given the chance to go to school, my parents never gave me the chance to get an education but the programs here at Action Kivu opened my eyes. We are fighting to have equal access to job opportunities. We are working to change our society.
Being at Action Kivu makes me aware that what men do, women can also do. Gender equity must be respected in job opportunities and we must reach the goal to help fight extreme poverty in the country. Why are so many of the children who do not have the chance to get an education girls? It has to end. My life has changed since I joined the programs at Action Kivu. I am now working to feed my child and myself. Being part of Action Kivu helped me change how I look at my daughter, I understand she is equal to boys and I will work hard to send her to school. I am able to pay for medical care for my daughter since I do not know her father. These programs made me feel proud of myself, I am looked at differently. I feel strong and thank everyone for supporting Action Kivu.
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.”