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!
On her way in to to the afternoon literacy class at the Mumosho Community Center, Mapendo stops to talk about why she works so hard to learn to read and write. In Swahili, Mapendo means love, she says. Love and luck go hand-in-hand. Before I came to the Literacy Program and Sewing Workshop, I felt I was nothing. Now I am somebody.
After learning the basics of counting, reading, and some writing in Literacy Class Level 1, Mapendo was able to attend the Sewing Workshop, graduating with a machine and starting a co-op with three other alumni. Determined to be able to communicate around the world, she worked her way through Literacy Level 2, where she focused on reading and writing skills, and began to learn some French. Mapendo is now in Level 3, where students focus on French language skills.
Before, to be able to buy just a bar of soap, I had to go work on someone’s farm, hard labor for less than one dollar a day. These programs have taken me from a deep hole, Mapendo says, allowing me to live with others.
Consider a monthly donation to Action Kivu to invest in these life-transforming programs, and partner with women like Mapendo today!
The rainy season in the Sub-Saharan country of Congo makes many of the dirt roads in its eastern corner impassable, and the journey to school almost impossible. The road to an education for girls, in a culture where they are not valued as equal to boys, is fraught with even more barriers, from extreme poverty to early marriage. But Mama Adolphine never gave up hope.
In 2012, a study conducted by UNESCO and UNICEF revealed that 52.7 per cent of the 7.3 million children out of school in the Democratic Republic of the Congo — some 3.8 million children — are girls. Among the obstacles to girls’ education are low family incomes and lack of school infrastructure. And according to A World at School, in some areas of the DRC, “around 70% of children who start primary school will drop out before the end of school. If you’re a girl, the risks of dropping out are even higher – as many as 77% of girls drop out of primary school in some areas of the country. … Early marriage contributes to the low secondary school attendance for girls.”
Aldophine doesn’t need to be reminded of these statistics – she lived them. Her parents did not think it important to spend money on their daughter’s education. “Women did not have any right to go to school,” she says. “But I liked studies so much. I never lost hope that one day I would study.”
Adolphine is 60 and the mother of six. Two of her daughters are married, four of her children are in school, and Adolphine is now a student in Action Kivu’s Literacy Program.
“I am learning how to write and read,” Adolphine reports. “I am very happy because now I can read my bible, I can choose and write the name of the candidate I want when there is an election in my country.”
The Literacy Program is the entry point to all of Action Kivu’s vocational trainings – teaching girls and women to read and write gives them the first tools needed to run their own businesses upon receiving skills training in sewing, bread baking, basket weaving, and the micro-loan project. To support this critical step in the road to equality for women and girls, please consider a monthly donation!
Adolphine is an inspiration: it is never too late to learn!
It’s hard to tell who is more excited about the first day of school this year: the kids or Papa Amani, as the students in Congo call our partner in Congo. Amani lights up when he talks about sending children to school, giving them hope for a better future and the means to pursue their goals and dreams. He knows that educating children, and specifically sending girls to school, often denied education simply because of their gender, is one of the best ways to break the cycle of extreme poverty furthered by decades of war in this corner of Congo. Thanks to a generous grant from Jewish World Watch, many of the children we serve in eastern Congo, kids who are orphans or whose families are unable to afford school fees and supplies, are back in the classroom this week!
Amani often echoes Nelson Mandela’s words: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
We’re thrilled to post our own Back to School photos. Meet Cibalonza, who is six years old and so excited to begin her education, entering grade 1 in elementary school this year. She’s surrounded by the school kits each child receives: a school bag, a uniform (many sewn by the students and graduates of Action Kivu’s Sewing Workshop), copy books, a pencil, two pens, a mathematical box, and a ruler.
We’re happy to share an update on Ntaboba. When he was six years old, Ntaboba, whose name means “no fear,” stepped on a live grenade in the jungle near his home in eastern Congo, mangling and twisting his leg, forcing him to walk with a metal pole for support, which further twisted his spine. Because of the injury, he often missed classes and fell behind in his education when he could not navigate the five kilometers to his school.
Margaret Johnson and Betty Merner, two Americans visiting Congo with their friend Dr. Victoria Bentley of Empower Congo Women, met Ntaboba in Mumosho. They quickly connected to Ntaboba’s soft spirit and strong character, and were determined to do what they could to help him. Thanks to the emotional and financial support of these women and school kids they work with in Rhode Island, in 2012, Ntaboba received a surgery on his leg from Heal Africa in Goma, a hospital renowned as one of only three referral hospitals in the DR Congo. He continues to walk freely with “no fear,” stepping into grade 2 in secondary school.
Read more about our programs, and how your partnership and donations support life-changing work in Congo, here!
Meet Mamy in a video from our Sewing Graduation Day, 2015
Meet Cikwanine, Nadine, & Chanceline – three teen moms who are back in school!
Meet Claudine, and read her story of coming “back to life”
Meet Grandma Mwayuma and see some of the children at play
Meet Amani through the Enough Project’s “I Am Congo” video series
Meet the goats in our animal husbandry program, Your Goat is My Goat