What is the good life? In Mumosho, Congo, Riziki, a student in Action Kivu’s Sewing Workshop, takes a break from the class to share her story. The front room of the community center is quiet, the sound of the pedaled sewing machines bleeding in from upstairs as the class continues without Riziki. She is 22, and answers questions in Mashi and Swahili, looking at Amani, who translates.
My first day at the Sewing Workshop was a bad day for me, Amani translates Riziki’s words into English, then laughs, and in Mashi, quickly rattles off his question – why was it bad? Riziki replies: “I didn’t know anybody.” She felt alone. One of seven children, she was forced to quit elementary school in 3rd grade because her family couldn’t afford the school fees (approximately seven U.S. dollars each month), and wasn’t used to the strict tone of the sewing teacher. She sounded rude to Riziki’s untrained ear.
Despite a bad first day, she started feeling connected quickly, becoming familiar with her fellow students, learning new skills. Before coming to the Sewing Workshop, she had worked on people’s farms, back-breaking work in Congo that pays around one dollar for a day of labor.
Now, she says, I am gaining confidence. Polepole (slowly) I am becoming a strong woman. She is building her clientele: people are bringing me fabric to make them things.
Riziki leans back into the armchair, relaxing. I had to quit school because of lack of funds, she says. Pursuing an education was a big wish of mine, but it didn’t happen. I wanted to finish school, to live a good life.
What defines the good life? Assuming she will answer as an American might: a house, nice clothes, maybe even a car?
Because I am a girl, she says, a good life is to meet my basic needs: soap, shoes, clothes. When I am a mother, married, it will be to feed myself, feed my family. I don’t want to live like my mother lives. A widow, she works on her own farm, and then goes to work on other people’s farms. My brother travels to mining sites, and sends money back to their family.
How far are we all from the good life? Those of us whose minds have been trained to equate it with things on one end of the spectrum, and those who have yet to know the pride that comes with feeding their kids on a regular basis, of being able to send them to school in hopes that they, too, will have access to the good life.
Learn how your donation to Action Kivu is an investment in creating the good life for girls and women like Riziki, giving them the tools to feed their families, send their children to school, pay for medical care – helping to break the cycle of poverty.
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.
We celebrate interdependence this Independence Day in Congo with Marijane, Chanceline, and Martine, who started a sewing co-op after graduating @Action Kivu’s Sewing Workshop in 2015.
Using the machines they received upon graduation thanks to a generous donation from Robin Wright and Karen Fowler’s Pour Les Femmes that year, the three women say that when they work on each order together, they finish faster, allowing them to take more orders per month.
We love to work together, and this is something we learned from the Sewing Workshop program. We are working, we are strong.
Marijane (pictured left) shares what @Action Kivu’s Sewing Workshop means for her life:
Since I graduated, I feel completely different. I have a voice. I pay for my child’s school fees each month.
This year we need your help to graduate the Class of 2017. And we know, from statistics and from the stories of our alumni, that when you invest in women’s education and vocational training, you invest in their children’s future, and the health of the community. Take action: Invest in the future of Congo today!
We’re excited to celebrate seven years with you, our Action Kivu family! We started with a small sewing workshop and education assistance program in eastern Congo that with YOUR partnership, has grown to a community center that houses the Sewing Workshop, Literacy Classes, Bread Baking, Basket Weaving, and Soap Making courses, and over 3000 children have been sent to school. Nearby is our shared farm where over 80 women farm their own plots of land. We have graduated 236 women with the tools and education to start their own businesses, and have 48 students in the Class of 2017 eager to receive a sewing machine to start their new lives.
Your investment in the future of these women is changing lives, and an investment in women is an investment in the future generation, and a more just world. Read more and donate today at http://www.actionkivu.org/action/
What is the impact of your giving? Read stories from our alumni to learn how their lives have changed:
And meet the current Class of 2017, eager to start their co-ops and businesses!
Hear how this training has changed lives, from the women of the Sewing Workshop, Class of 2015!
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!