In Swahili, Mwamini means trusted, believing. “I live my name,” Mwamini says. “Without believing, it would have been impossible to graduate from the Sewing Workshop.”
Mwamini was forced to quit elementary school in the 4th grade, her family unable to afford school fees for their 6 children. “Sewing is a passion for me, I wanted to do it for a long time,” she says. “I feel proud and unique when I make fashion.”
Her father built the small structure for shade where Mwamini, Claudine, and Noella run their sewing co-op along the main road, running their business with the pedal-powered Singer machines they received when they graduated.
“I work in a co-op to promote unity and sisterhood. Together we feel stronger.”
Be the change that you wish to see in the world. (Gandhi)
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.
“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.”
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!