To shake off the stigma that surrounds AIDS and HIV testing, our partner Amani volunteered to be publicly tested at the opening of World Soccer Day this September 25th. Funded by the Dillon Henry Foundation, the tournament brought together 8 teams of footballers to play it out on the pitch, 4 of which were girls’ teams, a first in Mumosho, which explained the crowd of 4000 spectators.
In front of the crowd gathered at the Mumosho Women’s Center, Amani stepped forward to have his blood taken by Nurse Jeanine for an HIV test, and was quickly followed by one of the star players from the community, a young man geared up for the game. Shortly after him, a line formed to be tested, as kids and community members signed on to learn more about the disease, and how to stop it from spreading.
One week earlier, on a hot September Sunday afternoon in Mumosho, Congo, a slight breeze stirred the air in the sparse room of the church where Nurse Jeanine sat in front of 45 students and community members. Though they had just started the school year, these students were spending their Sunday in a different kind of class, learning the facts about HIV/AIDS, so that they could share their education with their peers and family members. Sub Saharan Africa represents almost 70% of the total new HIV infections in the world, according to UN AIDS. Nurse Jeanine, Amani, and the kids and community leaders of eastern Congo learning about the disease intend to change that.
“HIV / AIDS is considered taboo in Congolese society, thus the high risk of going untested and spreading HIV. The message of education about HIV/AIDS can deeply penetrate the fabric of society, and literally save lives,” says our partner and community leader, Amani Matabaro.
Working in tandem with Amani’s community building programs and vocational / educational training workshops, Nurse Jeanine is committed to changing how the new generation of Congolese thinks about HIV/AIDS, spending much of her time in the villages of Mumosho, proctoring tests and raising awareness to the facts about living with the disease, while not passing it on.
The determiner kits that Jeanine uses to test on site for HIV offer an immediate reading of whether the person shows the signs of HIV/AIDS, at which point she contacts them confidentially, and schedules a full blood test at a nearby hospital for the conclusive results. With those results, the person is then referred to Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, or the local clinic in Nyantende for treatment with antiretroviral (ARV) drugs.
Even then, knowing they are HIV positive, many people in eastern Congo ask to be sent to a clinic in neighboring Rwanda, terrified that their family, friends, and neighbors might find out they contracted the disease. Thus, the critical, life-saving aspect of Amani and Nurse Jeanine’s program ALL TOGETHER AGAINST HIV/AIDS consists of diversified activities centered in the community, with a focus on settings with large populations such as schools, churches, and community-based organizations in eastern DRC. Thanks to the generosity of Robin Wright and Karen Fowler’s company Pour Les Femmes, Action Kivu currently pays Nurse Jeanine a monthly stipend that helps with her tireless work, but the HIV field test-kits are paid for out of Amani’s pocket at $25 per kit, and each tests 80 individuals. If you would like to give toward covering that cost as well as for Nurse Jeanine’s assistant, please donate today, and in your PayPal “note to seller” mark HIV. We are grateful for your investment in this life-changing work!
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.
Executive Director & Co-Founder, Action Kivu
We are honored and thrilled to announce that Robin Wright has chosen Action Kivu as one of two organizations to receive the profit of sales from her new sleepwear line through socially-conscious sleepwear company Pour Les Femmes. Robin met Action Kivu founder Amani Matabaro on a visit to eastern Congo, and has since supported his work with the community there, using her voice and celebrity platform to raise awareness, and giving her time, energy, passion, and money, to people who are too often overlooked. She documented her visit over at The World Post, noting:
“The women from the Action Kivu sewing center also came out to meet us and asked that we carry their message of triumph and hope back tothe U.S. What they were most looking forward to was the completion of Amani’s ongoing project–the Peace Market.
“Mumosho is a small village located about 16 miles from Bukavu, situated right on the border with Rwanda, which means it is 16 miles away from the nearest market. Therefore, the women of Mumosho were forced to walk for hours to purchase basic goods, including food, soap, and clothing. And during their trek through the forest, they were vulnerable to attacks from the roving militias, including the FDLR. As a result, many women simply did not make the journey for fear of being raped or shot, and the community in turn suffered.
“Now, less than a year after we visited Mumosho and saw the beginnings of the Peace Market, it is built, complete with a roof to protect people from the rain, and a place of refuge and shelter for the community.”
Later learning of the need for latrines at the Peace Market, essential to prevent an outbreak of cholera, Robin promptly donated the funds needed to build the toilets. Her compassion and generosity have made an indelible mark in the lives of the women and children in eastern Congo. And she continues to do so, through this beautiful line of sleepwear, and invites you to make a difference, too.
Visit plfdreams.com to learn more about the pajamas and to purchase. 100% of profits are going to Action Kivu and Synergie Des Femmes, to support the women of Congo!
Read more about Action Kivu’s work in Congo here:
(Photo courtesy Pour Les Femmes)
“The women from the Action Kivu sewing center also came out to meet us and asked that we carry their message of triumph and hope back to the U.S.”
Read more from Robin Wright and JD Stier about meeting Amani and the women of Mumosho’s Sewing Workshop here!
|Robin Wright, photo courtesy of Enough Project|
And if you’ve yet to meet Amani via Enough Project’s video series, I am Congo - watch now, and spread the message of hope!