The girls and women step inside the Mumosho Women’s Center, take off their flip-flops, set their kids down on the floor to play, and gather up handfuls of colorful bright rope. They watch and follow along to the basket-making teacher’s advice, weaving the rope into gorgeous baskets to sell at the local market and in their villages. For half a year, a class of women come together three days a week to learn the art of basket-making and marketing, so that, like graduate Chantal (pictured below), they can sell their art, and earn income to feed their families and send their kids to school. Depending on the size of the basket, they sell from $3 to $8 dollars a piece.
Many people agree, plastic bags are the bane of our modern existence. While convenient, they are not only unappealing when they escape to get caught in trees or stuck in gutters, but they are terrible for the environment: According to a 2014 report from the Earth Policy Institute, “worldwide, a trillion single-use plastic bags are used each year, nearly 2 million each minute. Usage varies widely among countries, from over 400 a year for many East Europeans, to just four a year for people in Denmark and Finland. Plastic bags, made of depletable natural gas or petroleum resources, are often used only for a matter of minutes. Yet they last in the environment for hundreds of years, shredding into ever-smaller pieces but never fully breaking down.”
The government in Congo banned the use of plastic bags, and when that law takes effect, it will mean even more need for and better sales of these beautiful baskets!
Read more about our work on our blog, and consider a monthly donation to partner with the women in our vocational training programs in Congo, from basket-making to sewing to literacy classes, your dollars make a difference, giving hope and empowering the girls and women with the means to change their lives.
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
A picture is worth a thousand words:
Meet some of the kids in Mumosho, DRC, who take a break from their play to clown for the camera at the playground built through our partner’s work. How can we state in just a few words what it means for these children to have a safe space to just be kids, without worry for their safety (besides a scraped knee), playing with abandon?
We are grateful for the grant from our partners in Sweden from Direktionen för Nytta och Nöje in Strömstad that created this playground in Mumosho, DRC, who connected with our work through Gunilla Hamne of Peaceful Heart Network.
And grandma Mwayuma is grateful as well, to have a safe place to drop off her grandchildren while she goes to the Peace Market!
“If there are people who think nothing can bring back their lost hope, they should come talk to me.” ~ Cikwanine, Secondary Student, Mother, Future Lawyer.
The three girls squint into the sun, posing for the camera in front of the Mumosho Women’s Center, their home for over a year. Wearing white shirts and blue skirts, the uniform of the Congo student, they hold hands and radiate confidence in their smiles and posture, a hip jutted out here, shoulders thrown back there. Looking at these three girls, you’d never guess their stories of sexual assault, unplanned pregnancies, and being abandoned by their families, but you believe they’ll pursue their dreams.
Nadine is an 18-year-old student and mother, part of the Teen Mothers Program Action Kivu’s partner ABFEK runs at the Women’s Center. With unplanned, unwanted pregnancies from rape forced upon so many girls and women in eastern Congo, they are often kicked out of their homes, abandoned with a baby on the way. Nadine had already lost both parents to HIV / AIDS when she was just 13, and was forced to drop out of school. Her elderly grandparents took her in, but already lived in poverty, with no source of income to send her back to school. Nadine found work on other people’s farms to earn a dollar to help buy food.
Nadine holds hands with Chanceline, her new friend and now adopted sister at the Women’s Center. Chanceline is also 18, and before moving into the Teen Mother housing, she was homeless, abandoned by her family after her sexual assault and resulting pregnancy. After learning about the Teen Mothers Program from a former classmate, she found her new home there, first learning to weave and sell baskets in one of the vocational training courses, then deciding to return to school.
Having just finished Grade 3 of secondary school, Chanceline is excited to start Grade 4 in the fall. Living at the center with the other girls, she is learning new skills with the women in the various vocational trainings, classes that give structure to her life. “Before [joining the Teen Mothers Program] my head and heart were always in the air, with no plans,” she says. “I was only thinking about being hated, but now I know that there are people who care about me, I feel I am not alone!” Chanceline hopes to continue her education after she graduates secondary school: “Going to university will help me have the chance to access jobs, create change in my life, and help me care for others.”
Cikwanine stands a head taller than her friends. At 20 years old, she had been out of school for five years after giving birth to her child. “I spent five years out of school as an unwanted pregnancy was forced on me,” she says. “I had no hope and was thinking that was the end of my life.”
A woman who is a member of ABFEK’s microloan program told Cikwanine about ABFEK’s vocational trainings for girls of her age. The next morning, Cikwanine visited the Mumosho Women’s Center, where she was greeted warmly, and was instantly interested in the Sewing Program. Moving into the Teen Mothers’ housing in the center, she finished the sewing training, and decided it was time to go back to school.
The Educational Assistance Program, sponsored by Jewish World Watch, has transformed Cikwanine’s life. “If there are people who think nothing can bring back their lost hope,” she says, “they should come talk to me and I will tell them how first of all the sewing program brought me back some hope, but the Educational Assistance Program is a recovery for me. I know my life has changed. My thoughts have changed, my feelings have changed, I have recovered. I am so happy, I have become a new person.”
Cikwanine’s plan for this new life? “My goal is to go to university and become a lawyer to be able to stand for and with the people who have no voice!”
Graduating from secondary school will give Nadine the opportunity to work as a primary school teacher, but she too plans to continue her formal education. Having lost her parents to HIV/AIDS, she hopes to study medicine, but also dreams of becoming a lawyer, to defend the rights of the oppressed and create change in Congo. “I thank everyone, and especially Jewish World Watch for supporting my education,” she tells Action Kivu’s partner and leader, Amani Matabaro. “Without you, I had no other hope, and now I have new hope for the future! Being at the center has changed and transformed my life, it is a new experience living with people who show me love and compassion.”
Your support makes a difference. Consider a donation to ensure the continued success of all of Action Kivu’s programs, and follow Action Kivu on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and our blog for updates and stories from Congo: the women in our Vocational & Entrepreneurial Trainings including our Sewing Workshop, Literacy Courses, the kids and women in the Educational Assistance Program, our community empowerment meetings, photos of goats and chickens from our Animal Husbandry programs, and stories from the shared teaching farms! Meet our leader in Congo through this powerful video: “I am Congo: Amani, the Community Builder.”
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