When Amani asked what this water tap means to this little boy, he replied: Let me show you!
Our partner Amani Matabaro’s leadership in his local Bukavu Mwangaza Rotary Club made water flow into areas where people previously had no access to clean drinking water. Thanks to a Global Grant facilitated by the Montecito Rotary club, Amani was in charge of overseeing the project implemented by the Mumosho Local Water Committee. The task was to build one large reservoir and repair three existing reservoirs in Mumosho, where Action Kivu works with Amani in vocational training, education, and community building programs.
Amani does not settle for what is, but asks: what might be? And in this case, his community organizing turned the 22 water taps scheduled to go in to six villages into 51 taps that now serve 12 villages! Mark Magid, a representative of the Montecito Rotary Club, traveled from California to Congo to witness the work, and was amazed by the success of the project, that also included repairing 30 dysfunctional taps, so there are 81 newly working water taps.
How did Amani more than double the impact of the grant? We witness this in his work with Action Kivu every day – how Amani engages people in his passion, giving them ownership of the project. He invests his time: connecting with individuals, community leaders, church priests and pastors, and small groups of people. Once they’ve embraced the vision, in this case – access to clean water for their communities – they reach out to bring others on board. The community also talked to their children who had moved away from Mumosho, and found one person able to donate 150 pipes to the project. Local workers volunteered their labor.
The water project now provides the Mumosho Health Center with a water tank and a tap to ensure clean water is available there, especially for the maternity clinic. The grant requires training for the water committee to maintain the reservoirs and taps, as well as instruction in water testing, sanitation, and the components of water and peace, and the protection of water infrastructures.
In more ways than one, water is life. The project is also training the community on gender equality: shattering myths and long held traditions, the training teaches men and boys that collecting water is NOT only women’s work, it is everyone’s responsibility. The training also highlights the importance of education – children should be in school, not walking long distances or waiting in long lines for water. The increased number of taps means shorter wait time for life-giving water.
We’re honored to work with Amani and invest in the various ways his tremendous community building leadership creates lasting change in Congo. Please read more about his life-changing programs on our blog, and consider investing in this work through a one-time or monthly donation today!
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
Every now and then one wonders, how does Amani, our partner, peacemaker, and community builder in Congo, keep going? Where does he get his strength and drive to create and manage community programs for women to access a place of empowerment and equality? And why? In a place where women are often less than second-class citizens, where they have no land rights, and are often discarded in divorce if they don’t produce a male heir, how did a man like Amani decide women are the future of Congo?
Speaking to Amani on Skype recently, he shared his own recent realization of why this work is so close to his heart.
Amani has spent years investing in his childhood community of Mumosho, starting sewing workshops, education assistance programs for kids who can’t afford school, building a Peace Market for the safe and local sales of products and food. “I’m feeling a big difference,” he said, “when I meet children on the street, moms, the elderly. … I believe in the power of women, especially the women of Congo. My mom was left a widow after my dad died (Amani’s father was killed in the conflict in 1996). She was illiterate, but she raised us, she made every effort so that we would have the space for education.
“I shared my experience, my story, with the women [I work with],” Amani told me. “I see we are doing what we are doing because I trust the power of women. I trust what I learned from my mom, when she showed us that she believed, ‘My children are going to remain my foundation.’”
Amani’s belief in the power of women and education is what fuels his work in eastern Congo, and what we at Action Kivu work to support. His mother, who inspired this work, was also killed in the conflict, in 1998. In honor of all she taught him through her strength and love, he has created a community in Congo where women are learning entrepreneurial skills like sewing, baking, basket-making, and literacy training.
We learned last week that Democratic Republic of Congo’s M23 rebels have declared a ceasefire after a 20-month rebellion in North Kivu province to allow peace talks with the government to advance. It’s a hopeful step. But only yesterday we read that the fighting rages on, endangering more innocent civilians. At least 800,000 people have been left homeless since the conflict started.
NOW is the time to empower women with a voice for peace. Women in Mumosho stop Amani on the street, telling him they’ve observed their neighbors who are taking the literacy classes at the Mumosho Women’s Center. That they see women able to read and write their own names for the first time, enabling them to vote in their country’s elections. These women want that right, too. When they learn to read and write, they’ll be able to teach their children the value of literacy. And their children will learn, as Amani learned, that their mothers and aunties are strong, and won’t be stopped in their work for a better future for their children.
Meet Amani via video: The Enough Project’s “I Am Congo” Series.
Donate today and partner with the women currently in classes, and help us expand our programs to include more women!
This past weekend in Ethiopia, a Peace Accord was signed to attempt to end decades of conflict in Congo. According to reports, despite this encouraging step, the accord does not specify enough detail or plan of action, and there are signs of a return to fighting between the Congolese government and the M23 rebels.
That same weekend, a celebration of peace was held in eastern Congo, as the Bukavu Rotary Club honored 108 years of the Rotary Foundation. Dr. Denis Mukwege, the main speaker at the event, is a hero of healing whose Panzi Hospital has served multitudes of women in the war-torn region. Mukwege only recently returned to Bukavu after an attempt on his life in October of 2012. Amani, a member of the Bukavu Rotary and friend of Dr. Mukwege, noted that the doctor is a great inspiration to him.
Mukwege addressed the Rotary gathering in light of their theme, “Peace and Global Understanding,” and Peace through Service. “I was renewed by his moving speech,” Amani wrote. “[It] gave me hope again in the fight to end war and poverty and injustice by not only empowering the most impoverished communities to help themselves here in the Eastern Congo, starting in Mumosho, but also making our voices heard to the international community and regional policy makers! I was encouraged when Dr Mukwege said: ‘It’s high time we stood up and fight corruption, impunity and injustice and no, no to the balkanization of Congo.'” Amani added, “Violence against women should stop once and for all!”
|Dr. Mukwege addresses the Bukavu Rotary Club, Feb 2013.|
The Rotary’s celebration of peace started Friday in Mumosho, where Rotary leaders met with ABFEK / Action Kivu’s hero of healing and peace, Amani Matabaro. In honor of the celebration, Amani opened the new Mumosho Women’s Center. Still needing funds and work to be completed, Amani gave a tour of the center, which will house Empower Congo Women’s teen-mother program, giving a year of safe shelter and skills-training to 10 young mothers, empowering them to provide for themselves and their children. The center will house Action Kivu’s multiple projects, including our literacy programs, skills-training workshops, and a workspace for graduates of the sewing workshop. It will also serve as a community gathering place, hosting forums and trainings toward building peace in the family, in the community, and in Congo.
|Amani explains how the Mumosho Women’s Center will serve the community.|
|A leader of the Bukavu Rotary speaking at the Mumosho Women’s Center.|
|A group of young mothers in Mumosho.|
More to come on the opening of the Women’s Center! If you’d like to partner with us in covering the costs of the construction, please note that in a donation. All donations go directly to the programs already running, but the need is great, and we’re excited to grow with your partnership!
“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!