Category Page: Bukavu

Heroes of Healing in Congo: Dr. Denis Mukwege & Amani Matabaro

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!

We Belong to Each Other: Aime’s Dreams of Sharing her Sewing Skills

If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.   ~Mother Teresa

The eldest of six, with four sisters and one brother, Aime and her siblings had to leave their home in Kinshasa, Congo’s capital city, and move 940 miles east to Bukavu. Both their parents had died, and the six children had to move to the eastern city to stay with Aime’s father’s family.
Moving was very difficult. “I am having a tough time here, because nobody is taking care of us. In Kinshasa it was okay because we had parents who were taking care of us,”  Aime told us in a small office behind the Bukavu Sewing Workshop.
“I went to school, but in the third year of secondary school, I had to quit, I was not able to keep going.  When I was in school, I dreamed of becoming somebody who could help other people.”
Aime discovered the Sewing Workshop in Bukavu when she saw a group of women together on the street talking.  Curious as to why they were gathered, she approached them, and met Amini, Amani’s wife and the lead trainer at the workshop.  When Aime learned that girls and women were being trained as seamstresses, for no charge, to be able to earn their own income, she asked to join the program. No, it was too late in the term, Amini told her. But, “When I explained my problems, when I explained my situation, that I had come from Kinshasa, that I had lost my parents, she [Amini] welcomed me, even though it was a little bit late.
Aime is 25, and some of the girls in the sewing workshop are as young as 15.  “In the program, [age does not matter] older, younger, we are all one, we are all friends,” Aime explained.
She was eager to share her goals with us, dreams that had not changed since she was a secondary school student, her hopes for an education to share with others.  “As soon as I graduate from this program, I am going to gather all the orphans and other people around me who are unable to take care of themselves, and help them, to create conditions where I am able to help them.  I don’t want to keep what I’m learning for myself, I want to make sure I train other people who have difficulties.
To many, Aime seems to have nothing, but to her, an education and vocational training has empowered her to live her dream of serving others with her knowledge.  With her generous spirit, she’s always thinking of others, even when asked what she would say to you, the partners of the workshop through Action Kivu:  “Thank you. We love you. [You] should not keep on helping only this group, but think of other people who are suffering, too.” 
To help women like Aime realize these goals, please consider a donation to Action Kivu today! 
(Photo by Cate Haight)

Help Purchase Sewing Kits for the May Graduates of the Sewing Workshops

The women of the Bukavu and Mumosho sewing workshops are graduating! Excited and ready to begin their own businesses, 60 women in eastern Congo, ranging from teenagers to mothers of many children, will graduate this May.

This is momentous for these women, many who chose to attend the program to avoid prostitution on the streets of crowded Bukavu, one of the more horrific options in a place of few choices available to women to survive and feed their families.  Now, with a glimmer of hope and a better future, each one of them will graduate, trained in sewing and designing skills, and armed with a sewing kit.  But it won’t happen without your help!

Each kit costs $175.00 and includes:

•One pedal powered Singer sewing machine ($150.00, and most useful with the lack of electricity in remote village areas)
•One bolt of fabric to begin business ($15)
•One pair of sewing scissors ($5.00)
•One tape measure, plus oil for the machine ($5.00)

Your donation goes directly to the graduates, who have worked so hard towards self-sustainability and helps them gain immeasurable pride as they provide for their families. No donation is too small!

We saw the results with our own eyes on our trip to eastern Congo this year, when we met Nzigira, age 20, and Tantine, age 18, two of the graduates from last year’s sewing program in Mumosho. Parking our truck on the main village road, we wandered down a dirt path, beneath the green of banana trees and lush foliage that surrounded small homes and thatched huts.  Approaching the women’s workspace, we were confused. A pedal-powered Singer sewing machine sat out in the open, situated in the corner of a maze of wooden beams that we soon realized formed the frame of a future house. The only sound was the occasional whirring of the machine’s needle, the chirping of birds, and the chatter of curious kids who’d followed us, pied-piper style, as we’d wound our way into their world.

Nzigira and Tantine have set up shop in one of the corner “rooms” of the construction site. They run their business there, protected by a roof, but otherwise open to the air, sun, rain, a few chickens and one duck who roam freely through.  Nzigira’s uncle is building this house next to his current thatched, round hut, and has offered the space with a roof over their heads for the women to work. However, when the house is finished, the seamstresses will have to find another location to run their sewing shop.

Nzigira and Tantine decided to team up when they met at the sewing workshop. Both hard workers, they recognized in each a partner, and told us that two are better than one. That adage has proven true; they’ve needed no marketing for their work, as word has spread through the local community about their talent.  Women buy fabric and bring it to the makeshift workspace, where they take measurements, press fabric with coal-heated irons, and pedal power their designs into beautiful blouses and skirts, for wedding parties and daily wear.  They live at home with their parents and family, who do not work, and from their shared small business, in which they charge a mere $4.50 for a complicated blouse, they meet their families’ basic needs.

They are ever grateful for the Action Kivu supporters who helped purchase their sewing kits for graduation, and offered a blessing for those who helped them: “May you live as a lake, being replenished and refilled, never dying.”

Donate today, and know that you are making a huge difference in one woman’s life. No amount is too small.  We are 100% volunteer in the U.S., which means all of your donation goes toward the purchase of the sewing kits for the May graduates (minus nominal banking fees).

Want to know more about the women? Read the story, hopes and dreams of Ernata, a graduating student, here.

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

– Eleanor Roosevelt

Pass the buck. Action Kivu on Philanthroper.com – log on to donate a dollar!

Do you philanthrop?  (Philanthropize?  I’m always attempting to coin new verbs.)  Philanthroper.com is sort of like those daily deal sites, but instead, they give you the option to do good, one dollar a day, if you choose.  And today, Friday, July 22nd, they’re featuring Action Kivu!

“Passing the buck” is generally not a flattering phrase, so we’re re-defining it, and asking you to pass along a buck to the women and children of eastern Congo. $1.  100 pennies.  You’ve got that to give, right?  Log in at Philanthroper.com, give a buck and tell your friends.  (If you missed our day and, naturally, you want to philanthropize for Action Kivu, you can always donate here.  In fact, you can make it a recurring donation  — 4$ / month, the cost of a latte, will send one child to school.)

Since we’re volunteers here in the U.S., every bit of your donation goes to the work on the ground in the Congo. (PayPal takes a tiny percentage, as does the bank fee for wiring funds.) Here’s a glimpse at where your money goes: to teach women who are victims of the ongoing conflict and violence how to sew, and embroider! Last year, with your generous donations, Amani bought an embroidery machine for the students at the Bukavu sewing collective. And just this week, Amani informed us that with the partnership and grant from the Rotary club, ABFEK bought another embroidery machine for the Mumosho sewing center. Amani’s wife Amini is training the advanced students in this art; as the demand for embroidered fabric and clothing is higher, the women will be able to earn more money with this skill.

So go on.  Log on to Philanthroper.com (if it’s Friday, July 22nd, 2011) or anytime at Action Kivu, and pass the buck.  This time it’s good for your soul.

Photos from the Bukavu Center