“I am the last born child,” Nzigire says. She is shy, and looks at her hands while her words are translated into English. She is only 17, still a young girl, and warms up quickly, gaining confidence as she answers questions about her life. “My mother wanted another girl,” she says, explaining her name, “so she named me ‘I want.’ Nzigire.”
At 17, Nzigire has only an elementary school education. Her family unable to afford to send her to secondary school, she was excited to join Action Kivu’s Sewing Workshop to be able to earn her own income, and begin to plan for her future. The first day was nerve-wracking, she says. “I didn’t know anyone, but it felt so good to learn to work the pedal on the machine. In one week, I was making friends.”
What does Nzigire want? Not only to graduate with a sewing machine to open her own business, but, “I want more people in Congo to lead with the heart of the people she sees through Action Kivu. They have helped so many people.”
To invest in the future of girls and women like Nzigire, click here!
As we celebrate seven years of Action Kivu, of seeing the impact of your commitment to emboldening and educating women and children in Congo, as we witness their lives transform and we see hope finding a home in a brighter, more peace-filled tomorrow, we’re thrilled to share that Ms. Magazine highlighted our work on their blog.
In the midst of news reports like these from The Washington Post and The L.A. Times about the escalating violence and crisis in Congo, in which women and children are the most vulnerable victims of conflict, there has never been a more critical time to invest in the education and entrepreneurial training of women and girls in Congo. As Action Kivu’s Executive Director Rebecca Snavely told Ms. Magazine:
The article you reference reports on unspeakable violence against children and women, and the trauma extends to the innocent men who are also survivors of or witnesses to brutal attacks, unable to save their families from such violence. It is unspeakable, but if we do not speak about it, and against it, it will never change. Local organizations like Action Kivu provide several avenues through which change can occur, mainly through providing the space to be vocal. The meeting spaces and classes embolden girls and women to embrace their power to speak out and cry out for justice against such violence, to learn that rape is not their fault, to come together and speak about their experiences. To call out for leaders to act, and to learn to be the leaders they are looking for. The educational gatherings for men provide opportunities for change, for men to see women as their equals and allies in creating a peaceful world for them and their children to thrive.
This is not to negate how terrifying it is to be in fear of such attacks, and to feel helpless. Writing this in my relatively peaceful home of Los Angeles, I cannot speak properly to what it is to live in this fear and environment. I can only quote what the girls and women said to me when I was there this year—almost every single girl I asked about what Congo needs right now answered “Peace.” Iragi, a Sewing Workshop student in this year’s Class of 2017, dug deeper into that need. “If girls and women are given the chance, given an education, we can change the future of Congo,” Iragi says. “We have to start within ourselves. If there is no love in ourselves and our families, the government, the leaders, will not love, as they are just people, raised up in our homes, our families.”
Read on to learn what inspires us, what is happening now, and what has changed over the past seven years. Then take action, and share the story to amplify the voices and stories of women and girls around the world!
We are grateful for your partnership as we look forward to the next seven years!
Make a dress for me, Iragi asked her sister, Francine, who had just graduated from Action Kivu’s Sewing Workshop and set up her new Singer sewing machine in a room in their home.
Francine didn’t have time, so Iragi decided to join the Class of 2017, and make her own dresses. The first day she arrived at the Mumosho Community Center, she saw so many choices of skills to learn, she wasn’t sure what to choose.
“I started with basket making, but after mastering that in three months, I decided to challenge Francine. I wanted to become a better seamstress than my sister.”
Before starting the classes, Iragi explained, she knew some of the girls, but they had nothing in common, nothing to talk about. But now, we are more than family. We lean on each other.
Iragi didn’t hesitate to answer when asked what is unique about the Mumosho Community Center: We don’t have to pay! We learn for free. And then, at the end, you give us a kit to start our lives.
With so many people living in extreme poverty, the chance at a free education and vocational training is critical. “The trainings are becoming a source of hope here,” Iragi says. “I will professionalize what I learned. I plan to graduate, and move somewhere else to start a business where there are more people working. But I will be smart about it, save money to buy equipment, to start a co-op.”
Iragi lights up when asked about her goals. Now 20, she wants to finish school: impregnated in her fourth year of secondary school, she had to quit. Her baby is 11 months old, and is looked after by other women at the Center while Iragi is in class. “I need to go back to school,” she says. Then there would be no limit to what she could do: “Imagine having a secondary diploma, a sewing co-op, and making baskets? I could be a teacher!”
“If girls and women are given the chance, given an education, we can change the future of Congo,” Iragi says. “We have to start within ourselves. If there is no love in ourselves and our families, the government, the leaders, will not love, as they are just people, raised up in our homes, our families.”
How much does your birth certificate weigh? Likely not a question you’ve ever asked yourself. You may not know where it is, and if pressed to present it for a new passport, you’d have to go through the hassle of ordering another copy. Such a light piece of paper for such a weighty document: proving who you are, where you were born, what name was given to you. Yet for the children born because of rape in a country where sexual assualt is a common weapon of war and societal control, a birth certificate is heavy with meaning.
May 28th, 2016 felt much like any other day for these kids in Congo: waking with the sun, as toddlers around the world are wont to do, despite their mothers’ wishes for an extra hour of sleep. Eating breakfast. Melting down in a toddler-sized-tantrum as their developing brains fight to accept that they can’t have everything their way.
For their mothers, May 28th was a momentous day. It was a day of healing, of helping to transform the horrific memory of rape into a celebration of life. Born without a father on record, their babies didn’t have an official record of citizenship in their own country.
Six months ago, Amani Matabaro began work to rectify that. The co-founder and Executive Director of ABFEC – Action Congo, Action Kivu’s partner in eastern Congo, he is known to the kids in Mumosho as Papa Amani. And known to all of his friends and partners as an activist and feminist who believes that equality for women and the rights of children are the only way for us to move forward to create a more peaceful, just world.
A just world isn’t born without the work of many, and Amani, at heart a community builder and connector, knew just the organization to coordinate with: SOS-IJM, a civil society nonprofit which works tirelessly for human rights and the legal protection for the people of DRC. Working with a young lawyer named Nancy, ABFEC’s field team researched and investigated the mothers’ experiences of sexual assault and pregnancy. Together, with legal guidance from Nancy and SOS-IJM, they listened and recorded the stories of the girls and women, and SOS-IJM filed with the Congolese government for birth certificates for each child.
The official document holds great weight in legal terms for the future of the children, but for their mothers, that piece of paper represents acceptance. It signifies social standing in a place where most girls and women are shamed and shunned for being victims of rape. It is a picture of the transformation from being subjected to blame to recognition as a member in the community.
Join us in celebrating these children today, June 1st, known internationally as The International Day for Protection of Children (#ChildrensDay)! And consider partnering with the kids, their mothers, and the communities in Congo through the life-changing programs Action Kivu supports:
Read more stories on our blog, here.