Brigitte’s face lights up when she talks about her future as a lawyer: “At school, my classmates are already calling me lawyer for standing up for their rights. I often like to defend my colleagues who are innocent and sometimes punished for no reason.”
With financial support to pursue law school, 18-year-old Brigitte plans to take that spirit of justice out of the classroom, and into the rest of Congo, and the world. “I want to attend the school of law so that I become able to defend the rights of women and children around the world, in Africa in general and in DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) in particular. This has been my dream for several years, since I joined the Teen Mothers and Educational Assistance programs four years ago. I came with a heart full of disappointment and sadness. I felt worthless, but today I am worthy and want to become a lawyer.”
Four years ago, Brigitte was abandoned by her family, in accordance with a cultural norm that blames the survivors of rape for their crime. Forced to quit school with a baby to care for, she had little hope for her future. After Action Kivu’s partner ABFEC welcomed her and her child into the Teen Mother’s program, providing a home and vocational training, she quickly found her footing.
We don’t stop at education and equality training for just our participants, but work to educate the whole community on the rights of women and kids, and reconciliation with families who grasp that understanding. Brigitte’s family was one who learned that rape is not the victim’s fault, and with support and forgiveness, reunited with Brigitte and her baby. By that time, Brigitte had already requested to return to school, and stayed in Mumosho, while her mother, now Brigitte’s biggest supporter, raises the little girl, so Brigitte was able to focus on her studies, and finish secondary school in June of 2017.
“My mom is so happy, proud of me for continuing my studies because my family believes that it may lead to a bright future, which I know will happen. I want to continue my education to create a better future where I become able to take care of myself, my child, my community, and my country by giving back,” Brigitte says.
“I am inspired to become a lawyer to defend the rights of children who are not respected and who are being violated every day.”
Brigitte’s memories inform her drive to work for equality and justice, from how she found hope to come out of a dark place, to a joyful memory from elementary school.
“The story of the past that I remember is the day that I lost hope to live, the only thing I wanted at that time was to end my life, after being pregnant, abandoned by everyone, even my beloved ones. I had to stop going to school, I was feeling it should not have happened, and questioned why it happened to me. My favorite memory of a great experience was being in school, in elementary school I got 99%, and my headmaster paid for my school fees for 6 months. I was very happy and respected.
“Returning to school changed my life, because I have a new hope for a better life in the future, and my parents are proud of me now and proud of the program which changed my life. I am not ignored by people in our community, they look at me differently now, they have respect for me. My life is no longer miserable like before, I see a bright future based on a new hope. Before my life was very hard, destroyed and miserable. I spent my time at home disappointed, doing nothing alone with my child. But now life is becoming easy,” Brigitte says. After graduating secondary school in June, she’s still learning: “Even now I’m in training, and helping nurse Janine with education about HIV/AIDS,” she says.
“10 years from now, I will have a job as a lawyer and be independent, defending people because I will have that power thanks to my studies.
“I say thank you so much to all the supporters of the programs. I would like to say that I wish to study law, travel around the world and exchange experience with other experienced lawyers in other countries and help Congo build a strong country reinforced with law.”
We believe Brigitte’s vision for her bright future, and are looking for people to partner with her in it. $7,000 USD pays for one year of her university education, including books, room, and board.
“What I want to tell other girls – in Congo and around the world – is to never lose hope, and to work hard. They should not lose self-confidence, which was what happened to me. And that being a girl or woman does not mean someone is inferior to men, no, not at all.”
Nadine might answer to her Swahili name, Munguakokonkwa, but she also goes by Professor Math. Nicknamed by her classmates for her love of mathematics and prowess when it comes to explaining it to others, she reports, “They like me, by the way, because I always explain mathematics to them whenever there is something they do not understand.”
Her mother, grateful for an easy birth, named Nadine “Munguakokonkwa,” which means “thank you God.” Perhaps her name shaped her outlook on life, because 21 years later, Nadine overflows with gratitude. Growing up in extreme poverty in a corner of Congo where she and her mother would work on other people’s farms for a dollar per day to feed themselves and her younger brothers, often kicked out of school for lack of funds, Nadine ticks off a list of all that she is grateful for. “For instance,” she says, “God helped me graduate from secondary school this year, even though I had never dreamed I might finish school because of poverty and hardship in life.” She is grateful to Action Kivu’s work in Congo for providing the path for her to go back to school.
With the opportunity to attend university, Nadine, aka Professor Math, plans to major in computer sciences and technology. “Computer science is important because it helps people to be aware of what is going on in the world,” Nadine explains, standing on the very ground from which many minerals are extracted that make up critical parts of the world’s technological devices, from smartphones to jet engines. Nadine knows that, and wants to enrich that knowledge with a college degree, so that she can educate others in Congo to know how important their country is to the world.
Many of the things on Nadine’s gratitude list center around school. “My favorite memory is when I was in elementary school and I finished with a 91%. Our headmaster gave me so many gifts! Also I spent three months without have to pay school fees when I was just at the beginning of my elementary school. This is a memory, an experience that I will never forget.”
“My life has not always an easy one,” Nadine shares. “I remember that there were times I needed to stop going to school because we lacked the money for school fees, and during those times I had to spend time farming with my mom. I should have already graduated from secondary school 3 years ago. Now I am 21 years old, I have been delayed, but it’s never too late, I have a goal to achieve.”
“My life changed by being in school because I know how to write and read, I know the history of my country and other countries, it has changed my behaviors, it has given me value and standing, not only in my family but also in my community. Being in school helps me believe in myself. I just graduated from Secondary school, many boys failed and I succeeded, that is another reason why I strongly believe in myself and I can achieve more and more. I am ready to stand and go again.”
Envisioning her goal of a university degree becoming a reality with the support of partners around the globe, Nadine sees a bright future. “I see myself so far in 10 years,” she says, beaming. “I’ll have my bachelor degree, allowing me to find good work, which will allow me to support vulnerable children, orphans, and widows.”
Nadine wants to pay forward the opportunity she had to attend and graduate secondary school because of Action Kivu’s partner in Congo (ABFEC). “Going through [this] program has transformed my life entirely, and I want one day to be in a position to give back.
“I want to tell other girls in Congo and around the world that education is the only way to have a bright future. If we have the chance or possibility of studying we must do and take it seriously. And also we must work hard to change the world, and as African girls we can.”
One year of university plus supplies, books, room & board for Nadine costs $7,000 USD. If you, your school, or your community is looking to make a difference in this way, contact our executive director Rebecca Snavely at actionkivu [at] gmail [dot] com to find ways to invest in education!
“I want to continue my education because it will help me be a responsible and strong woman. I want to attend the school of medicine or nursing at university — it’s a big dream.” Chanceline wants to study medicine to care for people who lack means for medical care. “In our country,” she says, “so many people die and will continue dying because they lack the funds for care. That’s why I want to be a doctor and build a hospital to help solve this problem. The mortality rate among children under five is very high, and other people are being killed in every part of our country.”
20 years old, Chanceline Cibalonza lives in Mumosho, a collection of villages 25 kilometers outside the major city of Bukavu, Congo. With only one paved road and very little access to opportunities or education, Mumosho is economically depressed. Rich in culture, the people here live in extreme poverty, despite the natural resources mined from the area that supply the world with the means to make our smartphones, tablets, jet engines, and more. This is where Chanceline lives with both her parents and her siblings.
Her parents are extremely poor, and though Chanceline was expelled from school for lack of funds, she was able to finish secondary school thanks to ABFEC, Action Kivu’s partner in Congo, and our Education Assistance program that sends to school children whose families are unable to afford the fees. Chanceline and her whole family believe that if she has the opportunity to continue her education and get a college degree, this will change her life, and theirs, and eventually the community around them.
“My Swahili name, Cibalonza, means ‘what people want or what they are looking for.’ My parents wanted a baby girl, and when I was born, they saw that I was what they were looking for.”
There was a time, however, that her parents turned their backs on their daughter. Because of a culture that holds that rape is the girl’s fault, they were led to believe that she was no longer the one they were looking for.
“The story that I always remember and I will never forget is the day I was impregnated and abandoned by my family and friends,” Chanceline shares. “I was forced to give up on my studies even though I was ready to graduate.”
“My parents were very disappointed and told me they were ashamed of me and they abandoned me. I lost hope because I saw my life destroyed. I was mistreated, I was a pregnant woman who stayed awake from morning to evening without eating and I had to work for myself. I was still very young and I lost hope and my future became very dark.
Chanceline’s family made amends with her, and welcomed her home. There, she gave birth to a baby girl, but was still afraid, worried about her future with no income, and no education. Every day she went to work on a farm, for approximately one dollar a day, and mourned that she had lost out on school. “But God is great,” she says, “I heard about ABFEC (Action Kivu’s partner in Congo) and I went to talk to my family, who knew about the vocational training programs there, and the Teen Mother’s program (supported by a grant from Jewish World Watch). My mother took me to the Community Center, and I was welcomed, to live there with my child, and receive job training.”
Chanceline chose the Sewing Workshop, to learn how to measure and make clothing for customers. One day during an empowerment group session, she listened to Amani, the founding director of all we do, tell the group of girls and women that they are strong, and they already have the power to decide what to do to change their lives.
“That day I asked if I was still able to go back to school,” Chanceline says. “I was surprised by the answer Amani gave me.” He asked, ‘’What do you think about yourself? How do you feel about going back to school to pursue what you want to do?” He encouraged me, saying, “No matter what happened to you, be strong, no matter what, you can transform your pain into power.”
“That was the beginning of a new life and I decided to go back to school. I gained power and I decided not to fail, and I just graduated from secondary school and I am on the journey to achieve my goal. I was supported for two years and in 2017, I finished my secondary studies. I am so happy and proud of myself. This is the story that I will never forget and I will always tell it to everyone.
“What I see in my life, and in the world, that I want to be a part of, that inspires me and excites me is to become among those people who are helping people in difficulties like Action Kivu’s partners — I dream to become a big supporter and expand the ongoing programs to other parts of Congo.”
Chanceline has witnessed more than most in her short life, and because of the support she received, she has hope for others. In addition to becoming a nurse or a doctor to serve the medical needs of the under-served in Congo, she sees the desperate need to educate children and women in literacy, and also to reduce the level of corruption in her county, one of the main reasons, she states, “why my country is not standing correctly.”
The memory of the day she was raped may be strong in her mind, but her other strongest memory is when she received her high school diploma. Even before she had to quit school because of her pregnancy, she was often forced to drop out because her parents couldn’t afford her school fees. “I was one of those poor children that my teacher kicked out from the classroom for lack of school fees. I felt ashamed and I left studies for a moment. My shame ended when I entered the education assistance program, and now I have my diploma.”
“My life changed being in school because at school I learned so many things in short it has developed my skills and gave me knowledge. Today I am proud and feel respected because of my education.”
Now that she has graduated secondary school and is waiting on funds to start university, she is proud to spend her days earning income, sewing. “My life has changed because I can take care of myself and my child with the money I gain from sewing clothes.”
What does the future hold for Chanceline? “In 10 years I see myself very far because I will be done with my studies and have work which will help me to meet my needs and help others in difficult situations. I will be realizing my dreams.”
With your partnership, Chanceline will not only realize her dreams of practicing medicine, but she will pave a path for others to follow.
“What I can tell other girls in Congo and around the world is to never lose hope, listen to those who encourage you. And also I can tell them to study if they have that chance because with studies we can be presidents, doctors, teachers, and lawyers…” The list goes on.
One year of university plus supplies, books, room & board costs $7,000 USD. Chanceline will have to live on or near campus, so her mother will care for Chanceline’s little girl during the school week, giving Chanceline time to pursue her degree, paving the road to a better, brighter, more just world for that little girl.
“Look for the helpers.” Fred Rogers’ memory of his mother’s wise words remind us how to act in difficult times. In Congo, Bulonza not only looks for the helpers, she is one.
“What I see in my life and in the world that I want to be a part of, that inspires me and excites me, is to be among those people who are helping others people in difficult situations,” Bulonza says. A recent high school graduate who was able to attend school because of our partner’s Education Assistance program in Congo, Bulonza is putting her words into action. While we work to find funding for her to attend university to study medicine, she is volunteering with our Education Assistance coordinator to help with home and school visits, during which we make sure the children are attending school regularly, and ensure that they are doing well.
Bulonza’s mother died giving birth to her, and to honor her birth in the midst of that loss, her grandmother named her “the will of God.” 19 years old, Bulonza believes that her life reflects her name – despite growing up in extreme poverty, and losing her father last year, she counts her blessings above all else: namely, the gift of education and the friends she made in school.
“When my father died, I went to live with my older brother who is very poor and does not have a job, and paying my school fees was a big problem. I come from a poor family; there are 12 children and I am the only one who went to school. I was going to have to quit secondary school in my third year (there are six years of secondary school in Congo).
“I was kicked out of class because I couldn’t pay the school fees, and on the way home, I spoke to my classmate Brigitte. She told me that she was not sure it was still possible, but perhaps I might get support to pay for my school from ABFEC, Action Kivu’s partner in Congo.
“The next day, I met one of the ABFEC local staff and they said they had to introduce me to Papa Amani since my case was special, as it was the middle of the school year. I met him, and he asked me a few questions about my life and what I wanted to become. For the rest of that year, he paid for my school fees from his own pocket, and the next school year I was officially enrolled in the Education Assistance program. I have just graduated this year (2017) and did very well.”
“I have no father or mother but I am achieving my dream, and there so many others like me, but who unfortunately are not lucky like me, which is why I have to do something to help others. What I see in my life, in the world, that I want to change is to give opportunities to orphans to get a good education and help them to live without being mistreated by other people, by constructing a place where they can be safe or support organizations already doing that work.”
Education doesn’t only impact the future for Bulonza, but has changed her life already. “So many things have changed by being at school,” she says. “I have new friends such as Brigitte, I understand what it means to be helped, and my behavior has changed, I am no longer lonely. Being in school gives me value and I feel worthy and empowered.”
Looking forward to attending university and studying medicine, Bulonza plans to use her degree to reinforce Action Kivu’s anti-HIV/AIDS education program. “I will set up a mobile nursing clinic and ask other nurses to join me,” she says.
“I advise other girls to continue to study anywhere in the world and to work for the positive change of Congo and the world in general. I encourage my African sisters from Nigeria who were abducted simply because they are denied the right to be in school. We have to fight.”
Commit today to invest in a brighter, more just world through education. One year of university for this one driven girl from Congo costs 7,000 USD and covers room and board and materials. Donate today toward Bulonza’s education (type Bulonza in the “note” line on PayPal) or on the memo line of a check.
13 years old, Furaha just finished grade 3 of elementary school. She walks about a half hour from school to home, where she lives with her grandparents and her two sisters and three brothers. After school, she helps out at home with the dishes, drawing water, and collecting firewood for cooking when they have food.
Furaha loves going to school: “As a girl, I want to be educated and help my family and country.” Like many of her classmates, her passion is for Congo to be a place of peace. Her hero is Amani, our visionary leader and community builder, whose name means peace.
When Furaha finishes school, she’d like to be an elementary school principal.