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!
It’s spring and Action Kivu’s programs in Congo are growing!
The new Mumosho Women’s Center is up and running, and offering a new outlook on life for the women taking part in the classes offered there. “What we like the best with this Center is that we are offered free trainings whereby we acquire skills, and the men who abused us are now going to respect us. Being here means no longer being worthless.” And from Amani: “Sewing, farming, literacy: the women are so proud they are able to write their names, read and write a few sentences!”
|Writing practice in Action Kivu’s Literacy Program. Photo courtesy Emma O’Brien – emmaobrien.com|
But we can’t grow without you – and the best way for you to support the women and children in eastern Congo is with a monthly donation. Under Amani’s leadership, the community has so many ideas of how to learn and grow and thrive, but they need our support. With every dollar going to the work on the ground, your tax deductible donation of $10, $20, $50 … $100, $200 per month means that you’re investing in a better future for the people of eastern Congo.
Planting Seeds of Hope
What will your kids be doing to fill the lazy days of summer? The kids in ActionKivu’s Education Sponsorship Program in eastern Congo will be on vacation starting July 2nd to August 30, but have no camps to attend or pools to swim in. With your help, over 130 school kids who are able to get an education because of your partnership, will grow vegetables and flowers this summer, and the harvest will belong to the children. Planting seeds is in itself a symbol of hope – holding in your hand a small, shriveled brown seed that holds the possibility of life, of a flower to open slowly to the sun and add a bit of beauty to the day, of a ripe vegetable to bite into after tending the plant and watching it grow. In groups of 10 to 15, kids from different schools and different villages will form their own summer camp, where they will learn lessons of growing food as well as sharing stories and making new friends. Their camp counselor is a local woman who studied rural development and will guide the kids in agriculture lessons as they meet for lessons at the Mumosho Women’s Center, and grow their gardens three days a week.
The Community School Garden’s seeds will cost $1350 for the whole summer, plus $200 / month for the supervisor’s salary, at three months, totaling $1950.00. The supervisor will start work in June, preparing the seed beds, from which the kids will transplant the seedlings to each community garden. The project gives them hope and a sense of responsibility and success, as they work together, investing in the future of their land, and contributing toward feeding themselves and their families.
Mumosho Women’s Center
With your help, we will reimburse the community who gave talent and materials to complete the new Mumosho Women’s Center. A beautiful, safe space that now houses Action Kivu’s multitude of programs, including literacy classes, job and skills training workshops like sewing, embroidery, soap-making and more, the center also provides a gathering place for the community to address social problems such as domestic violence or women’s rights. Empower Congo Women partnered with Amani to help build the center, and started a Teen Mother’s 12-month program, while Action Kivu is partnering with the newly formed Peace Exchange to start a Fair Trade program, where the top graduates of the sewing workshops will create fantastic products for you to purchase! The outstanding cost from finishing the Women’s Center remains at $8,200.00.
|Mom and child – Mumosho. Photo courtesy Emma O’Brien – emmaobrien.com|
It’s a very exciting season of growth, but we can’t do it without your partnership. We need to meet ongoing basic needs: to pay the program instructors, hire a program assistant, expand our education assistance so more girls go to school, and purchase kits for the graduates to can start their own small businesses. Visit “how you can help” and click on the drop down menu to choose a monthly donation amount here.
Giving shows the women and kids that their stories matter. Giving reminds us that we’re all connected, that what we do with our time and money impacts others, so we’re all sharing a better world.
“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
Please share with friends, colleagues, strangers, the woman on the subway platform! A great way to introduce our work is through introducing Amani via The Enough Project’s beautiful video:
(Many thanks to Emma O’Brien for the use of her gorgeous photos from a recent trip to Mumosho with Amani!)
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!
“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
~ Mahatma Gandhi
Asking the women of eastern Congo what their hopes and dreams are for the future proved to be a difficult question. They must focus on today, Amani explained. On finding food and feeding their children today. On where they will sleep tonight.
A heartbreaking revelation for those of us, so comfortable in our today that we make plans for years ahead, and read self-help books to help us live in the present moment. The women we met in Mumosho and Bukavu didn’t have the time or the emotional capacity to answer that question.
That is changing, however. As the women see their daughters excelling in school, thanks to Action Kivu’s education assistance, they begin to hope for the future of their children. That hope ignites a spark of what could be in their own lives. As we previously shared one mama’s words from the Sewing Workshop graduation: “I am very proud of my daughter,” said one of the mothers present at the ceremony. “This sewing certificate is a symbol of victory and respect. And I will be the first to register in the literacy program because I was not happy with the last November 2011 presidential elections, when I asked people to help me vote but they did it according to their own will. I want to make sure next time I am able to read the name of the candidate of my own choice.”
Other women echo her drive, and are now learning to read and write in Mumosho, where there are now three literacy classes, with a total of 80 students. At age 17, Tumaini wasn’t sent to school because she is a girl. “I am proud to be part of this group,” she says. “I want to learn how to read and write. Many times I have difficulty taking medicines because I cannot read,I always need someone to explain them to me.” She is dedicated to her studies, especially to be able to vote a leader of her own choice.
This is a group of very determined young girls, forced to drop out because they did not have money to pay for school. Some were victims of domestic and gender-based violence, and chances were given to boys in their families. They want ABFEK | Action Kivu to help them learn to read and write, to fulfill their dreams of passing the primary school tests to begin secondary school.
Action Kivu is currently able to send only $1500 USD a month to support all these programs that ABFEK runs in eastern Congo – and your donation will help us sustain the current programs, and the more we raise, the more girls we can send to school, the more women we can teach to read and write, the more women we can include in the sewing workshops to learn a trade. Please consider a monthly donation.
We’re excited to share the women’s stories and progress with you here, and to ask you to partner with them. If you have words of encouragement, please share them here in the comments, or via e-mail to email@example.com, and we will forward them to Amani, to share with the students! If you’d like to include a photo of yourself, please do, and Amani will post with your note, reminding the women and children that they are not alone.