We celebrate interdependence this Independence Day in Congo with Marijane, Chanceline, and Martine, who started a sewing co-op after graduating @Action Kivu’s Sewing Workshop in 2015.
Using the machines they received upon graduation thanks to a generous donation from Robin Wright and Karen Fowler’s Pour Les Femmes that year, the three women say that when they work on each order together, they finish faster, allowing them to take more orders per month.
We love to work together, and this is something we learned from the Sewing Workshop program. We are working, we are strong.
Marijane (pictured left) shares what @Action Kivu’s Sewing Workshop means for her life:
Since I graduated, I feel completely different. I have a voice. I pay for my child’s school fees each month.
This year we need your help to graduate the Class of 2017. And we know, from statistics and from the stories of our alumni, that when you invest in women’s education and vocational training, you invest in their children’s future, and the health of the community. Take action: Invest in the future of Congo today!
We’re excited to celebrate seven years with you, our Action Kivu family! We started with a small sewing workshop and education assistance program in eastern Congo that with YOUR partnership, has grown to a community center that houses the Sewing Workshop, Literacy Classes, Bread Baking, Basket Weaving, and Soap Making courses, and over 3000 children have been sent to school. Nearby is our shared farm where over 80 women farm their own plots of land. We have graduated 236 women with the tools and education to start their own businesses, and have 48 students in the Class of 2017 eager to receive a sewing machine to start their new lives.
Your investment in the future of these women is changing lives, and an investment in women is an investment in the future generation, and a more just world. Read more and donate today at https://www.actionkivu.org/action/
What is the impact of your giving? Read stories from our alumni to learn how their lives have changed:
And meet the current Class of 2017, eager to start their co-ops and businesses!
Hear how this training has changed lives, from the women of the Sewing Workshop, Class of 2015!
“[My mother] had handed down respect for the possibilities—and the will to grasp them.” – Alice Walker
This Mother’s Day, we’d like to take you to a corner of Congo, to meet Mama Ernata. You’ll find her at her home sewing workshop, a small wood-beam-walled room that revolves around her Singer sewing machine. This is where she works, mentoring young seamstresses who sew alongside her, taking measurements from clients, sewing garments, managing time and finances in a happy, busy balance with caring for her nine children and husband.
We first introduced you to Ernata in 2012, when Cate and Rebecca (co-founders of Action Kivu, the American arm of Amani Matabaro’s local Congolese organization ABFEC) visited the Sewing Workshop in Mumosho in 2012. Since graduating the Sewing Workshop with our sewing kit, the Singer sewing machine, an iron, fabric, and all the tools needed to start her business, Ernata launched her new life. Amani and Horthense, our Program Director in Congo, caught up with Ernata last week to send us an update on her inspiring journey.
“I have seen and heard many things and many people in my life but only two of these have made me feel the pride of being a human being,” Ernata says. “These two things are finally being a mother after I had waited so long, and also being a seamstress. I am the mother of three kids in addition to the seven children my husband got from his first wife who passed away.”
Ernata had shared her difficult story with us when we first met her, a story that echoes that of a society where women have very little rights or value, and can be divorced without recourse for not bearing a male heir. “My first marriage, I spent two years in my household,” Ernata told us. “I didn’t have any children, and I suffered a lot from my husband. He kicked me out because I didn’t have any children. After being kicked out by my first husband, I returned home, and spent six months at home. Another man married me. After about 6 to 7 months with my second husband, I could not conceive. He also kicked me out, divorced me.”
Then came another man, from a different village, whose wife had died and left him with seven kids. Ernata married for the third time, and after only three months, she conceived. “I was blessed to have one child, a boy, but it was after surgery (a cesarean delivery). After two years and three months, my only child died. I was there, living with my husband, but I was afraid. Six months had passed after my child died, and I hadn’t conceived again. I was afraid, and things had changed again, become negative, with my husband.”
Though he already has seven children, he wanted another from Ernata. “And me, too,” she said. “Because if I have a child, I’m stable there.”
Though her first-born died, she counts him amongst her children. And shortly after losing him, Ernata became pregnant and gave birth to a second baby boy, who is now one year and seven months old. And soon after, she gave birth to another baby, the little two-month old girl pictured here. “Her name is Ampire, which means ‘God has gifted me.’” Ernata was able to pay for her own cesarean sections and maternity fees for both new babies because of her work as a seamstress.
“The second thing which makes me a proud person of myself is simply to be a seamstress and able to take care of myself, my own children and my husband’s. Without my sewing business, I had no idea how I could be able to pay for the maternity fees. I was able to pay 60 dollars because my third pregnancy was a cesarean delivery like the first and the second ones. My husband has no job and all the income I make from my sewing activity has to be used wisely for our basic needs in the family. The month of April I was able to make only 50 dollars because of the new baby and needed to recover from surgery which is coming along quite well and I am hoping for the best!” Ernata says. (On average, when not recovering from surgery and caring for a newborn, Ernata has been able to earn $120 / month, whereas many unskilled women work for 1 dollar a day on other’s farms.)
When asked what the phrase “to mother” means for her, Ernata pauses to reflect on the concept that has become so very real for her in the past four years. “It means happiness, value and respect inside myself, in front of my husband and community. I hope my daughter Ampire will become a professional seamstress.”
“I am praying for my sewing business to grow and ensure I continue mentoring others, and that means become able to get a few more sewing machines, that’s the only way I feel I can give back what I have received from ABFEC / Action Kivu. The one year training I went through at ABFEC is rewarding, and means I can pay food for my family, not only clothes for my children but also to repair their clothes whenever needed, it makes me able to pay the maternity costs unlike many other women who give birth and can’t go back home with their babies until someone pays for them. I also pay school fees for my husband’s children.
“The biggest challenge is that we have such a large family that depends on what I earn. Without the sewing training I went through at ABFEK, I wouldn’t have become the person I am today. Many of my sewing training classmates are far away and not living in Mumosho, but look, I was able to work, make money, save some and buy a cell phone and I am happy to be in touch with them and they are also happy!”
“I have no reason to not be happy and proud,” says Ernata. “I am blessed to have become a mother and a seamstress. May God bless ABFEC / Action Kivu and everyone who contributes in a way or another to transform people’s lives. Mine has been transformed. And if you were me, wouldn’t you be happy?”
We add our gratitude to Ernata’s for all our partners in this work. Your generous donations are truly changing Congo and the world, one mama, baby, and family at a time. Learn more about our work here!
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!
Have you ever looked at a tote, a skirt, a shirt and thought, “I could make that. I think I could make that. … I should learn to sew.”
We’re excited to announce that part of Handmade by Alissa’s annual Action Kivu fundraiser includes a giveaway of a sewing machine. Now’s your time. Donate $75 and you’ll be eligible to win it … AND you’ll partner with the women in eastern Congo learning to stitch a new life through creative work! What could be better?
The fundraiser supports the work of Action Kivu. Your financial partnership directly affects the lives of the women and children we work with through our Congolese partner, ABFEK. Read more about the people you’re partnering with:
Even if you’re not feeling creatively inclined, these giveaways make great gifts! There are so many levels of donations: what will you give today?
Donate $15 and you are eligible to win three quilting books: Block Party, Modern Minimal, &We Love Color. Donate $20 and you’re eligible to win a gorgeous 5 half meter bundle of amazing Echino fabrics. Donate $30 for the chance to pick up Sew Modern‘s beautiful Robert Kaufman Kona fat quarter bundle and a $25 give certificate to their shop.
And for the aforementioned sewing machine to kick-start your creativity, donate $75 for the chance to take home this beauty. It would also be a great gift for a crafty soul in your life.
And for $100, you have the shot at receiving this gorgeous quilt – a cozy throw for when the nights get cold this fall.
All donations are tax deductible in the U.S. and go directly to the work on the ground in Congo. Please consider giving today! Check out all the giveaways at Handmade by Alissa, donate, and tell your friends and communities to help us reach our goal!
If you’d like to connect further with the women and kids of Congo, leave a note in our comment section, and we’ll pass them along for Amani to share!