We first met Nathalie in 2017 on Action Kivu’s organic farm, where she was working a plot of land with her mother, Rose.
Nathalie is one of nine children, and the fourth of eight girls. Her parents could not afford to send their kids to school, and when her father died, Nathalie’s mother started working on the farm, to grow healthy food to feed her family and sell at the market.
Fast forward to 2018, and Nathalie has been working hard at Action Kivu’s Sewing Workshop, determined to create a better life for herself and her family. “I was envious of the women who had graduated from here,” she said. “I wanted to be like them: strong, empowered women.”
Speaking about the community she has found in her sewing school, she said, “being here, learning from others, having them learn from me, mutual collaboration is community.”
Nathalie is ready to graduate, and we’re raising the funds to buy her and her fellow students each a sewing kit, complete with a Singer sewing machine, to start their own businesses, and to be like Bahati, Class of 2017, who is already earning enough income to care for her six children, and to have purchased a second machine, to teach her own students!
From December 10th to the 15th, 2018, Action Kivu is hosting a giveaway to raise the funds to graduate 42 students and continue our life-changing programs in Congo. Visit ActionKivu.org/giveaway to learn more, and donate!
Everything we do through your support of Action Kivu is grounded in education – education about equality and human rights that is taught and practiced, education in the new classrooms of the Congo Peace School, daily lessons on the sewing machines or at the blackboard in the Literacy class, or in the dirt of the organic farm, an open-air classroom that is teaching sustainable, healthy food-growing practices.
It was an honor to meet one of our graduates in her own new classroom, her sewing studio, where, with the profits from her new business, she was able to invest in a second Singer sewing machine, and charge for lessons for a young high school graduate who plans to study fashion. Meet Bahati, who graduated Action Kivu’s Sewing Workshop last year, in the class of 2017. Only 28, Bahati is the sole provider for six children, three of her own, and three of her husband’s, who recently passed away. Bahati, who was forced to quit school one year before graduating secondary school, knows the importance of an education, and uses the profits from her sewing business to send her children to school.
Bahati has a message for you, the supporters who made it possible for her to learn a new trade and skill, and start her business with a sewing machine. Click on the video below, or here, to hear from her.
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We hear this story over and over from the sewing students and recent alumni – how being a part of a community, learning marketable skills, and embracing their equality as women is opening new doors for hope, for planning for the future. Sara, whose father died in the conflict, only attended school through grade 5 of elementary, as her mother couldn’t afford the fees. Now 20 and a mother to a three-year-old, Sara lives at the Teen Mother’s Center, supported by Jewish World Watch and their partnership with Amani’s work, and is a part of the Sewing Workshop, Class of 2018, thanks to our Action Kivu family of donors. Hope has been restored through living in community with the other teen mothers, and in her sisterhood of sewing students and the graduates who are modeling the way to earning income and creating a new life.
“Being here has taken me out of danger,” Sara told us. “Being with others has helped me balance my thoughts and feelings,” Sara told us. She had been desperate, but now, “living with others in community gives me hope, I can focus on tomorrow.”
This is a marked difference from when we began Action Kivu. On a visit to Congo in 2011, when we asked the first cohorts of students in the Sewing Workshop what they hoped to do with their new machine and skills, the question was often met with silence. Action Kivu’s Founding Director Amani Matabaro paused in his translation, and explained, for most of these girls and women, they do not know how to hope for the future. They need to focus on survival for today: how will they feed their children? Will they be safe tonight?
Your investment in Action Kivu’s community building work is changing lives, opening the door for the women and girls to step through with their brilliance and determination, bringing back hope and planning for a brighter future for themselves and their children.
The impact of your support is palpable in Congo. It is seen in the smiles of the women as they work. It is heard in their voices as they share their stories, hopes, and plans with ease. Please share these stories with others in your community, to help us continue to provide opportunities for peace and hope to flourish!
Meeting Justine today, it might be hard to tell that she felt scared on her first day at Action Kivu’s Sewing Workshop, not knowing what to expect, how to operate a foot-pedal sewing machine. Today she is confident, talking about her plans to start her own business, how she became the matriarch of her family when her mother spent six months in the hospital for a hip problem and her father could not find work.
Justine’s parents decided that each of their children should complete elementary school, to be able to read and write, so Justine, now 22, finished 6th grade, but was unable to begin secondary school, in order for her younger siblings to get a basic education. Enrolling in the Sewing Workshop and already earning money from clients in her village, Justine now helps pay the school fees for her siblings. “People ask me to make something, and I bring it here,” she says, gesturing to the Mumosho Women’s Center, “and my colleagues, my fellow students, help me.”
“I’ve seen how working in community makes a difference,” Justine says. “Learning sewing skills, I’ve become part of a family. I know how to sew now, but I’m still learning. We work together on orders, learn from each other. That’s community for me.”
“I like the word,” Justine replied when asked what the word equality means for her. “It means no discrimination. I still feel like men are getting many more chances, and that’s not equality. When I come here, I feel safe, and equal.”
When asked about sharing what she’s learning about women’s rights and equality, Justine’s face lights up. “I always share what I’m learning about equality with the people in my village,” she says. “And when I get a sewing machine at graduation, I have a plan. My head is full of skills now. I already help my family, I help buy food and medicine. My mom spent six months in the hospital with a hip problem, and my father has no job, so I took over.
“I have to do it, but I am not afraid. I feel like when I am successful, I can lift up the entire of Congo in my hands.”
In addition to learning the traditional curriculum skills, Justine has joined the alumni group learning to make men’s fashion as well. “I want to be able to do it all!” she says.
Thinking about her community, and Congo, “the need is huge. There are many other young girls who could not attend school, who need a program like this. Wherever I go, I am not afraid. I can work, I am empowered.”
“I want to continue to thank and pray for the people who support this program, it is changing lives.”
Thanks to your support, girls and women like Justine are discovering the power that they hold, and teaching others. Read more about the alumni and current students here, and please consider a donation today to invest in this life-changing work!
18 years old, Yvette Cishi doesn’t mind her long walk to attend Action Kivu’s Sewing Workshop. She is one of the 43 girls and women in the Class of 2018 – eager to learn all she can and graduate with a sewing kit complete with a pedal-powered Singer machine to start her own business! This is what you, our Action Kivu family, make possible for the women and girls we work alongside in Congo.
Head over to our blog to read more about the sewing workshop and alumni at ActionKivu.org/category/sewing-workshop/