Growing up with a love of fashion and fabrics, Bienvenie always dreamed of learning to sew. Her dream didn’t seem possible, though. Raised in Mumosho by a single mother who had to support all her children after their father died in a mining accident when Bienvenie was only two years old, she admits, “It is a hard life.” We sit outside the simple biulding that houses the Mumosho Sewing Workshop, on small stools, surrounded by lush green trees, red earth, and a family’s round, thatched home to our side. Bienvenie looks directly at the camera, her perfect posture never changing, portraying her pride.
She is proud of her mother, who cares for her and her siblings with the food she harvests from their farm. She is proud of her new sewing skills, and her dreams to have her own business. Denied a basic education, she dreamed of learning to sew, but her mother could not afford to send her to the sewing school.
“I’ve been dreaming for a long time, how I could learn to sew,” Bienvenie tells us in Mashi, her first language. “Because I didn’t get a chance to go to school, I asked my mother to send me, to pay tuition for me to learn to sew. But my mom is too poor, she could not afford it. But the people who started this program, I don’t know what I could give them. People who are supporting this program, I don’t know what to tell them, because for me, it has been a dream to have a place where I can learn sewing, and here I am. I am very happy.”
What will she do with her new sewing skills? “I like mixing different fashions, blouses, skirts, different fabrics,” she says. “People will look for me, I will make their clothes, and I will make money.”
Bienvenie’s dream came true. Because of the people in the United States and around the world who support Action Kivu’s work in Mumosho, Bienvenie graduated with a sewing machine in the summer of 2012, and is now one of the women who will make the school uniforms for the children Action Kivu sends to school with education assistance.
“To the people who support the program and purchase the sewing machines: I am weeping inside my heart, I am grateful.” — Bienvenie
|Photo by Cate Haight, Mumosho, January 2012|
How can you tell it’s August? It’s the record-breaking heat, the sound of a fan oscillating, and the third annual Action Kivu fundraiser on Handmade by Alissa!
Alissa has once again compiled a great giveaway to benefit the women and children of eastern Congo. If you’re crafty or a costumer, you might want to donate $25 to enter the giveaway of a $50 gift certificate to Sew Modern‘s great online or brick & mortar shop! Plus win a charm pack of super cute Sew Stitchy.
For those of us who can’t stitch in a straight line, check out the gorgeous, finished quilts donated.
Donate $35 and be in the running to win this vibrant, fun baby quilt by Heather Jones. This quilt measures 35″ x 35.″
Donate $100 and you are in the running to win a finished quilt by Elizabeth Hartman from her book, the Practical Guide to Patchwork. This gorgeous quilt is a large lap quilt at 68″ x 68.″
The sewing workshop has already started new classes in Mumosho and Bukavu, focusing on the exquisite skill of embroidery, which is in high demand in Congo. Click here to read about the recent sewing workshop graduation made possible by our generous donors. As we gear up for fall, the graduates of the sewing workshop will sew new uniforms for the vulnerable and orphaned children Action Kivu sends to school. We’re excited to share more photos and stories, but we rely on your support to make this a reality. Help us reach our goal!
Visit Handmade by Alissa to see more of the giveaways, and know that your donations are tax deductible, and 100% goes directly to the work on the ground.
The women of the Bukavu and Mumosho sewing workshops are graduating! Excited and ready to begin their own businesses, 60 women in eastern Congo, ranging from teenagers to mothers of many children, will graduate this May.
This is momentous for these women, many who chose to attend the program to avoid prostitution on the streets of crowded Bukavu, one of the more horrific options in a place of few choices available to women to survive and feed their families. Now, with a glimmer of hope and a better future, each one of them will graduate, trained in sewing and designing skills, and armed with a sewing kit. But it won’t happen without your help!
•One pedal powered Singer sewing machine ($150.00, and most useful with the lack of electricity in remote village areas)
•One bolt of fabric to begin business ($15)
•One pair of sewing scissors ($5.00)
•One tape measure, plus oil for the machine ($5.00)
Your donation goes directly to the graduates, who have worked so hard towards self-sustainability and helps them gain immeasurable pride as they provide for their families. No donation is too small!
We saw the results with our own eyes on our trip to eastern Congo this year, when we met Nzigira, age 20, and Tantine, age 18, two of the graduates from last year’s sewing program in Mumosho. Parking our truck on the main village road, we wandered down a dirt path, beneath the green of banana trees and lush foliage that surrounded small homes and thatched huts. Approaching the women’s workspace, we were confused. A pedal-powered Singer sewing machine sat out in the open, situated in the corner of a maze of wooden beams that we soon realized formed the frame of a future house. The only sound was the occasional whirring of the machine’s needle, the chirping of birds, and the chatter of curious kids who’d followed us, pied-piper style, as we’d wound our way into their world.
Nzigira and Tantine have set up shop in one of the corner “rooms” of the construction site. They run their business there, protected by a roof, but otherwise open to the air, sun, rain, a few chickens and one duck who roam freely through. Nzigira’s uncle is building this house next to his current thatched, round hut, and has offered the space with a roof over their heads for the women to work. However, when the house is finished, the seamstresses will have to find another location to run their sewing shop.
Nzigira and Tantine decided to team up when they met at the sewing workshop. Both hard workers, they recognized in each a partner, and told us that two are better than one. That adage has proven true; they’ve needed no marketing for their work, as word has spread through the local community about their talent. Women buy fabric and bring it to the makeshift workspace, where they take measurements, press fabric with coal-heated irons, and pedal power their designs into beautiful blouses and skirts, for wedding parties and daily wear. They live at home with their parents and family, who do not work, and from their shared small business, in which they charge a mere $4.50 for a complicated blouse, they meet their families’ basic needs.
They are ever grateful for the Action Kivu supporters who helped purchase their sewing kits for graduation, and offered a blessing for those who helped them: “May you live as a lake, being replenished and refilled, never dying.”
Donate today, and know that you are making a huge difference in one woman’s life. No amount is too small. We are 100% volunteer in the U.S., which means all of your donation goes toward the purchase of the sewing kits for the May graduates (minus nominal banking fees).
Want to know more about the women? Read the story, hopes and dreams of Ernata, a graduating student, here.
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt
Just pretend that we’re not here, said the two American Muzungus (white people). As the women of the Mumosho Sewing Workshop huddled around the two instructors, we hovered over them with cameras, trying to find the right light in the small, dark room, lit only by two windows. The workshop was at capacity with peddle-powered Singer sewing machines, tables for ironing with a heavy iron filled with hot coals, and over 25 women, a couple who carry quiet, wide-eyed babies.
One woman, Ernata, had a hard time looking away from the camera, her smile wide and friendly and frequent. A bright red-orange scarf added color to her simple white tee-shirt, and like every other woman in the workshop, a measuring tape hung from her neck. Amani, who started this sewing program in his home village of Mumosho in 2009, explained the importance of the women sharing their stories with us, so that people in the U.S. and around the world could connect to them, individually, and feel a sense of sharing life and building this community through their support of the sewing workshop.
Ernata volunteered to be the first to talk with us, meeting us behind the building where ABFEK rents the room for the center. Sitting on a simple wooden stool, ignoring the crows of a rooster and the questioning looks and giggles of a few neighborhood kids, she eyed the camera with confidence, and looked directly at us as she answered the questions Amani translated for her.
Ernata was her Christian name, she told us, but her grandfather also named her Barhadosa. “Simply because my mother was suffering a lot,” she explained. “She was facing domestic violence, and when she gave birth to me, my grandfather said my name would be Barhadosa. My mom didn’t ask (permission) if she could marry my dad, into that family.” Barhadosa means “they never ask,” Amani said.
Born into a society where women have very little rights or value and can be divorced without recourse for not bearing a male heir, Ernata’s own story has not turned out well.
“My first marriage, I spent two years in my household. 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 wants another from Ernata. “And me, too,” she said. “Because if I have a child, I’m stable there.”
“I have a big wound inside my heart,” Ernata told us. “If I don’t have children with my husband, he will kick my out. I’m noticing some changes, bad behavior, from his family members, who might urge him to chase me (from the home).”
When asked what the village needs, to grow as a community, to provide better for its people, Ernata responded, “I don’t want to sound selfish, but I’m going to talk about the needs of women in this community. The women need to learn more professional skills, to make sure they can take care of themselves.”
The sewing workshop is well-known and respected in Mumosho, especially after its first graduation last September. Due to support from quilters and seamstresses who donated through a fundraiser on Handmade by Alissa, Action Kivu / ABFEK was able to purchase sewing kits for the graduates, providing each women with her own sewing machine to start her business.
“Tell those women we love them, we are thankful for them,” Ernata said with a smile. “They helped the first program graduate. I am in this program, and my hope is that I also get my own sewing machine, to make sure I can start my own business. You understand, my life is very difficult. I’m not sure I’m going to stay with my husband. But if I’m not with him, I’ll have my sewing machine, I’ll go back to my parents, and I’ll be working for myself.”
Ernata, who left school after the 5th grade and had never sewn before, is proud to be part of the sewing workshop. “I heard about the sewing workshop from one of the trainers, who knows my story, who knows how I’ve been suffering, how men have been treating me. I decided to come here, because I’m not sure if I’m going to stay there, in that household. I want to learn professional skills to make sure I can take care of myself, that I can do something, become helpful to myself.”