Action Kivu’s Executive Director Rebecca Snavely recently returned from visiting Congo and all the programs our partners support. She writes here about the joy of finding shared understanding despite language barriers.)
I’d spent a half hour repeating the few words I knew in Swahili and Mashi, the local dialect: “Jambo!” to greet the girls and women in Action Kivu’s Sewing Workshop, and “Coco!” to thank them for allowing me to wander around their space, my face half hidden behind a camera, leaning in to take their photos.
They started to tease me, repeating Jambo! Coco! and laughing. I made a mental note to learn a few phrases in Swahili before my next trip to Congo. Koubde, a slight, older man who teaches embroidery and also repairs the pedal-powered sewing machines tinkered with one machine, tried to explain in French what he was doing. The words mechanic and machinist sound almost the same in English and French, and both our eyes lit up at finally understanding each other. The whole room broke out in joyful laughter.
“Now you’re speaking my language” generally refers to being on the same page, having similar tastes in politics or movies. It reflects back on how it feels to understand someone, and more so, to be understood.
Interviewing the girls in Action Kivu’s Sewing Workshop, many of them had felt illiterate on their first day. They didn’t know anyone, and they didn’t speak the language of sewing – they didn’t know how to operate the pedal to make the machine run, or how to thread the needle, and they were afraid they would not be able to learn. Many of them had no classroom experience with a teacher: denied an education because of their gender and poverty, they were unaccustomed to the sewing trainer’s commanding tone.
Weeks passed, and the girls were all speaking the same language. It sounded like scissors slicing through fabric, needles piercing their path through the brightly colored cloth, laughter at stories shared over the rhythmic sound of their feet pressing the pedals. Stories that gave each girl the glimpse that they were not alone. Each story was unique, based on the life of each girl or woman, but the same themes ran through all. Denied an education because of extreme poverty. Raped and impregnated. Abandoned with a baby. Unsure how to obtain the good life – that of being able to feed oneself and your child, and send them to school to stop this cycle. Speaking the same language, they were understood, and realized they were not alone.
Four years ago, Aimericiane was unsure how to feed her six kids, let alone find the funds for their education. When she heard about Action Kivu’s Sewing Workshop, she enrolled as quickly as possible to learn the skills and business training that would help her create a new life for her family.
During her eight months of sewing training, Aimerciane continued to help her husband cultivate their field, the only source of income and food for their family. Daily survival was difficult, and farm labor typically yields around $1 per day of work. They could not afford the six to ten dollars per month, per child, to send to their six children to school.
Aimerciane graduated the Sewing Workshop in 2012, and is proud to report that with the sewing machine she received at graduation, she started her own business. Four years later, with weddings, special events, and regular customers, she averages earning $60 USD a week.
“I am so proud of myself, and proud of my business because it has helped me to solve so many problems in my family: now I am able to pay for school, food, clothes, and the hospital for all my children,” Aimerciane tells us. “With my sewing machine I earned money to buy a $40 table where I can put my machine. Before children start school, I sew uniforms, and earn around $150.
“My vision is to work hard, to become a great seamstress and also to buy a plot of land where I’ll build my cutting and sewing workshop, a place that will allow me to train others, people who are in need. I say thank you so much to ABFEC (Action Kivu’s Congolese partner) because they gave me knowledge and they changed my life. I pray for them to prosper and expand in the whole word. God bless them.”
Read more about how investing in the women and children of Congo through Action Kivu transforms lives!
The girls and women step inside the Mumosho Women’s Center, take off their flip-flops, set their kids down on the floor to play, and gather up handfuls of colorful bright rope. They watch and follow along to the basket-making teacher’s advice, weaving the rope into gorgeous baskets to sell at the local market and in their villages. For half a year, a class of women come together three days a week to learn the art of basket-making and marketing, so that, like graduate Chantal (pictured below), they can sell their art, and earn income to feed their families and send their kids to school. Depending on the size of the basket, they sell from $3 to $8 dollars a piece.
Many people agree, plastic bags are the bane of our modern existence. While convenient, they are not only unappealing when they escape to get caught in trees or stuck in gutters, but they are terrible for the environment: According to a 2014 report from the Earth Policy Institute, “worldwide, a trillion single-use plastic bags are used each year, nearly 2 million each minute. Usage varies widely among countries, from over 400 a year for many East Europeans, to just four a year for people in Denmark and Finland. Plastic bags, made of depletable natural gas or petroleum resources, are often used only for a matter of minutes. Yet they last in the environment for hundreds of years, shredding into ever-smaller pieces but never fully breaking down.”
The government in Congo banned the use of plastic bags, and when that law takes effect, it will mean even more need for and better sales of these beautiful baskets!
Read more about our work on our blog, and consider a monthly donation to partner with the women in our vocational training programs in Congo, from basket-making to sewing to literacy classes, your dollars make a difference, giving hope and empowering the girls and women with the means to change their lives.