Women Celebrating Women in Congo: Stand Up to Violence, Step Into Leadership!

Colorful umbrellas were raised high in the Congo sky as women grasped hands in solidarity, lifting each other up to envision standing together against violence.  The umbrellas dotted the crowd of more than 400 women gathered outside the Mumosho Women's Center to celebrate International Women's Day. In a country often called the worst place to be a woman, Colonel Honorine called the women to action.

A rarity to find a woman in such a place of power in the Congolese National Police, Colonel Honorine represents the future of women in leadership in the DRC. Articulate and charismatic, she is a defender of women's rights in charge of Children & Women's Protection for all of South Kivu. Honorine spoke of her work, encouraging the women to take on leadership and open their eyes to know their rights. Amani addressed the gathering, sharing more information to raise the women's awareness on how strong they are. His message of empowerment: that their energy and strength can change the world if only they know and accept they are strong.

Amani, Colonel Honorine and the women of Mumosho

Katie, Colonel Honorine, and the women at the Mumosho Women's Center

Katie Bond, the founder of our fair trade sister organization, The Peace Exchange Initiative, was there to meet the seamstresses she partners with, and to encourage the women that their stories are heard around the world. You can check out the work they're doing over on the website, and buy a yoga bag or market carryall to support these women in stitching together a new, peace-filled future! 

We're raising funds here at Action Kivu to continue the work Amani is doing, and to pay for sewing kits and machines for the current students in the sewing workshops: $195 purchases the machine, fabric, and tools to launch their small business!

Please consider donating to this work today. Did you get a tax refund, and are looking for a great cause to invest it in?  Tax deductible, every dollar makes a difference, and goes directly to the entrepreneurial trainings, literacy workshops, and agricultural training on the ground in Congo. 


Maombi's Sewing Story: Designing a Life of Dignity

Maombi sits, baby in lap, her foot rocking rhythmically back and forth to power the sewing machine, practicing the latest in what she's learning at the Mumosho Women's Center sewing workshop.

Life became very difficult after her father died in the 1996 war in Congo, and she helped her mother cook, clean, and farm, too poor to attend  past the fourth grade in elementary school.

One day, at the Peace Market, where neighbors from the various villages that make up Mumosho gather to buy and sell vegetables, fruit, fish, and small items, she learned about the sewing workshop. Maombi started to dream of the day that she could start her own business, and support her mother and her new child. 

"Being part of the sewing program has helped me gain hope again," Maombi says. "When I meet with others I feel I am not alone. Every day I am  clean because I cannot come to the group dirty, my mother is encouraging me to be a loyal participant in the group! My life has changed and I am hoping for a future now!"

There is such dignity in choosing, daily, to show up. To be loyal, and to pursue your goals.  Maombi is an inspiration.  What would you like to tell her?  We'd love to pass along your support to her and the other women in Congo - leave a note in the comment section, and Amani will translate and post them at the Women's Center, so they are surrounded by your encouraging words!

We're raising money to buy Maombi and her fellow sewing students kits upon graduation.  $195 purchases a pedal-powered machine for them to use, despite having no electricity, as well as the fabrics, scissors, and threads and tools to launch their work.  Every dollar makes a difference and changes the lives of these women.  Please consider donating today.

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Claudine on Community & Coming Back To Life Through the Sewing Workshop

Claudine was raised in a family of eight, playing "jump the rope" with her siblings, helping her mother cook. Struggling to make money, if the family had enough money to send a child to school, her elder brother was chosen, so she never had the chance at an education.

Though her story may sound familiar and her future adhering to the statistics, Claudine is changing this chapter, rewriting her story.

Shunned by her mother when a preganancy was forced upon her, Claudine learned of the Sewing Workshop at the Mumosho Women's Center, from her uncle. She heard how other girls were trained in the skill, and then received a sewing kit with a pedal-powered machine (crucial for working without electricity), and started earning income from their small businesses. Claudine hopes to receive her sewing machine this May, to create the life she envisions, caring for her child and herself, and writing the story of her new life.

"Being a part of this community has changed a lot in my life and it makes feel there are people who care for me and love me. Being in the program makes me come back to life again."

Can you help make Claudine's dream a reality? We're raising money to continue funding our programs in Congo, and topurchase the sewing kits for this summer's graduating class - $195 purchases the machine, fabric, and tools to launch their work! Every dollar makes a difference, and goes directly to the work on the ground.  Donate here!  And read more about our programs in Congo here.


Creating New Stories for Women in Congo: Sewing, Reading, Farming, Your Dollars Make a Difference!

The stories coming from Congo are often about war: the crimes against humanity, the rape of women, the poverty and malnutrition that is created by a country constantly in conflict.

We want to share stories of change —women learning to sew, to read, to farm vegetables and healthy grains to feed their families and sell at the market.  Women who are not giving up on their lives, or the future of Congo, flooding our Women's Center to learn to read, so they can choose whom to vote for in the next election. Starting sewing businesses or earning income through our partner in Fair Trade, The Peace Exchange, and earning the income to send their children to school, to educate and empower the future leaders of their communities and country.

This spring, we've set a goal to raise $20,000, to fund our monthly stipend that keeps these crucial programs running, including paying the sewing trainers salaries of $150 / month for 5 days week of work. $12,285 will be used to launch new businesses for the 63 women graduating our sewing workshops in Mumosho and Bukavu.  For $195, we supply them with sewing kits that include a pedal-powered Singer sewing machine, thread, scissors, and material to start earning income using the new skills they have learned.

Any amount we raise toward that goal is crucial in creating sustainable growth in eastern Congo. Can you give today? Your tax deductible donation goes directly to the work on the ground, telling these women that they are not alone; you've heard their stories, and they matter.  When we invest in women and girls, we change the future.

According to the United Nations Foundation, via the Clinton Global Initiative:

  • Women who have control of their own income tend to have fewer children, and fertility rates have shown to be inversely related to national income growth. Girls and young women delaying marriage and having fewer children means a bigger change of increasing per capita income, higher savings, and more rapid growth. 
  • One quarter to one half of girls in developing countries become mothers before 18, and girls under 15 are five times more likely to die during childbirth than women in their 20s 
  • When women and girls earn income, they reinvest 90 percent of it into their families."

To move beyond the staggering statistics, meet some of the women we partner with.  Cozi, a girl whose life was changed with an unplanned for pregnancy.  She shared with us that her "entire life is a new story" since joining the sewing workshop.

And Cikwanine, whose family "gave up on her," after she was "impregnated without her consent," but she chose not to give up on herself, and joined the sewing workshop and Teen Mother program at the Mumosho Women's Center.  She shared, "My life has changed a lot since I joined the ABFEK program. I share my experience with other people here in the sewing program and I feel comforted, now I have hope, joining this program gives me a new hope for my future."
If you haven't met our partner, Amani, who started the non-profit ABFEK from his own income, this post tells why he so strongly believes that empowering women is the path to peace and growth in his country.  The video at the bottom of the post was created a few years ago by The Enough Project, and gives a great sense of who Amani is. 
Please share in the story of one of our sewing graduates, Ernata, who graduated with her sewing certificate in June, 2012.  When we met her in January 2012, her story echoed that of a society where women have very little rights or value, and can be divorced without recourse for not bearing a male heir.   "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)."

Nine months later, Ernata gave birth to a different dream, as she works hard to sew uniforms for the kids in her village.  She takes a break from her own sewing to supervise a fellow seamstress. "I am very proud of myself today," Ernata shares, "and my husband is proud of me and he's happy to have me as a wife, especially as I help make an income for the family."
There are so many stories of how the women's lives have been changed, both by our entrepreneurial trainings as well as knowing that people around the the world believe in them and support them.  Can you help us raise that thermometer?  Donate here! And please share the women's stories of hope with your friends, family, and colleagues!

Seed Distribution at the Demonstration Farm - Photos by Emma O'Brien


Action Kivu Intern Shatreen on the Joys and Needs of Working with ABFEK

We were thrilled when Shatreen contacted us, asking if she could volunteer as an intern in eastern Congo. Her impressive résumé, filled with speaking not only fluent French but also Swahili, work in Liberia and a background in reproductive health, made her appear  a shoo-in. Meeting her via Skype, and speaking to her references, we were reassured she would be a great help to Amani's work in Congo.  Her report after her summer in Bukavu and Mumosho was encouraging, as she, too, witnessed firsthand Amani's compassion, passion, intelligence, and trust amongst the women and families of the community he serves.  But she also noted that the lack of money often stops important work from being completed.

As we work to raise the money to fully fund the ongoing programs that are changing women's lives, we ask you to read on, in Shatreen's own words, of her experience in Congo.

"From June to August 2013, I had the pleasure of serving as an intern with ABFEK and Amani Matabaro, in the South Kivu province, primarily in the cities of Bukavu and Mumosho. I had reached out to Action Kivu earlier in the year because I had been interested in conducting thesis research in Eastern Congo, and was interested in the fact that Action Kivu had paired itself with ABFEK, a Congolese-run organization focused on community-building. I was attracted to ABFEK because of the fact that it was run by Amani, a native of Mumosho, who was focusing on teaching marketable skills to women, while also securing funding for children’s education. The multi-pronged approach seemed to be very in tune with community needs, and Amani’s strong connections to the community, as well as his belief in empowering women, seemed to be a very powerful approach to NGO work.

Amani with the women of the shared farm, during seed distribution.

..."When we began our work, due to our limited budget, we were only able to travel to Mumosho a few times per week, and sometimes, even once a week. This appeared to one of the major obstacles that I saw.  It would often be costly for Amani to arrange transport to travel to Mumosho, especially as it was the dry season, when driving meant precarious conditions with lots of dust. It seems that if Amani were able to obtain a car, especially an all-wheel drive vehicle, this would greatly speed up ABFEK projects, since he or other staff members would be able to check in more regularly. 

"Despite this hurdle, we were still able to carry out the project we planned. Because of my background in reproductive health, and my interest in conducting thesis research, we agreed to conduct interviews with 75 local women on their knowledge of family planning, and access and barriers to family planning. We noted that an overwhelming amount of women did not even know what family planning was, despite the fact that many of them expressed dissatisfaction with having had large numbers of women. Most women had between 6 to 8 children, with an extreme of one woman having had 15 children. Throughout the interviews, the women asked for some sort of lesson on what family planning was. I worked with Amani, and Annie, an ABFEK staff member, to plan presentations for men and women on explanations of family planning. The interest in these presentations, especially among the women, was staggering. We planned for roughly 50 women to attend the lesson, but about 125 women showed up, with standing room only. The women were especially interested in finding out how and where to access family planning.

"...My work with ABFEK was incredibly rewarding, and the positives far outweighed the negatives. Amani was a passionate, dedicated leader within his community, and the follow-through and communication on the project was incredible. We would regularly schedule meetings to discuss project planning, and within a few days, we had completed tasks and assessed how we were doing. As an intern, I consistently felt welcomed into every place I was with Amani, and I was respected and treated like a sister. I also never had any concerns about safety, despite the fact that there was some turmoil in the north. In terms of weaknesses, it appears that money and staffing is the main issue with ABFEK. Many of the people who worked for ABFEK, such as Annie, worked for practically nothing, simply because they were so passionate about improving the community. However, they still had families to feed and children to send to school, and it appeared that many of them were struggling to make ends meet. Money was the main obstacle for us, in terms of limiting our travel to Mumosho, and also limiting how broad the project could be.
"Throughout my time in Congo, and afterward, I have nothing but praise for Amani and ABFEK. If another student were interested in interning with ABFEK, I would wholeheartedly recommend to them to work with the organization. It was an incredible experience, and I fully plan on staying involved with ABFEK and Action Kivu in the future. My only regret was that I couldn’t have stayed longer in Congo to work with ABFEK. It was an absolute joy and honor to have been able to intern with Amani and his organization."

We have so many needs, from paying the literacy teachers and sewing trainers good wages, to buying sewing kits for the 63 women who have learned a valuable, marketable skill through our workshops: $12,285 dollars to purchase the 63 kits: sewing machines, fabrics, thread, scissors, and more, to enable the women to start their own business and earn money to feed and send their kids to school, helping to break the cycle of poverty that lack of education creates.

If you can give today, or on a monthly basis, every dollar makes a difference, and, minus nominal banking fees, goes directly to the work on the ground in Congo.

Read more about the way these programs are changing the lives of the women there, and shaping the future of Congo!

We depend on your partnership, and couldn't do this work without you!  Thank you, from us, and from the women who share their stories with us, ask us to thank you, and ask you to share them with others, so that their lives and voices are heard around the world.

(Photos by Emma O'Brien)


Dear Cikwanine: Anything can happen child, anything can be

Dear Cikwanine, 

My heart both breaks and soars as I read this part of your story. I say "part" of your story, knowing that this is one chapter, and you have so much more to live, as you graduate the sewing program, work to earn income, live in community with the women you've met there, and raise your baby.  A baby you did not plan for, a pregnancy that was forced upon you. But, after your parents learned you were pregnant, and "gave up on you," as it is translated, you did not give up on yourself.

Forced to drop out of school, you learned about the sewing workshop and Teen Mother program, you took action, asked to join, and, now, as you tell us, "My life has changed a lot since I joined the ABFEK program. I share my experience with other people here in the sewing program and I feel comforted, now I have hope, joining this program gives me a new hope for my future."

You did not let something that was so brutally forced upon you yet simultaneously took something from you, make you give up hope, which is an inspiration to every one who hears or reads your story. Thank you for allowing us into your story and inspiring us to be strong in our own lives —  we hope to be part of your community from afar, sending support and encouragement as you walk a new path.

Cikwanine speaks to her situation with strength, sharing with us that Congo needs good leadership to ensure the rights of women and others are respected.  When asked what she would tell those of us, paying attention around the globe, she replied, "I want people to know that people here need their support to make peace happen, nothing will be sustainable if we have no peace. Rape against women should stop."

March is Women's History Month, and today, the 8th, is International Women's Day. Let's celebrate women like Cikwanine, who do not give up hope!  She is part of the graduating class of the sewing workshop at the Mumosho Women's Center - if you want to support her and her classmates as they stitch together new lives and start small businesses as seamstresses, consider donating toward buying a sewing kit.  $195 purchases a machine, fabrics, thread, scissors, an iron - all that they need to launch their new lives.

“Listen to the mustn'ts, child. Listen to the don'ts. Listen to the shouldn'ts, the impossibles, the won'ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me... Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”
 ~ Shel Silverstein

Read more about the people with whom you partner through Action Kivu:


Happy International Women's Day from Congo!

This International Women's Day, invest in the girls and women of eastern Congo!

$150 / month pays the salary of one of Action Kivu's sewing trainers. Our trainers, including Rosine, give women and girls like Cozi the opportunity to earn money and change their lives, the lives of their children, and the future of Congo!

"Clearly, more investments are needed. Girls and women are at the heart of development. They are the seeds of growth and the engines of power. Improving the livelihood of girls and women is central to the success of broader development goals, such as reducing poverty and hunger, improving maternal health and increasing overall economic growth and stability. We know that investing in girls and women isn't just the right thing to do, it’s also the smart thing to do." -Jill Sheffield, Women Deliver

We need your help to continue this work and provide these learning and investment opportunities in eastern Congo. Can you start a monthly donation or make a one time gift today? Every dollar makes a difference, and minus nominal banking fees, goes directly to the work on the ground! And please tell / share with your friends and colleagues.

Learn more here - http://actionkivu.org/donate.html

Happy International Women's Day!


(Photo by Emma O'Brien)

Sewing Student Cozi: My Entire Life is a New Story

Cozi sits surrounded by women, girls, swaths of fabric, thread, scissors, and sewing machines. This is her new community at the Mumosho Women’s Center sewing workshop, and also her path to realize her dream of supporting her child as a single mother.

Cozi was raised in a family of seven children, where she helped her mother with her younger siblings, farming, collecting water and firewood.  For fun, she played a game called zero, “where you jump higher and then go down and you clap,” she said. Cozi went to school up until the second year of secondary school, but after her father died in the 1996 war in eastern Congo, her mother was unable to afford to pay for Cozi’s education.  She discovered the sewing workshop through Ernata, one of our graduates who frequently works at the Center, sewing school uniforms for the kids we send to school, and the pieces for our Fair Trade partner, The Peace Exchange. 

Cozi plans to start her own business with her new sewing skills and the machine and fabrics that she will receive upon graduation.  “Joining the sewing program … means I will become able to take care of my child whose father is not known and I will also be able to take care of myself and help my mother,” she tells Amani. “My entire life is a new story after I had joined the ABFEK sewing program. My colleagues in the program have become a huge support for me and my child. This program is an answer to so many of my problems.”

You can help Cozi make these dreams her everyday reality.  We are raising the funds to buy her sewing kit (and 62 fellow students) for graduation in May.  Your tax deductible donation of $195 purchases a pedal powered Singer sewing machine (critical in a place without electricity), fabrics, thread, needles, and scissors to launch their small businesses!  Can you give today? 

When Cozi was asked what she would say to you, she replied, “I want to thank people in America for their support to our Programs … and I would ask them not to stop. I want to ask People in America and Europe to support Peace  in the Congo. … Above all, war should stop!”

When you support these women, you empower them to send their children to school, to raise up a new generation of people to call out for peace in Congo. 

Every dollar makes a difference, and your partnership tells the women and girls that their stories are heard around the world, and they matter.  

Read more about the people with whom you partner through Action Kivu:


Meet Marhonyi and Her Students: Literacy Training in Mumosho, Congo

"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free." ~ Frederick Douglass

"In 2012, a study conducted by UNESCO and UNICEF revealed that 52.7 per cent of the 7.3 million children out of school in the Democratic Republic of the Congo — some 3.8 million children — are girls. Among the obstacles to girls’ education are low family incomes and lack of school infrastructure, in some areas."

Meet Marhonyi, one of Action Kivu's three literacy teachers at the Mumosho Women's center. In spite of the statistics, Marhonyi was able to attend school, and graduated secondary school with her certificate in Pedagogy, which focuses on teaching. She now passes along that knowledge to other women and girls who, because of their gender, were not sent to school.

M'Bidundu, February 2014

One of her students is M'Bidundu, who at 17 had never been given the chance at an education. She is very proud being part of the program and today can read and write a few words as a result of the literacy program. ''This program gives me a new hope for the future in, my life. I feel like I was blind but now I can see,'' she says.
Marhonyi leads literacy class, Mumosho, February 2014

Your donations make these programs possible. Please consider a donation and help us fund these important programs, and partner with the women in eastern Congo, studying and working to create change in their community and country!

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 actionkivu@gmail.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. 

Growing Change: From Seed to Harvest, a Second Shared Farm in Congo

From seed to harvest, the women in Mumosho are celebrating a second demonstration farm. Located next to the newly built Mumosho Women's Center, the farm is a place for the women to gather, to learn agricultural lessons, to grow good food for their families to fight malnutrition, and veggies to sell at the Peace Market. 

Your partnership makes this possible, and we can't do it without you.  If you want to grow a little good from giving, consider a monthly donation to Action Kivu.  Every dollar makes a difference in the lives of the women in eastern Congo.

Cabbage harvest - February 2014

"Women are the backbone of agriculture and food production in Africa, working its arable land and feeding its population by producing 80% of its food. But African women farmers’ perspectives are excluded from conversations that determine agricultural policies and priorities, while discriminatory laws and practices deprive them of their land, their rights, and their livelihoods." - Global Fund for Women

On the ground in Congo:

Planting Seeds in Congo: Hope Seen Through a Photographer's Lens

Celebrating Fall Harvest - Women Hold Up Far More Than Half of Agriculture in Africa

Sowing Seeds of Presence & Partnership: Shared Farm
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