Robin Wright's Pour Les Femmes "Pajama Campaign" Changes Women's Lives in Congo [Video]

Mumosho, Congo

Celebrating, the women held high their graduation certificates, sang songs of gratitude, and made plans for their new small business ventures as designers and seamstresses. It was Action Kivu's Sewing Workshop graduation day for 60 girls and women in a village in eastern Congo, a day made possible by pajamas, you, and Robin Wright!

Robin watched the video (below) of the graduates celebrating and sharing their stories of how their lives have been changed by learning to sew and starting small businesses, and sent this message to the women.
“Congratulations to the graduates of Action Kivu! This is only the beginning... You are setting the example and reminding all of us that self-reliance is the key to a sustainable and rewarding life. Bravo!!!” ~Robin Wright


(Filmed & edited in Mumosho, DRC by Patrick Byamungu.)


“Mama Robin,” as many of the Congolese women who met Wright on her 2011 trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo call the actor, is a vocal activist on behalf of the people of Congo. Late last year, Robin partnered with her friend and fashion designer Karen Fowler to create a campaign for the women of Congo through Pour Les Femmes, a luxury pajama company.  The profits from the PJ sales traveled 15,114 kilometers from Los Angeles to Congo, and purchased sewing kits for these women to start their own businesses, earning income to feed, clothe, and send their kids to school, helping to break the cycle of poverty and change the landscape of their lives.

Some women walked one kilometer, some trekked five or six, a few bused in from the city of Bukavu, braving the unpaved dirt roads made muddy and dangerous from two days of the non-stop, rainy season wet weather. It’s just this wet weather that makes travel in Congo so dangerous, yet also makes it look a lush, verdant paradise, with its rolling green fields and the wide leaves of banana trees leading up to the misty mountains surrounding the valley. But the potential for paradise in Congo has long been marred by conflict, extreme poverty, and violence against women as a weapon of war.

That Saturday in March, in a corner of Congo, a country in which it is reported that 2.5 million girls are out of school, 60 young women ages 14 to 28 made their way to celebrate graduation from Action Kivu’s 8-month sewing program. They walked through the rain to the Mumosho Women’s Center, the heart of Action Kivu’s work in Congo.

Amani Matabaro is the man and the inspiration behind Action Kivu.  In 2006, Amani and his wife created Action Kivu’s partner organization in eastern Congo, Actions pour le Bien être de la Femme et de l'Enfant au Kivu (ABFEK), after learning that his cousins, victims of the ongoing conflict, needed work and a place to live.  At the March 2015 graduation, Amani congratulated each seamstress for her diligence in learning a new skill and gaining an education, invoking empowerment that no one could take away from them.   Often overwhelmed by tears of joy, Amani handed each woman her certificate of completion, and draped her new tape measure around her bowed head, a sort of sewing stole denoting achievement in education.  

Amani congratulates Cibalonza Claudine.

Each woman received her graduation kit: a push-pedal sewing machine (for working in villages with little or no electricity), fabric, a box of threads, scissors, and her tape measure.  The rain abated, and the women stepped outside to pose for photos and share their stories of how learning to sew and having the means to earn income has already changed their lives.

"I am the happiest person on the planet today because of this graduation kit, I had never expected this, I waited for a long time but today is the day,” said Cibalonza Claudine, the sewing program’s star student, who was wearing a dress she had made. Cibalonza walks an hour and a half each way to attend the sewing classes at the Center, and was never late, never missed a session, said Amani.

Action Kivu’s work in Congo provides women with a variety of entrepreneurial programs to create sustainable change in their community, from bread baking and basket making to the sewing workshops, from literacy classes to a demonstration farm for growing food to sell and eat, as well as education assistance for the kids in the community whose families cannot afford to send them to school.  Your partnership through Action Kivu, whether an annual gift or a monthly donation, changes lives. 

“Before I came to this center, I was nothing, I meant nothing at all,” Cibalonza said at the graduation ceremony. “After learning the sewing skills, I started rebuilding my life and today, I AM SOMEBODY. No matter the rain I will carry my sewing machine and show my mom and my child that I have to start a new life.  My plan is to open a new business and I promise I will prosper – thank you ABFEK, thank you Action Kivu, thank you Robin Wright, God bless you all and keep you strong for changing my life.”


These women, who have so little in terms of money, power, or influence, have so much to teach us.  Their gratitude for what you give them to start them on their path to earning income and caring for their families, reminds us of our connection to everyone in the world.  Thank you for partnering with Action Kivu through the Pour Les Femmes campaign!

Please consider continuing your partnership with Action Kivu — it provides the means to continue these life-changing programs for the women and children of Congo.  All donations are tax deductible in the U.S., and make a tangible difference in the lives of these women, as they share, in the video above. 

ABFEK is registered as a local non-governmental organization in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Action Kivu, Inc. is a registered 501(c)(3) charity in the United States. Our EIN is 27-3537799.

~Rebecca Snavely
Executive Director & Co-Founder, Action Kivu
Comments

Week by Week, Creating a New Congo Through Strength & Vulnerability

There are many places for people of all ages to find community in Mumosho, Congo: the church, the local elementary school yards, or a hot day at the Peace Market, where people are happy to be crowded under the market's roof, selling or buying peppers and fish, bananas and plastic woven bags, happy for respite from the relentless sun or downpour of rain. If the women who are learning sustainable farming on Action Kivu's demonstration farms aren't there at the Market, selling beautiful fruits and vegetables, they may be found down the road, at the Mumosho Women's Center. 

Over at the Center, the place is swarming with, well, women.  They move from the sewing workshop to take a break and stretch their limbs outside.  They walk down to where the literacy class meets in the afternoon.  They swap caring for babies so the teen moms who live at the center get a break.

Outside the Mumosho Women's Center

But at least once a week, both women and men gather at the Center, where they meet for the community's weekly empowerment session.  Men and women, often with children in tow, gather together at the center to discuss how mismanagement is hurting Congo. And more importantly, how to take ownership of their own actions, the behaviors and relationships that will affect the community and eventually, the entire country.

"We talk about the worth of sharing in the community," Amani explains. With Action Kivu's animal husbandry goat program, the families are required to return to the Women's Center when the new kid is born, to set into motion the title of the program, "My Goat is Your Goat." Amani shares the example he shares with the men and women at the weekly meeting. "If you sell the goat without telling the organization, you are just like those who embezzle funds / resources in Congo."  It starts with you. Amani's face lights up: "The women and men LOVE that. They respond to that."

Nearby village chiefs are invited to attend, to share the sessions with their communities.


Through this center, these weekly meetings, the entrepreneurial courses and literacy classes, Amani and his staff are providing the education, training, and safe space for people to explore what it means to be those leaders in their own lives, in their personal relationships, in their families, communities, provinces.

"It starts at the micro level," Amani says. "Change in Congo has to start in our households. If I’m a bad father, in my household, then how am I going to act in the greater community of Congo? We inspire people to be honest in all their transactions, in relationships, in promises, in contracts, to create the Congo we want for our kids."

I was reminded of the empowerment trainings in Mumosho, Congo, while listening to a re-broadcast of Brené Brown's conversation with Krista Tippet about the strength of vulnerability, and stepping into hope and the fear of unknown at the same time. 

..."It starts by an openness to seeing ourselves and seeing kind of how we're protecting ourselves from vulnerability. I think that's where it started. I think ... even for me today, I am the most successful doing, you know, this work and trying to be real and transparent and me and feel good in my own skin when I stay very aware of what kind of armor I'm throwing up or when I feel afraid.

"I think maybe the definitive piece of knowing that has helped me with this is that I was raised in a very kind of binary culture. If things were good or bad, you know, you were brave or you were afraid. You were courageous or you were fearful. And I think for me, one of the definitive moments in my life was realizing that most of us are brave and afraid in the exact same moment all day long."

~Brené Brown with Krista Tippet, On Being

We're so honored to work alongside our friends in Congo, who through your support are stepping into and helping create a better present and future for Congo.  Read more from our blog to learn about the entrepreneurial programs, the informational meetings, the Peace Market, and more!

A Goat's Good Standing: Creating Community in Mumosho
Mumosho Sewing Workshop Vision Statements: Mystery, Meaning, Measurements
Claudine On Community & Coming Back to Life Through the Sewing Workshop
Maombi's Story: Designing a Life of Dignity



Family Planning in Congo: Babies on Backs, Children in Tow, Women Arrive to Ask Questions
Visit the Peace Market with Amani in I am Congo: Amani, the Community Builder (VIDEO)
Meet Marhonyi & Her Students: Literacy Training in Mumosho

If you'd like to set up a recurring monthly donation to support these projects, click here! Every dollar makes a difference to create sustainability and a better future for those we work with in eastern Congo!



Comments

Discovery Through Play in Mumosho, DRC

“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”
― Plato

When we asked Amani what the kids call a teeter-totter & merry-go-round in their local language, we learned that the teeter-totter is called ''musumba'' in Mashi and that the merry-go-around has no name in Mashi.

These games were not in the children's vocabulary before the Swedes from Direktionen för Nytta och Nöje in Strömstad created this playground in Mumosho, DRC.

Here's to kids having a place to play, and all of us sharing games and culture without borders or boundaries. We can't wait to learn more about games and play from kids in Congo who have more peace, freedom, and safety to explore!



Comments

Mumosho Sewing Workshop Vision Statements: Mystery, Meaning, Measurements

"The tyranny of the quantifiable," Rebecca Solnit writes, is "the way what can be measured almost always takes precedence over what cannot: private profit over public good; speed and efficiency over enjoyment and quality; the utilitarian over the mysteries and meanings that are of greater use to our survival and to more than our survival, to lives that have some purpose and value that survive beyond us to make a civilization worth having." (~"Woolf's Darkness," Rebecca Solnit)

In honor of setting intentions for this new year, of living life with purpose, of creating the space and opportunities for dreams to be fostered,  for mystery to have a place to play, and of unearthing the meaning of community and caring for each other, we'd like you to meet some of the women in Action Kivu's sewing program in Mumosho, Congo, and share in their visions for 2015 and the future.

Cigarhulirwa
Land rights for women in eastern Congo are practically nonexistent, yet critical in a place where a woman can be divorced with no legal access to alimony or child-support. Cigarhulirwa wants to use her new sewing skills to earn income, and buy a plot of land and build a house to stay in. "My mom is very poor but she loves me. She takes care of my child when I am at the center," she said.

Mushekuru

Growing up, Mushekuru's father did not think it necessary to send a girl to school. At 16, her education is beginning at the Mumosho Women's Center, where she's learning to sew, alongside her sister. "My vision is to work hard and help my mom and my grandmother," Mushekuru said. Her grandmother is providing a home for Mushekuru, her mom, and her four siblings, after Mushekuru's father divorced her mother without reason, leaving her with no money, or land.





Bulonza
"My wish was to get an education but my father did not send me to school because I am a girl. I want to have a sewing collective, and when I get married I will educate all my children, regardless of their gender." Bulonza, 19 years old.



Mumosho Women's Center, DRC
Thank you for partnering with the women, girls, and their families in eastern Congo.  They'd love to hear from you: please leave a note of encouragement in the comments, and we will pass it along!

Your support is what make our entrepreneurial programs possible: If you'd like to donate, please click here to help make these visions a reality.
Comments

World Toilet Day: Would You Donate your Birthday for a Toilet?

It's World Toilet Day! Why, you might ask, is a World Toilet Day necessary?  It warrants its hashtag because being toilettes provides potential for outbreaks of life-threatening diseases like cholera.

Yesterday we announced the amazing, fantastic news that Robin Wright launched a sleepwear line and campaign to raise money for the women of Congo, donating 100% of the profits to both Action Kivu's work and another amazing organization, Synergie!

It makes you want to be like Robin Wright, right?  Here's another opportunity to help.  First, check out how Robin Wright donated the funds for the latrine at the Peace Market in Mumosoho in 2011. On our visit in January 2012, we witnessed the completion of the project, and the careful chiseling of the sign to honor "Mama Robin" for her generosity.

Next, think about how you might take your toilet for granted.  There are 2.5 billion people who are toilettes, and we are looking for $8,500 in funds to build latrines for a few hundred of them. There are 475 elementary and secondary school children at the Burhembo school in eastern Congo, for whom the current “facilities” are holes in the ground, surrounded by insubstantial walls. As it is now the rainy season, these toilets are a safety hazard as well as a public health risk, when the girls fall in and get hurt.

It’s not a sexy subject, but it’s a vital one for the kids in Congo. If you’re interested in helping to raise funds for the school kids at Burhembo, consider donating your birthday – instead of friends taking you for dinner or lavishing you with gifts, they can give to Action Kivu, and kids can have safe toilets, all because of you!  Email Rebecca Snavely at actionkivu@gmail.com to connect.


Comments

Robin Wright Launches Sleepwear Line to Benefit Women of Congo!

We are honored and thrilled to announce that Robin Wright has chosen Action Kivu as one of two organizations to receive the profit of sales from her new sleepwear line through socially-conscious sleepwear company Pour Les Femmes.  Robin met Action Kivu founder Amani Matabaro on a visit to eastern Congo, and has since supported his work with the community there, using her voice and celebrity platform to raise awareness, and giving her time, energy, passion, and money, to people who are too often overlooked.  She documented her visit over at The World Post, noting:

"The women from the Action Kivu sewing center also came out to meet us and asked that we carry their message of triumph and hope back tothe U.S. What they were most looking forward to was the completion of Amani's ongoing project--the Peace Market.

"Mumosho is a small village located about 16 miles from Bukavu, situated right on the border with Rwanda, which means it is 16 miles away from the nearest market. Therefore, the women of Mumosho were forced to walk for hours to purchase basic goods, including food, soap, and clothing. And during their trek through the forest, they were vulnerable to attacks from the roving militias, including the FDLR. As a result, many women simply did not make the journey for fear of being raped or shot, and the community in turn suffered.

"Now, less than a year after we visited Mumosho and saw the beginnings of the Peace Market, it is built, complete with a roof to protect people from the rain, and a place of refuge and shelter for the community."



Later learning of the need for latrines at the Peace Market, essential to prevent an outbreak of cholera, Robin promptly donated the funds needed to build the toilets.  Her compassion and generosity have made an indelible mark in the lives of the women and children in eastern Congo.  And she continues to do so, through this beautiful line of sleepwear, and invites you to make a difference, too.

Visit plfdreams.com to learn more about the pajamas and to purchase.   100% of profits are going to Action Kivu and  Synergie Des Femmes, to support the women of Congo!



Read more about Action Kivu's work in Congo here:




(Photo courtesy Pour Les Femmes)

Comments (1)

A Goat's Good Standing: Creating Community in Mumosho, Congo

"In Shi culture, [a tribe in eastern Congo] it is a cultural idea that a goat is good standing in the community.  When you marry a woman, you give a cow AND a goat," Amani told us at lunch in a Westwood cafe crammed with college students.  They hovered over their laptops, taking for granted the constant electricity and espresso drinks that fueled their studies, unaware that they could be eavesdropping on an inspiring man who might teach them more than a semester of Anthro 101.

My Goat is Your Goat is a husbandry project Amani started for the community Action Kivu serves in Mumosho, DRC.  It is a wild success, Amani reported to us on his recent fundraising trip to the U.S.  Not only does it serve the people in a place where a goat acts as money to buy land, or as a gift in marriage, but it builds trust in a place where trauma has torn neighbors apart.

Not only can the women sell the additional kids to earn income for their families, and use the goat feces for fertilizer to grow better crops of food, but they can participate in their community in a meaningful way.  Before his long journey to the U.S., Amani had made one last visit to the Mumosho Women's Center, where three women were bringing baby goats to pass them on to the next neighbor.  They were so excited to be able to do that, he told us.  

"If I want to buy a piece of land from you, we can count it in terms of goats.  If I want to immortalize our friendship, I give you a goat.  If that happens, our friendship is solid.  Valuable.  Through My Goat is Your Goat, the neighbors share the babies of the gifted goat. For a poor woman to have a goat, it gives her pride.  It means: 'I am somebody in the community.'   It is social, community building."  Amani points to Cate, co-founder of Action Kivu, to illustrate.  "Cate is keeping the goat, but I know the baby will come to me.  The goat owner is now accountable to the organization and to me.   The goat owner is now accountable to the organization and to me," Amani repeats, to emphasize how important that is in a place where people have so little.

In our western world where giving a goat to a neighbor might not mean as much as it does in Congo, we hope you can find ways to connect with your community, to be accountable to each other.  Your donations to Action Kivu are a way to connect and partner with the people of Mumosho make possible these life-changing programs!  Thank you for your ongoing generosity.


Read more about Action Kivu's work in Congo here:
Comments

Give a Goat (or Chicken): The Animal Husbandry Project in Congo

Our goat family in eastern Congo is growing, and welcoming a new animal into the herd: chickens! 

Originating with 50 goats, the husbandry program is expanding, and when members of the community gathered this June at the Mumosho Women's Center, 31 additional families received goats, and 22 families took home a chicken.  The chickens were primarily distributed amongst teen mothers who do not live at the women's center, to provide eggs to help feed their children, and to raise up baby chicks to pass on to more families.

Currently, the goats help with feces to fertilize the small plots of land farmed by the members of the community.  To provide nutritious goat's milk and cheese will be the next step in the project, after finding the correct breed of goat that produces more milk. 

As Amani noted when the program began, "When a baby goat is born, the family caring for the goat will return the baby to ABFEK to pass it on to another neighbor who is waiting. Paying forward the good in their lives, providing more milk to drink and sell, the community will grow stronger, Amani explains. Which is why the project is called, 'My goat is your goat.'"

The addition of our feathered friends means it's time for a name change...

If you'd like to partner with the people in eastern Congo, consider a one-time or monthly donation.  All funds go directly to programs like this on the ground, and every dollar makes a difference.

Families meeting their goats, June 2014.

 Read more about the programs:




Comments

She Ain't Heavy, She's My Sister: Inspiring Sisters Carrying Each Other in Congo

Many of the women we work with in Congo come from large families, with five or more children. Either a single mother themselves, or raised by one, they struggle to feed, clothe, and educate their kids, while the children work to grow and sell food, cart heavy loads for miles for pay, kids carrying their younger siblings, strapped to their backs while they work.


The image of carrying one another rings true in Bienvenie's story, which we shared after meeting her during our visit to eastern Congo in January of 2012. She shared that she is proud of her mother, who cares for her and her siblings with the food she harvests from their farm. Bienvenie is proud of her new sewing skills, and, at that time, dreamed to have her own business. Denied a basic education, she always longed to learn 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 told 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."

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. She now runs her own business, making clothes for her community, and caring for her mother, who is ill and can no longer work.

Bienvenie can no longer strap her sister Cozi to her back, but her success is what inspired Cozi to join the Teen Mother's program at the Mumosho Women's Center, where she is part of the sewing workshop. Cozi will graduate with the skills and support to start her own business, and follow in the footsteps of her sister, changing the way women are viewed in their communities, creating paths for others to make a better life for their sisters.



"To the people who support the program and purchase the sewing machines: I am weeping inside my heart, I am grateful." — Bienvenie

“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.”  — Cozi

If you'd like to partner with the women in Congo, click here!  Every dollar makes a difference and goes to the work on the ground, from entrepreneurial trainings to literacy classes to agricultural instruction.
Comments

Mother's Day: What to Get for the Mom Who Has It All? A Sewing Kit for a Mom in Congo!

What to get for the mom who has it all? After all, she has *YOU* in her life, what more does she need?

Celebrate Mother’s Day with a gift for a mom in Congo! When you purchase a sewing kit, you will receive a card to print for the mother in your life, sharing the story of a mother in Congo whose life will be changed by your gift. $195 buys a sewing machine, fabrics, and tools for a woman like Maombi to start her own business, earn income to feed, clothe, and educate her child, and help break the cycle of poverty in her community. Visit actionkivu.org/donate.html to give today!



Read more about just a few of the many women whom you’ll be partnering with in Congo:

Life became very difficult after Maombi’s father died in the 1996 war in Congo. 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!"

Cozi is a young woman whose life was changed with an unplanned for pregnancy. (She shared that the father of her child is not known, implying rape that is all too common in this region.) Though these stories are horrifying and heartbreaking, what is amazing is the women's resolve to not only survive, but to thrive. She shared with us that her "entire life is a new story" since joining the sewing workshop.

Cikwanine’s family "gave up on her," after she was raped, 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 yet met our partner, Amani, read 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.

One of our favorite stories to share is Ernata’s, who graduated with her sewing certificate in June, 2012. When we met her that January, 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 learning the skill of sewing to earn income, as well as knowing that people around the world believe in them and support them.

Can you help us meet our goal? $8,000 for the programs costs, and $12,000 for the sewing kits for 63 graduates. Donate $195 for one kit, or $390 for two, (or 3! Or 4!) and help us move that thermometer up to the top! actionkivu.org/donate.html

Honor the mother in your life, and the mamas of Congo, with a gift of sewing kit to help them begin a new chapter in their stories.


Comments
See Older Posts