Monday, February 23, 2015

COMMUNITY BUILDING 2012-2015 - Part I

 Teen mothers at Safe House, Mumosho Women's Center DRC


It's been three years since I was last in Congo, and that long since I've written in this blog. Nonetheless, ECW is going strong!

During that time, a number of projects initiated and facilitated by Empower Congo Women have come to fruition, all a collaboration of like-minded souls who share the vision of a peaceful, prospering Congo. Many thanks to you folks who support ECW in so many ways—you play a major role in making real, lasting change in Congo.
  • Mumosho Women's Center (MWC)
  • Safe House for teen mothers
  • Ushindi Center becomes Mamafrica Congo

Mumosho Women's Center                                                                                           


Since 2008, ECW has collaborated with Amani Matabaro, director of ABFEK, a Congolese charityon various projects in the Mumosho area of eastern Congo: Burhembo School project, organic demonstration farm, small animal husbandry project, parent/child goat project, women’s sewing center, school fees for orphans and girls, and the Mumosho Peace Market.


Like most of these projects, the Mumosho Women's Center was sponsored by Rotary Club of Montecito in conjunction with 30 other clubs and Rotary International.  However, private donors and fundraising events were also invaluable in making this dream a reality.

Mumosho Women's Center, DRC


The Mumosho Women’s Center (MWC) is our largest project to date. Singled out in 2014 as an exemplary Rotary project in a district composed of 12 countries, the MWC has become the mainstay of community life in Mumosho. It functions as school, vocational training and health center, rallying place of community events, and Safe House for teen mothers.   

This beautiful building was designed by Amani Matabaro, who drew it on a napkin and gave it to his builder to complete. The upstairs is one large room capable of holding over 100 people. Community meetings are often held upstairs as are the sewing classes.

The MWC offers literacy classes to women in the community, because girls often stay home to care for younger children and never learn to read and write. At last count, there were 3 on-going literacy classes with 80 students. Young women especially are eager to become literate so they can vote for the leader of their choice in the next election. 



The Community Goat Project initiated by Amani has been a huge success. Goats are more than animals in Congo. Not only do they produce milk and meat, but they are valuable enough to be given as dowry presents and payment in land transactions. If you give someone a goat, it means you are friends for life. 


" Your goat is my goat"  Mumosho Women's Center, DRC
  

This is how it works:  MWC gives a woman one goat, which she cares for lovingly. When the first kid is born, instead of being sold, it is given to MWC, who in turn passes it on to another woman. In this way, the women become sisters and community is built between families; even the poorest women are able to contribute to the community in this way. 

Amani has been using the goat program to teach ethical leadership to the community. He explains that people in the community need each other, and if you sell your baby goat instead of giving it back, you are the same as the dishonest politicians who put greed for themselves above the well-being of others. 

Amani also initiated two family planning workshops, the first for women, the second for men. There was a huge turnout, almost everyone wanting some form of birth control. To date, there are no clinics in the area dispensing free birth control because Congo is a predominately Catholic country. The upside was that both men and women learned about the high mortality rate among women who have more than 5 births. Until recently, even educated Congolese believed that families with as many as 12 children are desirable. 

The MWC is working toward sustainability through its sewing projects, organic produce, basket weaving, and small animal husbandry. It's not there yet, and expenses for teachers, food for the women, and upkeep still need to be subsidized. Please consider donating if you believe these projects are worthwhile. DONATE here.

Safe House for Teen Mothers

Rape is still epidemic in Congo, and young girls are frequently victims. A pregnant teenager without a husband is at risk, because she is often shunned by family and community, especially when she is a rape victim (sad but true). The Safe House was created to give these girls and their babies shelter and vocational training until they can support themselves. The Safe House houses 10 girls and their children at all times.


Proud sewing teacher with teenage students at MWC

"Here there are people who care for me and love me. 
Being in the program makes me come back to life again."

Safe House Curriculum

All the teen moms take literacy classes and learn how to sew. They learn hygiene and are expected to come to class clean, which builds pride. There are classes on raising healthy children, nutrition, and cooking. They women generate income for themselves and for the center by selling school uniforms to local children. Some are taught small animal husbandry, raising chickens, rabbits, and guinea pigs for slaughter and sale at the Mumosho Peace Market. They are taught how to make and manage money in weekly entrepreneurial classes.


In a recent graduation from sewing class, 10 women were given sewing machines and notions so they could become self-supporting. With a trade and continuing classes at MWC, they are part of a community that has literally saved their lives and the lives of their children. No longer looked down on, they are respected members of the community, and their children will go to school. Please DONATE NOW to send girls to school.

Ushindi Center becomes Mamafrica 


In May 2012, a young woman named Ashley Nemiro accompanied me to Bukavu. She had contacted me earlier in the year saying she wanted to meet the women at Ushindi Center to further her doctoral studies at University of North Carolina. We arranged to conduct mental health research on the efficacy of energy psychology (tapping) with women victims of sexual violence. 

At the time, the women graduates of Ushindi Center, all accomplished seamstresses, were seeking a way to sell to western markets. I have no experience in merchandising, and Rotary funding for Ushindi Center had come to an end. 

Fortunately for the women, Ashley does have marketing and design experience, and she was enthusiastic to put her ideas into action. We agreed that Ashley would take over the center, inheriting the sewing machines, furniture, rented space, and sewing teachers. It was now hers to run, and we agreed the center's new name would be Mamafrica

Ashley Nemiro and friend in Mamafrica designs


Ashley has worked hard for Mamafrica in the past 3 years. The first Fair Trade Certified company in eastern Congo, 100% of its proceeds are invested in the center, the women, and their families. 

In addition to healing arts, trauma therapy, literacy, and sewing lessons, the center offers a full-day nursery program.  Dedicated to investing in the future,  Mamafrica matches school fee payments for all families served there. Currently 318 children attend school with direct support from the center.

Last April, Mamafrica partnered with Kahindo Mateene of MODAHNIK in a kickstarter.com fundraiser to benefit the women at Mamafrica. Kahindo, who is Congolese herself, wanted to do something to help her countrywomen, so she donated fabric from her MODAHNIK collection to Mamafrica to make clutch purses. The hand-sewn clutches were fabulous, the fundraiser a great success.


MamAfrica Clutches
Mamafrica and MODAHNIK clutches

Check out Mamafrica or visit them on Facebook. Their creations are gorgeous-- you might want to buy something hand-sewn by the "mamas," and in so doing send their children to school. How great is that!!!

Without education or vocation, women work like animals in DRC.

The last 3 years have taught me that we must all work together to make lasting change a working reality. I knew that before but only intellectually. Looking at the success of these projects, seeing how they have taken on a life of their own, many becoming sustainable beyond our prior expectations, I marvel at how much can be accomplished when people cooperate to make the world a better place.

In short, the projects described above are successful primarily because they are a collaboration of organizations, donors from all over the world, and people who share a common vision of Congo as a land of peace and safety for women and children

I invite you to join our community. DONATE HERE! Even better, get Involved! Sponsor an orchard, send a woman to college, buy organic seeds, pay school fees for orphans, send a young woman to college, sponsor trauma counselors in Mumosho. There are so many ways you can really make a difference.


One priority is to BUY AMANI A VEHICLE.   He still makes the 2 hour ride to Mumosho by taxi and supplies for the women at MWC are expensive to transfer back and forth to Bukavu.

My pledge to you is to keep sending updates about what is happening in Mumosho-- where your contributions are going, what projects are needed in the future, and how you can get involved.


Projects in the making for 2015:
  • Bakery project - bring bread to Mumosho and employ women
  • Peace school - grammar school with modern technology and current curriculum 
  • Water project - bring water to over 20,000 people in Mumosho area
  • BUY AMANI A VEHICLE  (see next blog)
Again, my heart overflows with gratitude to you all.

PS-- Did I say GET INVOLVED? We need YOU! and it's really, really FUN!

With love, Victoria Bentley



Saturday, February 21, 2015

Friday, November 30, 2012


Stand Up for our Sisters in Congo





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World Pulse

URGENT ACTION: Stand Up for Our Sisters in the Congo

"We have had enough. We call upon our global sisterhood to take action. We will not be quiet until REAL Peace is upon us."----Neema Namadamu, DRC
On November 20th M23 rebels seized Goma, a major city in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, reigniting a war that has ravaged the region for 16 years. World Pulse Correspondent Neema Namadamu and our community of 200 Congolese women who call themselves the Mama Shujaa ('Hero Women' in Swahili) are calling on you and women leaders at the White House----Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice, Valerie Jarrett, and Michelle Obama----to take immediate action in solidarity with the women of the Congo.
 
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PLEASE READ AND SIGN THE ABOVE PETITION

(it takes just a minute of your time)


Dear Friends of Empower Congo Women,

It has been many months since I last wrote you about the Congo. I've been remiss not telling you of the wonderful projects that took place this year, and are continuing to do so, through the efforts of Empower Congo Women and its offshoot www.mamafricadesigns.com  A 2012 wrap-up is soon to follow.

But what's happening in eastern DRC right now takes precedence over my little blog. As I write today, my heart aches to tell you that Congo is at war once again

Rebel militias, who call themselves M23 and are surreptitiously supported by Rwanda and its western backers, have seized Goma, one of the major cities in eastern DRC. Once again, it's all about money-- about who will control the lucrative regional mines that fuel our modern technology. The rebels are reportedly on the march toward Bukavu, where most of you know I have been working.

The tragedy is that hundreds of thousands (yes, that many!) of people have been displaced by this latest aggression. And as always, the women and children suffer the most. Right now, torrential rains pound the area and will do so for the next 4-5 months; it is cold and wet, and the poor refugees have nowhere to go... and the outrageous rape of women and children will continue until peace is restored.

I am not writing you for donations. I am writing to ask for your signature. Please take a few moments to sign the above petition to move our government into action to stop the aggression against the beleaguered people of eastern Congo. Please do this one small thing that has the potential to help thousands of families. Things will only get worse if we don't make our position clear NOW!

On a more personal note, those of you who met Amani Matabaro when he visited the USA last February will be relieved to know that he and his family have been evacuated to another country until the rebels have been turned back and are no longer a threat to Bukavu.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and sign the petition!

With love and appreciation, 

Vicki