Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Bukavu Women's Trauma Healing and Care Center

Committe members: Cristal, secretary (holding Pepa); Kishi; Yves,
counselor; Martha, crochet teacher; Dr. Victoria; Natalie, soap making;
Amina, Director.

Today was a big day. In the morning, I met with the Bukavu Women’s Trauma Healing and Care Center Committee for several hours. Amina Gisele, who founded the project, currently directs the Committee and coordinates services for the center. I am very impressed with how much this group of women has accomplished in a short time.

Their vision is promoting self-sufficiency for each woman through trauma counseling and employment training. So far Amina and the Committee are doing a great job! In just seven months since opening, the center has 4 well-conceived income-generating projects underway:
1) Crocheting doilies, tablecloths, and body wash mitts. These produce the least profit for time invested, but all have established markets and can be produced relatively quickly at home. (The body wash mitts produce almost no profit but are so cute I bought 5 for girlfriend presents!)
2) Sewing. At present, 20 women are being trained by a professional tailor in dressmaking. Income potential varies depending on service requested, such as, simple repairs, tailoring, or making a garment from scratch. The first group of women will graduate in June and be ready to generate income.
3) Soap making. This is the most lucrative project so far, as they can make a net profit of $150 per ton of soap produced. Each ton takes a week to make, and the market is good as there is not much soap in Bukavu. The brand name for the bars is MAMA and they come wrapped in paper with printed labels. I plan to visit the soap making factory next week.
4) Goats. Young goats are bought in the country, and then transported back to Bukavu for sale. When you figure the cost of each goat ($25) and transportation ($1) to and from the city in a public van (stowed in the back as luggage), each woman can make a $4 profit, enough to feed her family for one day.
Later in the day, we all went to meet the 20 women who are taking sewing classes in a different part of town. It rained and everything turned to mud, but we made it without getting drenched or slipping and falling down.

The sewing teacher provided us with a sewing demonstration by one of the young girls who was taking her exam. He is a sweet, committed soul, an excellent teacher who can reinstate these women's faith in men.

During the Committee meeting, I learned that the sewing center needs 2 machines repaired and more fabric to practice on. In addition to the 4 machines the center has now, they have requested 10 more foot-treadle machines at $150 each (forget electricity, that's another ball game entirely). The sewing machines are bought here in Bukavu and will give the women more time to practice.

Working in tandem with Dennis Argall, an Australian ex-Ambassador to China and generous contributor to this cause, I was able to tell the women we could provide funds to do the repairs, get additional fabric, and purchase 4 new sewing machines. They were delighted, to say the least.

The big issue I see right now is getting these women and machines out of the tiny lean-to they call a center and into a better building. I asked if they would rather have new machines or a new roof, and they went for the machines as sewing is their hope for the future. How they get anything done in the rain and mud, I do not know. I have asked Yves, the counselor, to look for another building with more than one room, a roof, walls, floor, windows, and an accessible bathroom.

We just don't get it here in the states, as nothing compares to their situation. Even in the worst slums, people have a roof and cement floor, a homeless shelter or soup kitchen to go to. These women are very resilient. Intent on learning how to sew, they are enthusiastic despite all that has happened to them. I am deeply touched and profoundly moved to action by these brave women.

Flory asked me if I would be their liason with the west, and I accepted with pleasure. I am honored to be part of this heart-filled project.

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