Friday, April 11, 2008

Good Things Happen

Bukavu central market

Two wonderful things have happened recently that I want to share with you.

In the first case, Dr. Florimond and I have been asked by UNICEF to put on two, 3-day workshops for therapists, one here in Bukavu and the other up north in Goma. To prepare, we met with a psychologist who treats victims of sexual violence and a counselor who works with street children, both in Bukavu. I was fascinated as they explained in detail the therapy approaches they use. Both are extremely competent therapists doing a great job under difficult circumstances. I was impressed by their work, especially since they do therapy the “old fashioned way”, meaning without using psychotropic medication for the most part.

Dr. Florimond and I combined our training materials and are almost ready for the workshop tomorrow. I say ‘almost’ because the power has been out since early this morning (not unusual), and the booklets have yet to be copied and collated. But it will get done, and I’ll let you know how the training goes. (It will be in French, and everything I say has to be translated by Dr. Florimond, which is an exhausting process. Hopefully, there will be someone in the audience who speaks English well enough to help him out)

A fashion aside about DR Congo. I basically brought safari wear. You know, those ugly insect repellent clothes, safari vests, and floppy hats that the travel catalogs advertise. Wrong. I knew I was in trouble on the plane from Nairobi to Bujumbura when I noticed that the only people wearing safari clothes were Caucasian men over 50. The Africa men, by contrast, were wearing crisp Oxford shirts, pressed slacks, and a sweater or sport jacket. Worse yet, the Congolese are well-dressed and glamorous. The women take time and pride in their appearance, and they know how to accessorize—lots of gold jewelry; purses, shoes, and shawls match their native libayas; their hair is elaborately braided or straightened, and they wear perfume. I’m told you
can spot Americans by their casual dress; it's a joke around here.
My new fashion adviser

So here I am wanting to be taken seriously as a workshop leader, and I’m a fashion disaster. We decide that Karen, Dr. Florimond’s secretary, should take me shopping in Bukavu. Karen is just out of college and looks like a Parisian model; she is my new fashion advisor. No matter that she speaks little English—clothes shopping is a universal gene in all women. After trying on clothes at three stores, I now own 2 new blouses, a purple skirt, brown slacks, black heels, and a snazzy new purse. I no longer schlep around looking like a displaced botanist: I’m looking more Congolese by the minute. I've come up in the world.

Cristal, Pepa, and Ives in their home in Bukavu.

The other exciting news is that the Bukavu Women’s Trauma Healing and Care Center has rented a new space. I went to check it out yesterday with Yves, the women’s counselor with a huge heart, who has been coordinating things in Bukavu. (Flory recently had a bout of malaria and Amina stayed in Bujumbura to take care of him.)

The space is small by American standards, but Yves says the sewing teacher believes they can fit 20 sewing machines inside, and that the women are very happy about it. The room has a cement floor, water-tight roof, window, and a door that locks. It also has electricity, so the women can work at night. Best of all, it is on the main street where there is good foot traffic. Now the training center can also be a store where the women sell their work.

Dennis Argall and I pooled our resources and rented the space for seven months (standard lease agreement here). We had two rusted machines repaired and bought four new treadle machines, making a total of eight sewing machines for twenty women. We have purchased enough fabric to last several months, as well as supplied new chairs for the machines and benches for seating along the walls. African fabric used to make libayas

OK, here is the pitch for financial help. The women say they need a total of ten new machines, so they can sew every day instead of waiting days for their turn. As we just bought four new machines, they need six more for things to run smoothly. Each machine costs $150, not much by our standards, but huge by theirs. Sewing gives them a future. Without being able to make a living from sewing, crocheting, and selling soap, they have no way to feed themselves and their children. Without the Center, they have no hope of surviving.

We only need six machines. I can personally guarantee that your money will buy a sewing machine. In fact, we’re going to have a grand opening of the new space and a graduation ceremony for the first group of “sisters” on April 19th. At that time, I can take a picture of the sewing machine you bought with a smiling thank you from the women clustered around it. We might even hold up a Thank You So-and-So sign.

Flory Zozo has a charitable foundation, CHIREZ, but it doesn’t have non-profit status in the US yet, so your donations are not tax deductible . . . maybe in heaven but not with the IRS. Money needs to be sent to me via Western Union in Bukavu. Email me at for more information, and I will explain the process.

There is one more thing. The women have not asked for this, but there is another space next door that could be used in addition to the small space we rented. It is my hope to use that space for training and production , and then use the smaller space for the store and fitting room. I believe the two rooms together would make it possible for the Center to thrive. This second room rents for $90 per month; a seven month lease will cost $630. So I am looking for a generous donor to make this happen. Please consider helping a worthy cause. It’s the best money I’ve ever spent.

With love and gratitude,

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