Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What The Women Really Want

(l. to r.) Pasqualine (AVDC Representative), Alice holding Gaston, Yves (AVDC President), Bernadette, Senator David Mubalama, me, and Victor, our Mashi translator.

After the women and machines were relocated, I spoke with Yves who told me something very interesting: He and the women survivors have been working privately for over two years to obtain NGO status. This is not an easy achievement, and they have done everything but finish paying the attorney. That is very impressive.

The Friday following the move, I met with the women as a group at the OCET building to discuss their options.

They began by voting Yves their President, as he has been their counselor for over 3 years and they trust him to act in their best interests. They voted Pasqualine to be their Representative and Spokesperson, as she has already taken a leadership role with the group and is literate. They chose not to include other committee members at this time. I am to act as Consultant who helps them finance their projects.

The women discuss their options.

After more discussion, they decided to return to the space they previously occupied for the following reasons:

  • their prior location has better foot traffic for a store,

  • it doesn't make sense to pay double rent,

  • the OCET building is a long way from where most of them live, so it will be costly and difficult for them to get there, and

  • they are already a well-known sewing center in that location.

They voted to hire the OCET sewing teacher, who was at the meeting and fixed the machines while we talked. She is a dedicated teacher, a woman who takes her job seriously. Unlike the previous sewing teachers, she has a diploma in teaching dressmaking. The women were delighted by her expertise and excited for classed to begin. She said many of the women will be at Beginning Dressmaker Level in six months with lessons 3x per week.

AVDC women members surround me with new sewing teacher at far left.

While the women continue their sewing classes, they plan to generate income by renting the sewing machines to other dressmakers. They can take lessons in the morning and rent the machines in the afternoon. It turns out that fourteen sewing machines in a building with cement floor and intact roof is a luxury in Bukavu, so this passive income could be lucrative.

Income generated this way will be recorded by an accountant of their choosing and split equally among the women survivors, after expenses such as electricity and machine up-keep are deducted. A sign will be made to advertise this service.

No more will donations from abroad be sent directly to any one person. All contributions and income will be recorded and deposited in their NGO account by an accountant in Bukavu. Accounts payable will be logged in and backed up by receipts, so that all disbursements will be accounted for and transparent.

Disbursements will be made through group decision.

I am delighted how well this group of women survivors is evolving. Despite set-backs, they are becoming more self-confident, working together as a cohesive group, and taking responsibility for their future.

My interpreter for this meeting was Roland, a 21-year old Congolese kid with wisdom beyond his years. After listening to the women for some time, he turned to me and said, "These women are really tough." And, yes, it is true: they are tough . . . that is why they are still alive.

Roland, my translator, and Honorable Mubalama

The next day, Honorable David Mubalama, Senator for the Province of South Kivu, stopped by to lend his support to the re-opening of the women's center. It is now an NGO of its own, doing business as Action des Voluntaires Developement Communciutaire (AVDC).

Congratulations Yves and the women of AVDC! You are doing a great job!

With love and gratitude,

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