Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Ben Affleck launches grassroots initiative in Eastern Congo

Last Friday I got an excited call from a friend who’d just seen Ben Affleck at Panzi Hospital in Bukavu. It was great to hear he was in town advocating for the Congolese people.

Today, a CNN article reported that Ben has launched an initiative to help community-based organizations in Eastern Congo. http://edition.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/africa/03/22/congo.affleck
I am delighted by his direction, because I know many local charities in Bukavu that are doing great work but not getting the attention, or the funds, that they deserve. Overshadowed by larger organizations and often ignored by the press, these small, grassroots agencies do much to maintain the fabric of society in Bukavu.

For example, the Kivu Sewing Workshop provides vocational training for women war survivors in Mumosho, a suburb of Bukavu. http://kivusewingworkshop.org/  It was founded by Amani Matabaro, a local boy whose job with the UN finances his humanitarian projects. Montecito Rotary Club in USA recently offered to sponsor a grant that will build capacity and bring jobs to the area through Amani’s organization.

Women training at Kivu Sewing Workshop.
Centre Ushindi is a grassroots agency in Bukavu which empowers women by providing vocational training for survivors of sexual violence, paying school fees for vulnerable children, and educating teen-age mothers. Although it is funded by an American non-profit, center policy is directed by the Congolese women who make up the board and by its members. http://empowercongowomen.org/

Being local and grassroots, Centre Ushindi’s development model is quite different from the international agencies in Bukavu, many of which are big businesses with offices worldwide. They view war survivors as "recipients", who have no say in program development or execution, nor power within the organization, which is funded and administered from abroad.

Because Centre Ushindi is dedicated to bringing peace to Congo by empowering women, they teach women survivors and young mothers how to become self-sufficient while in the program, first with vocational/entrepreneur training and microfinance, then by developing markets for their products. Compared to time-limited programs, this is a more challenging and time-consuming process, because the women remain members until they are back on their feet.

Women are learning advanced dressmaking at Ushindi Center.

If you believe as I do that empowering women is one way to bring peace to Congo, then we must ask, How can Congo be rebuilt if we continue to treat its women survivors as victims and recipients, always tragic, downtrodden, and incapable of directing their lives, and don't give credit to the local organizations which are dedicated to helping others? The solution to Congo's woes is not political or military; it lies in the strength of its women and its community-based organizations, which already do heroic work under very difficult circumstances. . . they just need recognition and support from outside.

So I say, Good work, Ben!!! Glad you're on board!

With love and gratitude,

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