2010 - A Year of Focus and Growth

Young women learn to sew at Ushindi Center.
This truly has been a wonderful year for Empower Congo Women! During 2010, we continued to provide long-term, sustainable solutions--such as vocational training, education and trauma healing--which enable Congolese women to rebuild their lives and prosper.

We began 2010 by expanding Ushindi Center, so there are now several rooms devoted to  training as well as an office and storage.  Doing this allowed us space to enroll more women in the program, giving 28 more families the opportunity for a better life. Ranging in age from 15-19 years, these young women are all war survivors-- some have babies, others attend school, few have parents, yet their enthusiasm for learning is heart warming. These girls are the future of Congo. To support their growth, DONATE NOW:
On March 18th, I joined the Ushindi women to march in solidarity with women  worldwide for the International Women’s Day March. It poured that day, but we  marched on in the rain with  2000 other soaked women from eastern Congo. What a trip!

 Check out the gathering clouds in background.
In April, my wonderful friends Margaret Johnson and Betty Merner arrived in Bukavu from Rhode Island with suitcases bursting with fabric, stuffing and sewing notions, ready to make dolls to sell at Waldorf Schools. Both school teachers, they quickly organized  the women who learned to cut, sew, stuff, and hand stitch doll parts-- in only two weeks  they completed 100 perfect Waldorf dolls! Latest word from Betty is that all the dolls are sold and Waldorf parents are asking for more . . . now to get them from Bukavu to the US!
 The doll-making assembly line
While Margaret and Betty were there, we trekked the Kahuzi Biega National Park to see the Lowland Gorillas. It was an amazing experience!  Impressed by the poverty of a pygmy village nearby, my friends took action to help the tribe buy its own land by creating the Pygmy Land Project.  Working under the auspices of Empower Congo Women, they plan to raise $50,000, so the pygmies will have a place to call home.
 The pygmies of Kahuzi Biega need a place to call home.
Rotary International played a big role in our lives this year.  As member of the International Service Committee of Rotary Club of Montecito, I was able to speak to 30 other clubs about the urgent need to address the dire situation in eastern Congo. 
Rotary Club of Montecito International Service Committee, 2010
Rotary member's generous support provided vocational training and equipment for women and girls survivors of sexual violence at Ushindi Center in Bukavu and the Kivu Sewing Workshop in Mumosho, a groupment of villages south of Bukavu. Mumosho was also recipient of Rotary funding that improved Burhembo Primary School, bought goats for 30 families, and outfitted a demonstration farm that teaches environmentally sound farming methods.
 Burhembo Primary School, Mumosho
I was honored to receive the District 5240 Direct Service Award from Rotary International this year, as well as to be named a Paul Harris Fellow for my international service. Ushindi Center was honored by the visit of District 5190 Governor, Maria Marceline, who although District Governor of 10 countries made a special trip to Ushindi Center in support of women worldwide. 

Exciting news is that Empower Congo Women now has a formal Board of Directors at the helm. Named in November, the BOD is comprised of myself, Lisa Harrington, Charlie Dawson, Vera Dudley, and Seira Salemon. Learn more about this remarkably talented team  at       http://empowercongowomen.org/about.php

I am very happy that we were able to sponsor 126 children in school this year, which means we saved 126 children from becoming rebels, bandits and prostitutes—at least for one year! Your continuing support of Empower Congo Women's Educational Fund holds the promise of a better future for these children for years to come. Please DONATE NOW!  
The women and girl participants at Ushindi Center will be graduating this spring, so that  other women survivors can have the opportunity to  rebuild their lives.  All graduates are being prepared and tested by a master tailor to ensure that their dressmaking skills can support them. Upon graduation each woman will be given a gift "kit" to make a living.  Each "kit" costs $150 and consists of a treadle sewing machine with stand, fabric, notions, and oil to keep the machine running well. We have 2 kits donated now and need 43 more! Won't you please help these women get off to a good start by donating a Graduation Kit. 
Angeline is the single mother of 6 children. Her husband was killed several years ago.

As the year draws to an end, I want to thank you all for your continuing support of Empower Congo Women. We are a grassroots organization working to rebuild the fabric of society in eastern Congo. I believe more than ever that many people giving a bit of what they have, no matter how small the contribution, can move mountains! So this is your chance to make the world a better place-- one woman, one family at a time. Be part of our grassroots movement where every dollar counts, and every dollar is accounted for! To quote Mahatma Gandhi, Be the change you want to see in the world.

With Love and Gratitude and Best Wishes for a Prosperous and very happy New Year,

Victoria Bentley