Raise HOPE for Women in Eastern DRC (Congo)

by MamAfrica
Vetted
Mama Belvie, learning new skills and taking notes
Mama Belvie, learning new skills and taking notes

Its been a wonderful nine months for Mamafrica since our move to our new location in Bukavu, eastern DRC. We've settled in very well, and we had an exceptional remainder of 2015 for our sewing and vocational training program. Its been an exciting time of growth, and with the stability that we've built in the previous year we are looking forward to providing a number of scholarships for children of our artisans this Spring!

Our artisans are doing well, and there is a cultivated sense of extended family within our small offices. Many days, the gentle sound of women singing softly together as they sew may be heard. Its a peaceful place, a refuge of creative and focused activity.

One of our employees, Mama Belvie, was among those terribly impacted by and wounded by the war. She had been unable to go to school, had no diploma, no opportunity for employment, and was living with her family in a large building along with 70 others. One night durning the war, armed militia attacked that building with grenades, and Mama Belvie was among just seven to survive. Her wounds certainly run deep. And yet, Mama Belvie not only survives, she thrives. She actively seeks to learn more and to continue her growth. She is employed by Mamafrica full-time, and lives with her children and extended family in Bukavu. 

Mama Belvie is the reason Mamafrica exists. We are deeply proud to be providing stable, full-time employment, along with skills training and meals, in a happy and safe work environment. Our Operations Assistant, Jamilah Dawkins, will be on-site in Bukavu in March implementing new programming, and gathering more stories, updates, and photos to share with you. 

Thank you for your support of Mamafrica; your contribution is both meaningful and impactful. All donations go directly and entirely to School Fees and Scholarships for our artisans' little ones. Your generosity is directly creating opportunity, stability, and supporting family. For this, we thank you.

Sincerely,

Jean Bathke

Mamafrica artisan, Bukavu DRC
Mamafrica artisan, Bukavu DRC

Links:

Mamafrica artisan
Mamafrica artisan's little ones

We know that when women are educated, healthy and strong, the entire community echoes with direct benefit. By providing the training and resources, we are directly supporting and promoting leadership for women in their personal and professional lives. These women in turn will use their skills to educate and impact their children, directly changing the trajectory of their lives and their families.

This is our long-term goal at Mamafrica. We strive not only to impact and empower our artisans directly through stable employment in a happy, healthy atmosphere, but to spread benefit to their children as well. Our goal is to have every child in school. But for some of our Mamas, paying the school fees for all of her children may be financially out of reach. Some of our Mamas are raising kids on their own, some may have several little ones in school all at once. Paying the school fees for each and every child, every month, may be an ideal that is financially out of reach.

We'd like to change that. For $20, a child can go to school for a month. This is a potentially life-changing endeavor. We are establishing a new School Fees Program at Mamafrica, and we'd love for you to be a part of it. For $20 a month, a child of one of our Mamafrica artisans can go to school, and begin the way to a brighter future. 

We are thrilled about the progress we've been making at Mamafrica, and we are most proud of the feeling of Family that our team in Bukavu have cultivated. Our artisans are the lifeblood of all we do. We have some very strong hearts and and some very strong minds, working very hard on all fronts- from the sewing machines to operations. We're taking that vitality and extending it to the next generation. 

Thank you, from the entire team at Mamafrica, for your ongoing support and good wishes!

Sincerely,

Jean Bathke

Jean Bathke, Executive Director
Jean Bathke, Executive Director

I appreciate the respect that is given to every worker and the friendship between us” –Mama Alika, artisan

                  As many of you may know, this past year MamAfrica went through a transitional stage. Our former Executive Director, Ashley Nemiro, received her PhD from North Carolina State University and now is working with the International Rescue Committee in New York. Congratulations to Dr. Nemiro! And along with a new Executive Director we also have a completely new team of artisans. After spending the summer in Bukavu with our artisans, I wanted to take this time to showcase our new team to the world. 

                 In all honesty, our new Director should be the new face of the Energizer. For Jean, work is never over. Even when an order is completed and lights at the Bukavu office are turned off, she is somewhere crunching numbers or on hold with DHL. Furthermore, Bukavu is nine hours ahead of California so she would often have wake up at 5:30am to have weekly Skype calls with the team. If talking about baby bibs at 5:30am, before coffee, doesn’t constitute as dedication I don’t know what does. 

                 When I was originally told that we would have a new team I had so many mixed emotions. At first I was sad that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to meet the women that I was anxiously waiting to meet and had heard so much about from Ashley and Danielle. As the days inched towards my departure date the next wave of emotions hit me like a wrecking ball. I became so nervous that the women would not accept me; after all I was only a twenty-one year old student and I didn’t know how to sew to save my life. After I introduced myself in Kiswahili one of the women asked “Wewe ni mwalimu?”(Are you the teacher?). I responded “ Hapana, mimi ni mwanafunzi.” I pointed at our Sewing Director and sewing teacher and said “Wao ni walimu”. After a series of questions about schooling and my family I told them I studied Kiswahili and Lingala at my university.  They were more surprised that Lingala is taught at my university than my mediocre Kiswahili skills. I ended up becoming a mwalimu after all.

                  In the past MamAfrica offered literacy programs and held monthly healing arts programs. However, due to our transition phase we put such programs on a hiatus, but after a week or so of getting to know each of the artisans some of them expressed the desire to learn English and a little bit of Lingala. As to test the waters, we held English sessions for an hour or so during the lunch break twice or three times a week depending on workload. In return, they taught me several French phrases and more Congolese Kiswahili so that I could communicate easily with people.

                  The opportunity to work with the artisans and our directors was life changing. It was the hardest and greatest time of my life and I am honored and blessed to have been able to work with such an amazing group of people. The lessons that I have learned and the empowerment that I gained will transcend both time and space.

                  Once again, I would like to thank everyone and anyone that has and/or is supporting MamAfrica and our team. We are more than grateful. Without you all none of this would be possible. Our mamas and artisans are the reasons that we open our doors, but your support is what helps us keep our door open.

Jamilah

MamAfrica Team, or Family
MamAfrica Team, or Family

Links:

Hamjambo (Hello)! My name is Jamilah Dawkins and I am currently a rising senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, double-majoring in Global Health and Environment and African Studies from a small town in North Carolina known as Hamlet.  

This summer I will spend approximately eight weeks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo working as an intern with MamAfrica Designs. I began working as an intern with MamAfrica in late September and throughout the year I have represented the organization at different venues to sell the products, expand the presence on campus and community and to achieve the mission of MamAfrica. This summer I will extended my internship to continue to work on a project, Sauti ya Congo (Voices of Congo), which was started this past summer by another Carolina student, and to assistant in the development of the health initiative. Sauti ya Congo serve as a medium for the women to express their stories and concerns about various societal issues in the DRC and aspirations for themselves and their country.

Over the past couple of weeks I have been in my hometown patiently and anxiously waiting for the day I board the plane to return to the beautiful continent. My days have consisted of lots and lots of sleeping, reading and visiting family (in between my scheduled naps).Being the youngest and the only girl my mother and brothers were wary about my idea to travel to the DRC or what many media outlets call the “worst country to be a woman”. It took a lot of persuasion to convince my mother and brothers to support my decision. However, I was asked hundreds of questions ranging from will I live in a hut to why travel all the way around the world to serve and eradicate oppression when there are problem right here in America. I knew for sure that I would not be living in a hut and I am still working on the answer for the latter question. But one the most interesting questions that I was asked came from my academic advisor. She asked “where did your motivation and dedication come from?”

 I never thought about the origins of my motivation because I have just had a passion to serve. My desire to fight oppression came later in life. But after giving the question much thought I realized that the women in my family and community are my past, present, and future motivation. They, like women worldwide, unselfishly accept various roles without the desire for recognition and for this I understood and respected the strength of women from an early age. However, as I grew older I began to notice more and more contradictions of significance and importance of women and their contributions to society. Nevertheless, I admired women and I aspire to possess the same humility, dedication, and community.   This reason, among others, is why the mission and work of MamAfrica is important to not only me, but all women globally because it has a holistic and multidimensional approach to fostering the empowerment of women in DRC.

             I am beyond grateful and honored to be able to travel to Bukavu to work with MamAfrica because it will allow me to continue to spread and expand the mission of the organization of fostering change and eradicating gender inequality in the Democratic Republic of Congo and worldwide. I am looking forward to being empowered by a community of women with resilient determination and relentless dedication.

            Last but not least, on behalf of MamAfrica’s staff and artisans, I would like to thank you all for the constant love and support that you have given the organization and the cause.  We will be forever grateful. Thank you.

Sauti ya Congo (Voices of Congo) Written by Danielle Allyn

 

Uhuru is the Swahili word for freedom, and it is also often used to mean independence. When talking with our women artisans here at MamAfrica, the word uhuru resurfaced many times, both as a point of pride and as a long-term goal for each woman. MamAfrica artisan Nyassa reflects on her life before enrolling in MamAfrica’s sowing program, explaining that she was once dependent on friends and relatives. When Nyassa was younger, she and her family sustained a livelihood like many in eastern Congo: through farming. When the war prompted Nyassa to move to Bukavu for safety reasons, she began to adapt to town life, where cultivating crops was no longer a realistic option for subsistence. “Before MamAfrica, I was unskilled,” Nyassa says. “But now I am proud of the skills I learn at MamAfrica and the income that enables me to support my family.” Nyassa intends to continue improving her sewing skills. Uhuru is now not only a dream for Nyassa, but a reality, as she supports not only her own children but also a grandchild. “I want my children to have a better life,” Nyassa adds. “That is why I work hard to send them to school.”

The word uhuru also weighs heavily in the life of MamAfrica artisan Deodate. “I am proud that I am able to support my children through my own efforts. They are able to eat and to study through my work at MamAfrica, and they have a good life even though I do not have a husband.” Deodate hopes that her children will follow her example and become hardworking, productive members of society. “I think it is important to teach my children the value of hard work,” Deodate says. The older boys and girls in the family practice these values every day, as each spends time selling items in the market after school to earn some extra income. Deodate’s dream is to purchase her own home one day, so that the children she cherishes can have a place to call their own.

Colonized first by King Leopold II in the late 19th century and then by the Belgian state until the 1960s,uhuru is a term that is not lost on Congolese. The Congolese people are survivors of decades of brutal colonization and poor governance, and yet most still cling to the ideal of true independence. Surrounded by many messages that seem to denounce uhuru for women, MamAfrica artisans like Nyassa and Deodate are charting a new course for the future- and they are doing so with joy. “I thank God every day that I am alive, because many perished in the war,” Deodate says. “My favorite song is called ‘I Am Joyful’,” Nyassa offers cheerfully when I ask whether she likes to sing. Perhaps to emphasize her point, she breaks into song in the midst of our conversation. Uhuru and furaha (freedom and joy) to you from all of us here at MamAfrica!   

 

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Organization Information

MamAfrica

Location: Scottsdale, AZ - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.mamafricadesigns.com/​
Project Leader:
Jean Bathke
Soquel, California United States

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