Teach 4200 women in the Congo (DRC) basic literacy

by Women for Women International

Entry 1

WfWI-DRC has the largest program in the Women for Women International network, serving over 7,000 women this year. Looking at a map of the country at large, the areas in which we work seem rather close in vicinity, especially relative to the size of the country (nearly the same landmass as Western Europe). However, looking at the prominently placed map of DRC in the Bukavu headquarters, it is clear that the communities WfWI-DRC serve are nowhere near each other; from North to South, Goma, Bukavu, Baraka, and Uvira are hours away from each other. It is a 13 hour drive, north to south. Unfortunately for me, it means that my time in the country will be primarily limited to Bukavu. Luckily for me, the training staff from all the sub-offices are here for the Training of Trainers (ToT).

The ToT’s purpose is to give an in-depth orientation to the newly deepened Women’s World Manual Curriculum, help the Renewing Women’s Life Skills trainers improve their facilitation skills, and most importantly help them solve problems so they can more effectively serve the women participants. I already knew that the DRC training crew have significant challenges, but I also know that they are uniquely placed to have a great impact on the women we serve. Having worked on the curriculum revision for two years as WfWI Program Coordinator in DC, I am very excited and happy to be here.

This is also a unique opportunity for the trainers; such great distances mean that they have little opportunity to interact, share experiences, and focus exclusively on their training techniques. They seem especially excited that Nina and I are here to focus on their important work. On the first day of training, it seems quite a lot like the first day of “school”; the ReneWLS trainers stick with the people they know. The Bukavu group sits together, the Goma group sits together, and the Baraka/Uvira group sit together. I know they are excited, but they also seem nervous. This is not surprising; having worked on the revised curriculum for a long time myself, I know that the new manual is more than double the size of the original, which makes it imposing before you even open the book. But, as lead training consultant Nina Nayar says as she introduces the curriculum, we have complete confidence in the training staff. We know they can master the new material. All that is really new is the methodology, and I am more than confident that the trainers can learn from each other and teach Nina and I things as well.

Nina introduces herself, and then gives me the floor. I tell the trainers about my work with WfWI, and I also tell them that I am a first generation American whose parents are from Nigeria and Ghana. This is my first trip to Africa since I was a child. This brings lots of smiles and applause to the room.

Then the 37 trainers, plus office and sub-office staff introduce themselves. The youngest trainer is 22 – the oldest trainers playfully decline to give their age. The trainers are young, mature, married, widowed, divorced, single, and have training in many different fields. There are trained teachers, nurses, lawyers, and agronomists in the training staff. Also present is Honorata, the prime example of WfWI successes, is present among the Baraka group of trainers. As we finish introducing ourselves and begin dividing up sessions and exercises to practice, I am certain that WfWI-DRC has the best trainers to be had in the country. I am excited to see what they make of the new material. Entry 2

This afternoon, the trainers (or formatrice, in the local French) discuss their favorite sessions and least favorite sessions to deliver. We know the sessions that the participants tend to enjoy most from their evaluation forms (women in the economy is the overwhelming favorite), so it is interesting to hear what the trainers have to say.

Most trainers enjoy delivering the health and wellness sessions. It can be amazing how little the women we serve know about their bodies and basic things like basic hygiene and nutrition. Their poverty makes it difficult to effectively manage their health. When you live in a mud hut with a thatched roof, no indoor plumbing, and no electricity, how healthy can we reasonably expect our program participants to be? It isn’t surprising that the trainers enjoy delivering this module. Its impact is immediate and visible, and makes the trainers feel good about their jobs.

Further discussion reveals that there is a split on the Stress, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, and Stress Management session. Many trainers enjoy delivering this session because they know that their participants suffer from varying degrees of stress. All of our women face stress from being poverty-stricken in their daily lives. Then there is the stress that comes from difficult family situations; many of our participants suffer from domestic violence. Finally, there is the overwhelming stress that comes from the unstable security environment. Many participants are displaced, living in IDP camps, or are returnees who have to rebuild their lives from scratch. They have lost family in the conflict. Many have been raped or otherwise exploited as their communities have been destroyed. Several of our trainers, including the very vocal Mai (from Bukavu) and Josephine (from Goma), enjoy delivering the Stress and Stress Management session because they are well aware of how desperately their women are in need of relief.

Others disagree, and it is interesting that they dislike the Stress and Stress Management topics for the same reasons that their fellow trainers enjoy it. Denise, one of our Bukavu trainers, says that her participants are so traumatized by the conflict that they cannot handle this session. They start weeping in class, and Denise is often at a loss for how best to comfort them. Marie Claire, another Bukavu trainer, agrees. The unstable environment affects all the women, and there is unfortunately no end in sight.

Mai adds to the discussion. She enjoys delivering the stress session, but she dislikes the sessions on women and politics. She says that this is because she, as well as the women she trains, blame Congo’s local and national politicians for their poverty and suffering. She isn’t wrong. I’ve only been here a few days, but I can already see that there is little infrastructure and even fewer facilities.

Mai goes on to say that there is only one trained psychologist in the Bukavu area. How can one psychologist provide for thousands of women who are in such great need of counseling? She understands her colleague’s frustrations; there is only so much that our trainers can do for their women.

As it turns out, Mai was a trained HIV / AIDS counselor during her former career as a nurse. She suggests that the trainers with a background in health receive additional training in trauma counseling to help our own WfWI participants with their unique needs. Nina and I ask how many trainers think this would help their women in need, as well as help them deliver the stress sessions more effectively. All 37 trainers raise their hands. Mai and Josephine make it their personal mission to hammer this point home to Nina and I for the rest of the week. I understand, and hope that we can strengthen trainer capacity in this regard. No one can deny that they in DRC, trauma healing is vital to out success and to our women’s recovery from the conflict.

Francine Francine Mawazo M'Cibwanda is a20-year-old married woman. She has so far received 9 letters from her sponsor and has sent 4 letters. The letters from my sponsor are the most precious object I keep, Francine said. They give me comfort, insight, and hope for life. I have discovered that my sister and I are sharing the same challenges, actually in the emotional life.

My sponsor wrote to me that she is married for about 4 years, but she has never had any child either. My contribution as she wrote to me about that, I feel that I should pray for her as she also needs prayers for a child. Note that Francine had delivered 3 times under cesarean, but all her children die before she leaves the maternity. Prior joining the program she could felt miserable, without any hope and joy. The fact that my sister support me while going to a similar situation is a breath of life. On top of that the training in the topic “stress management” which align with the advice from my sister have been a lot of support for me to regain hope of life and see life positively as my sister does. As I have been the most privileged in my group to receive many letters from my sister, my group mates envy her, they wished to have such a deep connection with their sisters too. I wrote 4 letters only because we must write every quarter and because I put all my thought summarized in one letter so that it remains interesting to my sister.

Following the fact that I recover joy, and contribute to the income of my family, my husband has become supportive and does not see the loss we had by not having children. Actually, I work on a renting farm with her husband, in which they grow cassava, potatoes and amaranths. She uses her sponsorship funds to buy fertilizer for her farm and satisfy some other primary needs. My dream is soon to buy that land for further use.

I was trainer in soap making which will be the second source of income for me on top of the agriculture activities which are permanent needs in my community.

Leonie Leonie Biralo M’Mpango is a 42-year old rape survivor. She has received 3 letters from her sister and sponsors Amy and had sent 3 also. The letters have been for a great emotional support. Letters tell more because one could seat, take time, think about words to comfort and please one and for me this is what had been so emotional, to see that someone who does not know me can take time to write to me or my husband does not have even time to listen to my pain, worries, despair”, she said.

She gave birth to 11 children, but 5 died because of hard life conditions and ignorance. She has 3 boys and 3 girls. 2 boys and a girl are in school. She was raped twice in her house. The first time by 2 men, the second time 5 did. She got pregnant from the latter and gave birth to a baby boy Elie whom she is still feeding on breasts. Elie is 2 years old. She said she was in terrible grief and had permanent worries when she was pregnant because she only thought of death at delivery. But she delivered safely and felt a great relief. When she was raped the second time, her husband said she would no longer remain with a wife of the Hutu Interahamwe and that he would remain with his other 2 wives. Leonie was left in his misery starving with his other 5 children.

When a Women for Women team went for enrollment in Kalulu village, Leonie got enrolled in Orhaciyumya group. Since she got the training on women’s rights and that of Stress management, they washed her worries out, and she left her isolation to start sensitizing other women in her environment about women’s rights, and women building solidarity network for unity and development. She therefore became president of the solidarity group which they named “Abagwasinye” which means, people who are in mutual comfort. She said they did this to avoid women’s rights violation in their community, Kahave, but also to believe that women can be a comfort to others in such an safe environment.

She holds meetings and sometimes invites the Head of their county to attend the meetings so that he can know the kind of development they are doing. She said a woman who misses the meeting without sending an excuse, she is sent to work in a farm of a vulnerable other woman a day. They farm for other people and generate income for the group. They buy cloths which they share or food. She did animal husbandry for vocational skills training and she sells very small dried fish which other women come to buy at her place.

She hopes she will work hard in animal husbandry and agriculture to grant her children good education levels. Her 2 first sons said they wish to become nurses in town.

Once a participant in the Women for Women International program, Alice is now a literacy trainer with the DRC chapter. Born in Burundi, Alice was a long-time victim of tribal discrimination and, later, domestic violence at the hand of her husband. She was forced to flee with her sick baby boy to South Kivu in the DRC after a particularly violent beating by her husband. As refugees, Alice and her son were given no assistance and her son eventually died. She started as a participant with WfWI-DRC in March 2008 and excelled in her classes. Now, she teaches other women about domestic violence and was recently hired by WfWI-DRC as a literacy trainer. She now makes enough money to sustain herself and her daughter.

When you meet Alice Kiza Nahayo, you’ll find her full of glowing optimism. As a successful, joyful, and confident literacy trainer for Women for Women International-DRC, it’s hard to imagine the tragedies she has endured throughout her life. Yet Alice has had a long journey – she actually started out in the Women for Women International family as a participant. The depth of her personal triumph is apparent when she tells her story of survival from an orphan and victim of gender-based violence and rebirth as a loving mother and teacher.

Born in Burundi in 1968, Alice was orphaned in early childhood and raised under the harsh realities of a racist headmistress in an orphanage torn by Hutu and Tutsi tribal tensions. Brutal tribal conflicts govern the region where Alice, a Tutsi minority, grew up, and eventually lead to the horrifying Rwandan genocide of 1994. Alice experienced harsh discrimination in the orphanage that she is unable to describe to this day. She married as a young woman, eager to leave the hardships of her childhood behind, and became optimistic that she would finally feel at home in a place where she belonged. Alice was happy with her four children and felt that her life would be forever changed.

But after the birth of her fourth child, Alice’s husband began to beat and insult her daily. Her husband’s family mistreated her as well. One day, Alice’s husband beat her so badly that her right arm was broken; he set fire to her high school diploma, her prized possession and a symbol of her past achievements. With nowhere to turn, Alice escaped to Uvira, a city the province of South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). She fled with her youngest son, who was quite ill at the time and for whose safety she was also very concerned.

Although she was now safe from the violence and discrimination of her husband and his family, Alice had few options for survival upon arrival in Uvira. As refugees, she and her son were given no assistance. As a woman and a Tutsi, options for employment were difficult to come by for Alice. They were without food, shelter, and her son’s poor health condition was worsening by the day. Eventually he died and Alice buried him in their new home. She was devastated. She felt that there was nothing left for her. That’s when Women for Women International-DRC (WfWI-DRC) found Alice.

Alice began as a participant in the WfWI-DRC program in March 2008, receiving direct financial aid, rights awareness and vocational skills training and psychosocial support from other participants, trainers, and her sponsor. At first, Alice was shy, sickly, and incapable of sharing her experiences with the group. Over time, the warm and familial atmosphere shared by the women participants in the Women for Women program drew Alice out of her shell and allowed her to become more confident and more willing to speak about and overcome her past tragedies. Her favorite subject was that of women’s rights, which sparked her interests and allowed her to regain her self-esteem.

Alice’s new-found confidence gave her the courage to share her knowledge and empower other participants in the WfWI-DRC program. She began to teach the other women about the realities of domestic violence, herself a survivor of life-threatening beatings by her husband. She excelled in her vocational skills training in culinary arts. The program staff considered her to be one of the most dynamic members of her group, a fact confirmed when she was invited to train fellow women in the program. She is now a literacy trainer for other women in the WfWI-DRC program.

“I am very happy to have been socially integrated in the community of my refuge,” Alice said of her experience with Women for Women in Uvira. “I am able to earn an income to sustain myself and my daughter.” The women she trains with are oft heard to say that they hope to become like Alice one day. She has come such a long way from tribal discrimination in the orphanage, violence and humiliation at her husband’s hand, and extreme poverty and social exclusion as a refugee; her inner strength to overcome these many hardships is an inspiration. That she is now helping and inspiring other women to rebuild their lives is the ultimate testament to her strength and success.

Julienne is a successful soap-maker in Bukavu and works as a vocational skills trainer for Women for Women International-DRC. She is an internally displaced person, originally from Walungu territory, forced to move when violence from roving militias threatened her safety and that of her family. She joined the WfWI-DRC program as a participant in 2006 and since then has built a successful soap-making business that allows her to save $50 each month after covering her family’s expenses. She was recently hired by WfWI-DRC to train other program participants in soap-making. Everyone says that Julienne appears to have grown younger in the past three years.

Julienne is a 53-year-old mother of seven. She and her husband live in Bukavu with their two daughters and five sons. Since 2006, Julienne has worked within the Women for Women program to rebuild her life after being displaced due to violence in her home territory of Walungu. Today she works for Women for Women International-DRC (WfWI-DRC) as a vocational skills trainer in soap-making. Hers is a story of success and overcoming great obstacles to become the self-sufficient provider for her family she is today.

Julienne and her family are originally from a farming village in Walungu territory located south of Bukavu. Walungu and the surrounding South Kivu have been hit especially hard by violence, especially sexual violence against women, brought on by armed militias roving Eastern DRC. As violence and insecurity persisted, Julienne and her husband fled Walungu and moved to Bukavu. Unable to find work, her husband was forced to continue farming in his home village and travel between Walungu and Bukavu for his safety. This placed an enormous burden on Julienne. Times were hard and money was scarce. Julienne lived in fear for her husband’s life. She operated a small business selling onions, palm oil and peanuts at the Mulungulungu, Panzi market with a capital of only $5. She was able to maintain at least one meal per day, but the strain was great as she attempted to put all her children through school.

In February 2006, Julienne enrolled in the Women for Women International-DRC (WfWI-DRC) program where she received training in small business development. She learned the value of working as a team with her sisters in the WfWI-DRC program, who devised a scheme to invest $5 of their sponsorship funds in each other’s businesses, providing a lump-sum of $80 to each woman on rotation. This investment allowed her to build her small business and meet other household needs. She invested some of the money in a Culinary Arts training program, for which she received a Program Attendance Certificate with distinction as one of the best students in her class. She used the training to teach her daughter the culinary skills she learned, adding value to her home and investing in her daughter’s future.

After her first year with Women for Women, Julienne made the decision to abandon her small business to pursue a more economically-feasible option. Having received vocational skills training in soap-making to diversify her income generation, she reached out to a friend who helped her to find customers for her soap-making business. Eventually, Julienne secured the patronage of the Saint Etienne School which she now supplies twice a month with her soaps. She’s making $10 per sale which is enough to feed her family and send her kids to school.

Last year, a position opened up as a Soap-Making Trainer with WfWI-DRC. An experienced soap-maker who understood the value of working as a group with other Congolese women, Julienne was motivated to apply for the position and was hired by Women for Women in July 2008. Proud of her achievement, Julienne said, “I am gaining my life without a lot of difficulties; I have a salary which comes every month.”

Every month Julienne is able to put $50 into savings after covering all of her family’s needs. This has helped her purchase equipment to expand and improve her business. She is well-respected by her family and community. Julienne’s health has improved too – her self-confidence shines through her physical self. Her face appears to have grown younger in the past three years!

Viviane is a skills trainer for WfWI-DRC. She has been making soap since 2003, and a soap trainer for WfWI since 2005. In that time she has trained over 1,000 women many of whom have gone on to become teachers themselves or open successful businesses producing soap. Once forced to discontinue her education after working hard to get to university, Viviane has become a great success and single-handedly supports her six children, all of whom are in school, while continuing as a trainer and running her own soap-making business.

Viviane Mahongole Barhumvanya works with Women for Women International-DRC training women to make soap. Since 2005, Viviane has trained over 1,000 of WfWI-DRC’s participants to become skilled soap makers. Some of the women Viviane has trained have gone on to become trainers themselves. Many others have been hired by production companies or opened small businesses of their own producing and selling soap.

Viviane is a good teacher. She’s dedicated to the position as evidenced by her four-year long commitment to training WfWI-DRC participants. In addition to her training, Viviane is herself a skilled soap maker and runs a soap-making business out of her home, supplying soap to 50-some business groups.

Viviane pursued her education at a young age. She graduated from elementary school in Kivu and secondary school in Bukavu. She went on to university at the Rural Development College, but her financial situation unfortunately prevented her from finishing. Instead, Viviane pursued soap making to earn a stable income. Becoming a teacher has been a rewarding experience. A single mother of six children, she encourages her children and wants to provide them with the best education. Her oldest daughter is in her first year of university, and her second recently graduated from high school. Her younger children, three sons and one daughter, are all still in high school. Education for all her children, especially her daughters, is one of Viviane’s most important goals in life.

Over the years, Viviane’s dedication to her students and work as a trainer has earned her the utmost respect of her superiors, and she is rewarded with greater responsibility. “…[O]ur department leaders…involve me in the analysis and designing of training modules. My unit gives me additional tasks related to the management of the solidarity small cash box recently created in our department.” She’s proud of all that she has accomplished, and all that her students are accomplishing each day. This year, Viviane and twenty other women from WfWI-DRC were accepted into a business and management training program sponsored by Goldman Sachs and taught by instructors from the University of Dar es Salaam. Once forced to leave school when it became too expensive, Viviane is thrilled now that she will be able to continue her education as part of this program. She is proud of her achievements, and is just one more example of the positive, multiplied change that occurs when women are empowered to become business-women and teachers.


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Organization Information

Women for Women International

Location: Washington, DC - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.womenforwomen.org
Project Leader:
Lyndsay Booth
Online Marketing Coordinator
Washington, DC United States

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