Monthly Archives: August 2008

Vocational Training in the DRC – from Jon Thiele, Economic Development Specialist

My task here is to help the DRC Chapter build a program that will help the women earn a living. To do this, it is very important that I learn about the women and the facts of their daily life. These conversations are simultaneously encouraging and painful.

The women are so positive, so pleased with the improvements they’ve made in their lives. I ask what sort of improvement? “Now my kids eat twice a day instead of just once.”

The average income of a woman in our program is probably about sixty cents a day. Almost always this is earned in a “reselling business”– they buy charcoal or something in bulk somewhere and resell it in smaller quantities somewhere else. A day of this and she brings home sixty cents.

We’re trying to improve things. The WFW-DRC provides vocational training– practical classes in which the women learn job skills which they can use to earn a better income. The women in this picture are learning various tie-dying techniques, because colorful fabrics are in high demand here for women’s clothing.

We have classes in tailoring as well, and our program makes an effort to organize the women into groups that can work together to profitably fill a market need– this group of tie-dyers and that group of tailors open a small dressmaking business, that sort of thing.

It’s difficult. They have no business knowledge to speak of. We offer classes in basic business topics like selling and simple bookkeeping, but, as I mentioned earlier, most cannot read or write. A few do not even know numbers; they “count” money by looking at the color of the bills. We work very closing with the women for a year, and we are exploring graduate services, but there is so much to do, so much they need.

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Judithe Registre’s Journal: Behind the Scenes with 60 Minutes

In early November 2007:
Women for Women International received a call from CBS’s 60 Minutes notifying them that they would like to do a piece on the epidemic and effect of rape on women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They specifically wanted to visit the program office and speak to the some of the participants for first hand accounts of what they had seen and endured as women living in the DRC.

Saturday, November 10th:
Upon landing at Kavumu airport in Bukavu from Goma; the 60 Minutes crew came directly to the Women for Women program office to start filming. They shot inside the ceramic studio where participants were actively making tiles, as well as participants in rights awareness groups, literacy, cooking class, sponsorship payment, letter writing, etc.

Film CrewThey interviewed several participants in the program and heard them read letters from their sponsors. They talked with Judithe Registre from Women for Women International about what life is like for the women in the program, and what Women for Women International is doing to help.

Sunday November 11th:
The crew arrives in Walungu at 7:00 am. The road is slippery as it is another rainy morning followed by a rainy night.  They begin to interview women, one in particular stood out – her name was Lucienne. She spoke to Anderson Cooper about her life in the DR Congo and about her participation in the Women for Women program. She also spoke about her sponsor, Deborah Nicholson, and the letters they exchanged.

That night Judithe has dinner with the crew, including Anderson Cooper.  She recalls that “It was light and interesting; Anderson tells some funny stories about his travels and work. Also, she enjoyed hearing one of the cameramen describe how amazing it was to see Lucienne light up when she joined her group.

Monday November 12th:
The producer, Michael and Anderson Cooper leave in the morning, after filming last minute scenes in the morning at Panzi hospital with Dr. Mukwege. The associate producer is also following up with the letter translation process; from the writing/translation of the letters, to the packaging and shipment to Headquarters in order to get a sense of how the Sponsorship program works.Judith Registre

“We are overwhelmed with the sincerity and interest the crew took in our DR Congo Program and with the women and men who participate in it. We look forward to having our story told.”

Judithe Registre, Women for Women International

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Letters from the DRC – Economic Development Specialist

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Toward the end of a workshop about good nutrition it was time to distribute the letters from sponsors. Francoise got one; it was the fourth her sponsor had sent, and the other women were a bit jealous.

You might be surprised to learn how important your letters are to the women in the program. On several occasions women have shown me letters they’ve received, every one of them is a proud possession, a link to her caring and “supportive sister”– that’s a phrase they use here, supportive sister.

You letters are passed around and read over and over. And the women absolutely love to get photographs. Some carry the photos with them everywhere they go.

More than half of the women in the DRC program are illiterate. Most have had no schooling at all. WFW-DRC provides ten months of literacy classes which start with the sound of each letter and move through syllables and words to phrases and sentences. At the end of the program, most of the women can write a short letter, and for most of them the first thing they write is a letter to their supportive sister.

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Democratic Republic of the Congo Update – The Doll

The little doll in the picture was made by a woman with a horrific story.

Jeanette Mbango, a mother of five girls, was raped in 2002. As the second rapist stepped up, her husband broke free of his bonds and tried to help but was killed right in front of her. She was separated from her children for nine months until the local church reunited them. Then she lost her leg to a mortar shell. After a year in a hospital she joined WFW-DRC and began to recover.

Now she is settled in Bukavu and making a living sewing and selling these dolls. All of the dolls are of women in colorful clothes, in scenes from daily life. Remarkable to me, every one of the dolls has a smile on her face. Jeanette is a strong woman.

My work here is to help design activities that will enable the women in the program to earn an income. To do this, we match the economic opportunities in the local market to the skills and interests of the women in the program. This determines the focus of our vocational training program. In DRC, the sectors are sewing & tailoring, tie-dying fabric, soap making, growing vegetables, raising goats, and making ceramic floor tiles.

In addition to the training, the women save some of your sponsorship money to buy equipment they will need to operate their own small businesses. Often, the women will form groups like cooperatives to share expenses and to sell their products together.

As you know, WFWI works in poor countries and we focus our attention on the poorest of the poor, the socially excluded women who are victims of conflict. It’s a challenging task, and one very significant goal of our work is to help the women learn to support themselves. We’re showing some progress here in eastern DRC, but there’s a long way to go.

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Update from the DRC – from Jon Thiele, Economic Development Specialist

Walungu, DRC

I met with a group of graduates to ask them about the results of their work in our program.

Murista opened by talking about how she used the equipment and vocational training your sponsorship funds provided to make soap for sale in the local market. She was doing fairly well and made up to $20 in a good week. Then, on June 2, the interahamwe raided her village, looted everything, and burned her house to the ground. She’s an IDP now, and her connections to the women in her WfW group are her major source of support.

My colleagues were shocked to hear that she had returned to the village in the first place, having fled fighting not that long ago. “The chief said it was safe,” she replied.

Originally, the interahamwe were originally Hutu militia from Rwanda who’d crossed the border in 1996 after a Tutsi government returned to power. They used bases in eastern DRC to launch attacks in western Rwanda. Now, here in DRC, the government uses them as mercenaries to put down rebels; they are also little more than roving bands of criminals who live in the forest and sweep into villages to steal what they need, often rolling in a day after a major delivery of humantiarian aid.

They still plague the women in our program.

Before I came over here, Zainab and I talked about a long-term goal for our work in this area: bridging this divide, groups of women reaching across to each other to change this dreadful cycle of violence.

My assignment is a step in that direction. I am here to help the DRC staff build a program to help the women earn stable incomes so they can be strong members of their societies. Along with our training in the women’s rights program, this will help them contribute to decisions in their communities, to take leadership. We think there are opportunities for the women to engage in cross-border trade and WfWI can see a time, not far away, when the women go beyond this and organize meetings for reconciliation across this border.

Step by step, an effort to make stories like Murista’s a thing of the past.

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Updates from Rwanda – from Jon Thiele, Economic Development Specialist

Gitarama, Rwanda

It is graduation day in Gitarama. 120 very enthusiastic women from six groups are gathered around a large tree on the edge of this small town in southwest Rwanda. Non-stop singing and dancing, drums, your correspondent pulled from his chair to join in… well, the less said about a middle-aged man’s attempt at ethnic dance the better. More interesting is the story of Mukashyaka from the village of Shyogwe.

Several women told their stories– testifying, they called it– and all were well worth hearing, but Mukashyaka wanted to make very clear the change in her life over the past year. She passed around a couple of photos. The first was taken a month or two before she joined the program, and in it she kneels beside her five children. It is the image most of us have when we think of “the typical African village family”– barefoot kids in tattered clothes, weary expressions, dirt.

The second photo is from just a month ago, and the kids look they are setting off for just another day at the grade school in your neighborhood: neatly dressed in clean shorts & t-shirts, wearing shoes, hair neatly trimmed, and standing beside their obviously happy mother. Mukashyaka told us about her sense of accomplishment, about the relief at finally being able to do some good for her children, and about her determination to “never fall back to the old ways”.

Others testified to similar changes in their lives. “I look and feel so much better now”, “some old friends don’t even recognize me”. More singing, a few tears, and a lot of laughter.

I was asked to pass out the graduation certificates. These were the first diplomas any of the women had ever received, and it was an honor to be part of the very first recognition of their own personal achievment. It was getting late, and we had a long drive ahead of us, but as we drove off, no one else had gone home.

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On the road in Rwanda

It is a five hour drive from Kigali, through Rwanda’s Nyungwe National Park, to Cyangugu and the border with the DRC. It’s a decent road, winding through the hills, past tea plantations, and the almost endless forest. We also drove past a refugee camp, refugees from fighting in Burundi.

“When did they get here?” I asked.

“1975.”

I do not speak French well. I must have misunderstood. “1975? Over 30 years in a UN camp? Why don’t they go back or resettle somewhere?”

“They can’t.”

That was the whole answer. Seth doesn’t talk much, but that was still the whole answer. For large numbers of people in this region, hopeless is an unbreakable fact of life. Some of their children are growing up in that camp.

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