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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