Bukavu, DR Congo, June 21, 2010 || Today, our Bukavu team showcased the many ways our participants are generation an income, following their numeracy and business skills training. Together with our Income Generation Manager, Gilbert; translator, John; and driver, Roger; I set out to see the variety of ways women are putting into practice the vocational skills they learn throughout their training.
First on the itinerary was a stop at the Wavumu training farm where 607 women are learning new methods of cultivating the land. Gilbert explains that in this part of DRC, the women traditionally grow Cassava for the leaves and roots. This crop, however, can only be harvested once a year, and is sold cheaper at the market than other produce. Women for Women International teaches our participants how to cultivate crops that grow faster and are more economical. At Wavumu, the women are producing crops such as potatoes and carrots that are harvested two times a year and are in greater need at the market. Today, the participants are weeding the land and are making sure the soil is at level with the potatoes which are set to be harvested in August. Within this two hectare plot of land, the participants are also growing tomatoes, onions, eggplant, and cabbage. When asked what the biggest challenge is for the women farmers, I was told that many times, soldiers will steal their crops at the moment of harvest. A nearby field had almost half of its maize harvest taken. WfWI has recently employed two security guards to deter this behavior.
Close to the farm is the Wavumu Training Center where the participants attend their life-skills, numeracy and business skills training. Gilbert wanted to stop by to give their trainers income generation plans for the participants to complete. While there, we listened in on a class that was reviewing each of the business skills lessons and preparing to start their vocational skills training in July. The trainer was testing the women on terms and practical situations learned throughout their training such as how to greet a customer; where in the market to sell their products; and how to keep a log of expenses, savings, and credits. After class, Gilbert asked all the groups to gather in the courtyard for instruction on how to fill out their individual income generation plans with their trainers. This will be their roadmap for the next six months as they start training in the particular job they chose as their marketable skill. He underscored that each participant needs to know where they are and where they are going. They should update their plans as they progress and always keep their hearts and minds set on their goals. In six months time they will receive a certificate of graduation. This will symbolize all that they have learned throughout the year.
At the training site, I noticed three women making soap. They are part of a 20-woman cooperative and graduated three years ago. Gilbert has asked them to prepare their products at the training center so that the current participants can be motivated to work hard and one day make products to earn an income like them. A bit down the road we stopped into a small restaurant and store owned by a former participant. Two of her children were behind the counter and a baby strapped to her back. A man was also in the restaurant. I asked her if he was her husband. She laughed and said, no, he was her employee.
Following the training center, we visited the WfWI Ceramic Studio and Tile Production Center. Over 200 women are trained here in the production of traditional products such as cooking pots, water boilers, and planters; and construction products such as tiles. Our guide through the facility is a woman named Mariette who graduated from the first group trained in ceramics four years ago. She is now teaching her craft to the current participants. She said that her life before WfWI and her ceramic training was a big struggle. She could not feed or send her children to school. She used to travel very far from her home in search of pieces of charcoal. She can now do things that she never thought were possible like buy firewood, have enough food for her family, and pay for school fees for her children, even past primary education. As for her ceramics skills, she had no idea it was in her to create so many products. She loves ceramics and will never abandon the activity. She is now a grandmother and one of her own daughters is a current participant at WfWI.
Mariette introduced us to some of the women doing various jobs. A number of women were mixing the clay manually – a very difficult and time-consuming task. Gilbert said that they recently purchased machine mixers to this job to save the participants time and energy. Next we visited with some women making tiles in various shapes and sizes. Many of these tiles are being produced and will be purchased for the Women’s Opportunity Center in Kayonza, Rwanda – an effort that will generate income and be a symbol of peace among the women of the two countries. Finally, we spoke with participants who were making clay cooking pots. Each woman can make two pots per day. These take two weeks to dry, or up to one month in the rainy season. They are sold for $5USD each. These participants plan on expanding the ceramics program after graduation closer to where they live. Five women have come together to purchase and provide plots of land to be used for the activity. A kiln will be their next purchase and will be used by the women of the community to produce their wares.
Before ending the day, Gilbert had one more stop planned. He took me to a partner cooperative called ACOSYF that displays the final products of Women for Women International participants: soap from our soap makers; clay cooking pots and ceramic decorations from our ceramics participants; baskets and bags from our weavers; cloth flowers from our tailors; and other items. This partnership is an example of one of the final pieces to our income generation strategy where we help secure the market linkages for our participants and graduates so that their new skills and hard work literally pays off.
Liam Dall is the Senior Major Gifts Officer at Women for Women International. He traveled to Rwanda and DR Congo in June 2010.