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Congolese Women Stitching a Community Back Together

Posted: 09/05/2012 1:19 pm

As documented in a new report from the Enough Project, which ranks electronics firms on their progress in cleaning up their supply chains of conflict minerals, there are glimmers of hope for eastern Congo despite ongoing violence there, which is driven partly by conflict minerals.

When we visited Congo late last year, we met activist Amani Matabaro when we first arrived in Bukavu, South Kivu province. It was after a beautiful boat ride showcasing the lush shores of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. We were traveling with members of the Enough Project's Raise Hope for Congo campaign team so that we could meet the people of Congo for whom we have been advocating. We were met by Amani's warm smile and the reassuring hospitality of a man at home among his people.

Amani led us through his home town of Mumosho, about an hour's drive outside of Bukavu, where he started AFBEK, a program that is supported by Action Kivu. This community development organization helps the people of Mumosho, particularly women who are survivors of sexual violence or have lost family members, rebuild their lives and become economically self-sustaining. Action Kivu has received funding from U.S.-based charity organizations and Rotary clubs.

Action Kivu runs an 8-month sewing training program for women, who upon finishing, can begin to start working on their own making alterations and sewing clothing within their community. Action Kivu also provides women with micro-loans to support their small business and take care of themselves and their families, as Amani explains in this video:









That morning, the community was in turmoil because two days earlier, the local priest had been abducted by the FLDR, the Rwandan rebel group that operates in eastern Congo and continues to terrorize civilians. He was being held for ransom.

The women from the Action Kivu sewing center also came out to meet us and asked that we carry their message of triumph and hope back tothe U.S. What they were most looking forward to was the completion of Amani's ongoing project--the Peace Market.

Mumosho is a small village located about 16 miles from Bukavu, situated right on the border with Rwanda, which means it is 16 miles away from the nearest market. Therefore, the women of Mumosho were forced to walk for hours to purchase basic goods, including food, soap, and clothing. And during their trek through the forest, they were vulnerable to attacks from the roving militias, including the FDLR. As a result, many women simply did not make the journey for fear of being raped or shot, and the community in turn suffered.

Now, less than a year after we visited Mumosho and saw the beginnings of the Peace Market, it is built, complete with a roof to protect people from the rain, and a place of refuge and shelter for the community.

Amani is just one of many Congolese men, women, and children, who despite having survived devastating atrocities, are determined to live in a more peaceful environment. Amani and his work through Action Kivu is profiled in Raise Hope for Congo's new video series "I am Congo" that tells the stories of five Congolese people who are fiercely working to improve their communities. The violence, rape, and poverty in Congo is just one side of the story -- Amani is the other.

Since the construction of the Peace Market, Mumosho has seen resurgence in local commerce, and the women who participated in Amani's sewing program now have a market to sell their clothing and purchase goods for their family without fear. During our visit, Amani explained the importance of relationships and community, both of which have been shattered by the conflict. The Peace Market is an important step in rebuilding the Mumosho community.

Amani's devotion to his country is moving, and we were inspired to see a vision of how peace can come to Congo through leaders like Amani and communities like Mumosho who are willing to band together. Amidst the deadliest conflict in the world, Amani offers hope.

Robin Wright is an actor and activist, @RealRobinWright. JD Stier is the Enough Project's Raise Hope for Congo campaign manager, @JDStier
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