A year after founding the Maman Shujaa Media Center in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo, Neema Namadamu celebrates the growing success of this groundbreaking space for women to access technology and connect globally.
It's a miracle to me that we are talking right now. We are so far away from each other, and yet, here we are. I reached out and you reached back--and now we are together.
Just over a year ago we women of South Kivu, DRC first came online as a group, as the Maman Shujaa 'Hero Women,' to connect and share our stories with our sisters around the world. We created a media center to enable women in the Congo to get online and access the technology that has traditionally been denied them. The demand to go online became so great that we soon had two to a seat, and last month we had 1,250 women sharing the chairs in our media center. We are from all tribes, all backgrounds, all professions, all situations, and we are together! We are for one another, as women. And we are drawing men to our cause as well. Police, military, and government officials join us. Pastors, lawyers, doctors, and administrators are here. From university students to grandmothers, we are breathing life into everything around us.
Technology has transformed my life, and it is transforming the lives of my Congolese sisters. Because of you who are now listening to us, women who live in the worst place in the world to be a woman - women who have lived in silence all their lives - are finding their voice, telling their stories, and sharing their solutions for peace. Women are finding confidence they didn't know they had. They are finding answers that have been hidden within them all along. They are discovering that in them, in their hearts, in their thoughts, are the solutions for all that troubles Congo. With the power to create a future for themselves, their children, and their community, they are realizing they need to assert themselves. The answer needs to be present in the Congo. Peace needs to be present. Women need to be present.
Being present isn't always as easy as it sounds. Coming to the center is a hardship for most. After all, to society around us, we're 'just' women. All around us seems to be in our care; no matter our age or duties, women seem to have all the responsibility. So there's certainly no time to 'waste' at the center. But Stephanie comes twice a week from Mwenga, which is a four hour bus ride away. And there are many from the organization Femme et Enfant en Danger (FED) who walk a dozen kilometers several times a week from Ciriri. We have quite a few women with disabilities making their way here as well, and a number of pregnant women.
There are still obstacles to overcome once we get here. We have 60 women who are making progress in our simple digital literacy class, where they learn to use a computer; these women have yet to go online. It's all so intriguing and inviting, but can you imagine never having seen an automobile and then someone pulling up on what could barely be called a road, in a shiny new car, handing you the keys, and telling you it's yours to take for a drive? It can be a little daunting. But we few are the privileged. Only 1.7% of people in Congo have access to this technology. And what portion of that 1.7% do you suppose are women? We know that's not just the case in Congo, but throughout Africa, and many other developing countries of the world.
But through technology we're changing our world. Our online petition for a peace solution got over 100,000 signatures. And people are still signing in solidarity, even though the US and UN have both appointed special envoys to Congo. Women with disabilities who were once confined to the sidelines are now doing business online at Shakoshi, a sewing co-op. And girl leaders are going into rural communities to raise awareness about women's rights, touching on typically taboo subjects as only they can, touching hearts as only they can, and making a difference as only they can.
It's so amazing to be here, all of one heart and one mind. We've all come a very long way to find ourselves here, and the distance we've traveled is our bond. "Here" is full of promise, of friends, of intention. The air is clear here. We can see our future from here. We're all traveling together, circling the globe without a visa, without even a ticket. We show up at each other's place and share our thoughts, our moments, our lives. And we have to say, it's wonderful to be traveling the world with you.
Neema Namadamu has been an advocate for change since her teens when she hosted a weekly program on Congo's national radio. Neema served in her province's parliament and at the national level as technical adviser to Congo's Minister of Gender and Family. Since returning home from Kinshasa to eastern DRC in 2007, she has actively advocated for peace, for women, for persons with disabilities, and for the greatly marginalized indigenous peoples. With World Pulse's help, Neema opened a women's media center in July of last year to teach digital literacy and facilitate online advocacy for members, who have named themselves the Maman Shujaa, or Hero Women, of Congo. Follow Neema and the Maman Shujaa at www.namadamu.com and on Facebook.