By Bahati Valerie, Co-founder, COFAPRI. Photos by Bahati. ©
Purchasing Sewing Machines and Educational Materials
On Saturday, August 17th, 2013, I packed my bags and traveled to my homeland in DR Congo, in order to meet COFAPRI members. I crossed the border and I did not have time to rest as my agenda was overloaded with programmes and plans to open sewing centres, give school materials to children and also to meet new members of COFAPRI - girl survivors of rape who had recently joined the organisation.
The sewing centres will be based respectively at Kalango and Cibimbi villages.
As soon as I reached Bukavu, I immediately went to purchase four sewing machines and related items to start with. I had bought school materials for the children from Kigali where we live. I spent a night in Bukavu on Saturday - and on Sunday, at dawn, I started my trip.
I was with my two chldren because my husband and I strongly believe they should be trained to help the helpless since they are still very young. With this, they see what we are doing for the DR Congo rural women, girls, and small children.
[The sewing machines were transported by car and bus and then, for the last 5-6 kilometres, they were carried by the women because there are no roads.].
Day One: The First Sewing Centres
When I reached the first village, the women and children were waiting for me.
In the village, I opened the sewing centres and gave school materials to the children who were present (those who were not present met me in their villages).
They started their meeting as usual and I was there as a simple visitor. They knew I would come, but had no idea of the centre and the school materials. When these were introduced to them, they were surprised.
Let the words of the grassroots women convey their opinions to you here:
'We don’t know what to say; This is really a surprise. Our children will sing and dance for these materials. We also are thankful as we’ll be sewing and get some cash; others will learn sewing skills.’
‘COFAPRI, nothing like you; you are the best. Our lives are changing from day to day thanks to you. You gave us pigs, rabbits, guinea pigs, you teach us how to live harmoniously and today, you bring us sewing machines and books, pens, pencils, etc for our kids. Our joy is great. Thank you; thank you forever…’
‘The sewing centre will be great. This is a wonderful action you have done to us. We’ll never forget this; it will help me and everyone here. I will keep safely the machines because they will help all of us.’
‘With these machines, we will learn a lot of things, we can now gain money from the activities, we’ll make a lot of things. They will help us develop and become strong women. Now we have a good occupation; we’ll be busy and this is good.’
I did not stop here, but I continued my trip in the remote villages and met women and girls at their dwelling places and we exchanged different points.
I left the kids with their grandmother and I had to climb mountains and walk valleys in order to meet different members of COFAPRI in their respective villages.
These grassroots women confirmed that these sewing centers are an important way of addressing poverty.
They believed that reaching a grassroots woman via sewing centres is to reach the whole family, the community and the nation. The role a woman plays in every community should be reinforced; this is why these sewing centers will help the women and girls improve their lives. The majority of these rural women and girls are unable to gain even a dollar a day.
The sewing centers will help them address this challenge.
Day Two: School Materials and Fees for Children
Before, we had been supporting the school education of six young girls in primary school. With the donations of our friends and supporters, we supplied school materials and school fees for term one, for 23 children, boys and girls this time. (school year 2013/2014).
The children were given notebooks, pens (blue, red, green, black, and red), pencils, erasers and rulers. Some of them are born to raped mothers, others are victims of domestic violence, and some are orphans.
These categories of children are truly vulnerable as they had no support to get school education; they are extremely poor.
They thanked COFAPRI a lot for their efforts to help them.
Their emotions were high and you can read them [in the photos] on the calicos they were holding; moreover, they said:
‘My child will go to school like others. Thank you; thank you. You pay fees for my kid, give him school materials...I don’t know what to say. Thank you is not enough, but thanks a lot.’
'I will do my best in school and get good marks; thank you COFAPRI for the books, pens, erasers and ruler.
I was having problems before to get money to pay but now, Koko bwenene COFAPRI [thank you very much].
I say again and again, thanks a lot and God bless you.’
‘God continue to bless you. You are a good parent; I thank you for all these materials and the school fees you’ve paid for me. My joy is great today for this.’
Other children who received the materials expressed their joy in these words:
‘Thank you COFAPRI, now I can go to school. I will keep these books and pencils jealously. I will show them to my mother and she will be happy.’
‘God bless you and your husband. I can’t believe today I have books and pens and pencils…
I will go to school very happy.
The objects you gave me I will keep them clean, thank you.’
‘I will go to school like the children of our neighbour; they will no longer laugh at me that I only stay home. Now I will go to school, too. Thank you and God bless you.’
The news spread quickly over the villages and on the following day, I had more than 70 others who came for assistance, but all the materials were already given to the children whose parents are members of COFAPRI; charity begins at home.
But we promised them they can get something next time we come there.
Expressions of Gratitude for Being Given a Voice at the United Nations
Katerva Award presented to Safe World for Women at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, on July 2, 2013.I told the members present about the
They said they are very pleased with the awards.
They added that this helps to make their voice be heard all over the world.
Their words verbatim tell more:
‘We thank very much the women and men who helped in this achievement. Though we don’t know how this award looks like, we are sure it means something important for all of us. It indicates we are doing big steps – we are being heard and we are breaking violence on women.’
‘This gift is meaningful; it tells the world women can do something important. We thank every person, man or woman who has helped to get this. And Safe World for Women, thank you too for what you are doing for the women of the world. We hear about you thanks to the founders of COFAPRI; God bless you and you lift another reward next time.’
‘Now with this we are sure we are making our voice heard. We are happy with this; very happy as they talked about us here in the villages in the video shown at the UN Geneva. The world can now better understand we live in danger of war and traditions that discriminate us and our daughters.’
‘Katerva, Safe World for Women, and COFAPRI thank you. You are our pride, you are making us move from darkness and now we can see the light. This reward is for all women and our daughters and the men who are helping us to be heard.’
Emotional About Donations from Supporters Around the World
After I had told them about the financial support we got from our Facebook friends, they could not hide their emotions.
This is what the women stated:
‘We thank you, your husband for what you are doing for us here in these villages. We also thank Safe World for Women as they make us be known abroad our country. Thank you again and God bless you and us.
Now we have a centre that will be helping us in much.
Our children are also happy; you’ve given them pens, books, rulers, etc Thank you.’
‘Those people who help us are very good; they don’t know us, but now they help. God bless them. If COFAPRI was not there, they couldn’t know us; they couldn’t help us. We also thank Safe World for Women as they host COFAPRI; this is unity and good collaboration. Our children will now have notebooks to bring to school.
Outsiders are helping us and our government is just keeping silent. We thank you; God bless you all.’
‘You are a good family and our leaders should be informed of your existence. You are doing the job the government should do. You bring strong support to us and to our children today. Tell those people thank you and may God help them.
We want them to come here and we’ll show them how we suffer and how we are fighting poverty thanks to COFAPRI.’
Members Say Heartfelt Thanks to Young Supporter in the USA
And finally and before we separated, I also told them about Livi Mbala's support to their cause, which means that further funds will be arriving in the next few weeks.
On hearing this, they were very, very excited and they did not hide their feelings:
‘Look, this wonderful girl called Livi does not know us, but she’s doing what she can to get people to help us. We don’t know her and she does not know us but she is fighting for us. She is our good daughter; God bless her and her family. She is now doing that because COFAPRI connected with her. We are sure her funds will reach us when God wants.
Yoooooo diii (oh God), she is incredible. If I could see her I could kiss her. Tell her we love her and thank you to her. ’
‘If today all these people, like this extraordinary Livi and others, who do not know us want to help us, it means they love us.
This girl who is a good creature of God, oh my God, bless her where she is. These people are good and caring; they send us support and so they respond to our needs. Tell them thank you to them and thanks to you whom we see; you always sacrifice your family and your husband to be among us and today to bring us our donations. God bless you all. You are beautiful.’
‘Livi is an unbelievable girl. Can you imagine fighting for someone you have never seen? She trusts our leaders and us. We want her to come here and to show her what we are doing to help ourselves so that she can get more motivated to help us.’
Day Three: Meeting Rape Survivors
During the opening of the sewing centres, I was told there were new members. These were new members who were raped.
I gave them a rendez-vous and we met in the morning of the following day. They told me the context in which they were raped and I asked them if they would allow us to tell the world their stories and they openly green-lighted.
They said that since they have been coming to COFAPRI meetings they have been taught that hiding the truth about what has happened is not good. That this is stopping people who could help them overcome their physical and emotional wounds and that speaking out what they went through relieves the heart.
Their stories are here below:
Bulonza Makengo, age 14
‘Yes, I was raped by people I did not know.
I am 14 years old. I was in primary six. I came from school and my mother told me to go to collect wood in the forest when three men fell on me. It was given on Friday at 15 hours (DRC time). The men had guns and machetes each.
They told me not to worry and that they were going to ask me something. Two stayed far from me and one approached me, smiling and asking me my name. I told him my name and then he asked me if my home was far or near from where I was. I told him it was near.
Then he told me to remove the clothes, I started trembling and he noticed it. I told him to forgive me and he told me he had no time to lose.
Others who were standing came closer and said,‘You sleep there right now we want your….'[when she was telling me this she cried and bent her head on her knees].
After some time,……they took me and did that. When they finished, I could not walk properly, but I was scrawling and finally, I met two boys who helped me reach home.
When I reached home I told it to my mother and my brother. My brother told me it is me who wanted it and as he is now my father [the father had died] he expelled me from the family.
I was pregnant and now this is my kid who is now 9 months old.
Now I live at my friend who is also poor. I have nothing to feed this kid with, no clothes, no food, nothing at all. I am not even sure he’ll go to school when he grows.
I have stopped my studies to feed this kid. We live on ploughing for people who pay us little money [700 Congolese francs, this is less than 1 US$ a day] just for food and soap.’
Murhimanya Chantal, age 17
'I am 17 years old. I have no mother and no father. It was one day when four men came into my hut by breaking the door.
One of them met me on the bed and jumped on me. He told me that if I cry he will kill me. He had a very long knife and was in military uniform.
I heard others speaking but I could not recognize the language they were speaking. The one who met me on the bed tied me the arms and bandaged my mouth then he started…when he finished another came, the third and the last.
I felt I was dead.
I don’t know if I have no HIV/AIDS now. I got pregnancy and this is my daughter here with me; she is 4 years today and thank you as you have taken her in charge for studies and school materials.
The people in the village do not like me and my daughter. Now, I have no job, no studies, but the sewing centre will be very helpful to us.’
Day Four: Venturing to More Remote Villages
My agenda was overloaded, but I could not forget the other grassroots women in their respective villages. We believe being close to them gives them support.
This shows them they are not alone and that there are other people who think of them and their plights.
I had to meet first the coordinators who briefed me on the situation on the ground. Then I went to different villages to meet the women and children. We discussed different points regarding development and human rights.
We did not forget to talk about the steps the organisation has made so far.
[In the more remote villages, Bahati was without cell-phone connection or electricity and was unable to take photos].