COFAPRI members express gratitude for support that improves lives
By Bahati Valerie, Co-founder & Executive Secretary, COFAPRI. January 2015.
Laden with Gifts
On 26th December, 2014, I travelled back to the DR Congo to meet with the women and girl members of COFAPRI.
The rainy season made the journey extra difficult, with mud and slippery paths. However, I chose not to rest upon arrival, but joined the members in their meeting instead.
They seemed very pleased to see me again. I relayed messages from our supporters, and shared the beading skills I had learned for them.
My bag was overflowing with gifts, the FemPads for the women and girls made by our awesome friend, Sharon Multani-Colebrook (UK), and a portable DVD player sent by Rachel Butt, of Thare Machi Education (TME) in the UK - in order to play the DVDs previousl donated by TME.
In addition, there were funds received from friends around the world, who see the importance of helping the DR Congo rural women and girls, as well as their children. One of those kind individuals is Anne Seery (Australia), who has shown her committed support once again with generous donations, having previously also sent footballs to the children in the rural Congo. The funds had enabled me to purchase more much-needed items for the members.
New Technology Arrives in Nyangezi to Educate COFAPRI Members
The DVDs and portable DVD player were given to the members of COFAPRI by Thare Machi Education (TME), through Rachel Butt, TME's Chief Operating Officer.
The members were very thankful and we watched “Avoiding Ebola” together.
One coordinator was translating the DVD message to the audience, which was greatly appreciated.
They also watched some of the previous DVDs that TME had sent some time ago. They learned so much from them.
“These DVDs are very instructional; they teach us a lot of things and they are helpful in changing our lives.
In them, there are things we had been hearing only but as we can also see images, this opens our minds and so we better understand the situation and the context. We would like to be getting many more of them to help us learn a lot regarding the different diseases we often suffer here."
"These stories with their pictures are good teachers; now we can avoid some of these diseases as we are well informed.
We also thank very much that person who is sending us these videos and this tool to see them in.
May God bless her and her initiative in thinking of us. Thank her for us when you meet.”
FemPads Help to Empower
We received feminine pads for the women and girls from our awesome friend Sharon Multani-Colebrook, who is from the UK. Two parcels of them had arrived on two different occasions. I explained that Sharon is a wonderful lady, who is often thinking of ways to help them improve their hygienic conditions.
I also mentioned that Sharon sews the pads herself, and sends them all over the world to help women and girls in need.
I shared information about the proper use and care of the FemPads, as they can be washed, then properly dried in the sun, or ironed. (Irons, however, are a rarity as only one woman mentioned owning a charcoal iron.) They were delighted to hear that the bars of soap are to help them wash the pads.
They reacted to this message by saying:
“Wooow! This is really wonderful news.
Sharon is ingenious and we love her. We thank her for thinking of us.
Some of us have never seen these things [pads]. What we use here are just pieces of our cast-off clothes, and some use nothing when we are like that [in periods], being in those times we do not leave home because we fear… (You understand why)."
"We thank you for the explanations and they are very helpful.
We thank again from the bottom of our heart this generous lady... God bless her.
God bless you too; you always bring and teach us good things. You bring us new friends from all over the world, thank you.”
“I like these things [pads]; they are smart and I think we will be putting them in our bags when going to school and we can take them to the field because if those things [menstrual blood] come out and we are at school or in the field, we can use them [pads] and we become ok.
As they are portable and washable, this is something we like of them. These things [pads] will help us a lot; so we will not be staying home anymore once we have those things [periods] again.”
Their responses clearly convey that women and girls in rural DR Congo have always been instructed not to openly discuss sex-related topics. We are helping them overcome this tradition.
The women and girls were very happy to have the feminine items for their improved hygiene, and are hoping they receive more support for materials and training, so they can start sewing them for themselves. This would also enable them to sew and sell them to women and girls in the neighbouring villages. I assured them: I will inquire and keep them informed.
Tools to Help with Cultivation
The donations were received several days before I traveled to the DR Congo. We informed the members of this good news, in advance, and let them know it was up to them to decide how the funds should be used.
Heading the list were tools, such as hoes and machetes, to help them work their fields. When I reached Bukavu, I happily purchased these items, and also some bars of soap and treats for the children.
In Nyangezi, the news of donations was well received. The members thank all of the supporters who are helping them move forward by overcoming trauma. The different income-generating activities they are currently involved in breaks the barriers of underdevelopment. I shared this message:
“I think you remember Anne, the generous lady from Australia who one time sent balls to our children here. Again, she has thought of you here and I have her message for you [claps and cries of happiness].
There are also many other people who are thinking of you and they sent me to greet you and they dream of meeting you here one day.”
Everyone in the meeting room was pleased to hear this wonderful news and thanked those who are keeping them in their hearts and thoughts, without even knowing them. I immediately began to distribute the materials, and watched them collect hoes and machetes, bars of soap and FemPads, and DVDs with the portable DVD player.
The machetes and hoes were given to men and women, as both are involved in clearing the fields and daily cultivation activities, enabling them to have food and cash to serve the needs of their families. The tools will be used for community activities as well, as what they have now is not enough. Their joy was expressed in the following way:
“Anne, Anne.. this time we are out of words! You are the one who sent footballs to our children some years ago."
"Anne……God bless you with all your family. We could not believe this, how you are generous! We have been given soaps, machetes, hoes, etc., thanks to your donation.
You have shown us how much we are dear to you, how much you love us. We live miles away but you keep us in your heart. God bless your hands! Thank you for your support to us and to our children.”
Support for the Children
I wanted to meet with the children to inquire how they are doing in school, as we are supporting them with school fees and materials.
After I handed out the treats, the children shared that everything is going well at school and at home.
They are happy because of the support they are receiving now and, in addition, food, medical care, among other things would give them a feeling of being fully supported.
Since the organization has no actual budget for that type of support, or the means to intervene in these areas, our actions are limited. For the children, getting school sponsorship from COFAPRI is a good fortune to be cherished.
“In the past I was going to school but in very bad conditions: I had no note books and I would write on sheets of paper.
Sometimes I could borrow pens and pencils from my colleagues who, sometimes, would insult me, but now I have my own complete materials that I use in class."
"We have somehow been blessed to have this caring organization in our area. We are going to do everything we can to show you we are happy with your support to our schooling.”
Sponsorship for Sylvie!
We now have our very first overseas sponsor for one of the COFAPRI children.
Liz Layton in the UK is sponsoring the education of Sylvie, a 12-year-old whose mother was raped. Sylvie's widowed mother is caring for her single-handedly. The mother was raped during the war and Sylvie was born in 2002. She has no father; he was killed before her mother was raped. Sylvie has four siblings.
I met Sylvie and her mother. Sylvie's mother was very much pleased to meet me and expressed her gratitude of seeing her daughter being sponsored by a person who does not know them, while those who know them do nothing even if they have means. Sylvie's mother is a member of COFAPRI.
Mutual Support Helps with Trauma Recovery
I had discussions with several coordinators about the various activities they are involved in these days.
Community work was another issue I was interested in hearing more about.
The members of the organization are helping one another, and this is making them feel more united. After their work, they meet to share life experience. It is here that they learn from one another, are motivated and develop an understanding that their suffering does not have to mean the end of their lives.
The experience of one member can assist many in recovering from trauma.
This work shows everyone participating that hiding the truth of the violence they have endured only leads to self-destruction. Openly sharing it with others, in a supportive environment, is helpful to the community and the speaker as well, as they feel somewhat released from the heavy burden they have been carrying inside.
“As now we are meeting on daily basis, we are gaining a lot.
The activities we do in common help our families and community to change. This has lots of advantages at both personal and community levels.
We listen to others’ stories and this helps us to stop killing ourselves by not telling what we have gone through.
If you say it to others, they can advise you but if you do not, they will be thinking you are ok while you are dying inside.
We learn from others; their suffering can be our way of strengthening our morality as we understand we are not the only ones living hardship. So for me, this community work is helpful to all of us.”
The members said they learn and gain a lot in this practice:
“Yes, we do not only meet because we belong to the same family organization, but importantly we acquire a lot of knowledge from this. We better understand how people suffer differently and how we can overcome this by confiding to others who are in the same situation.
When our mates know what we go through, then they can see how to help. We also help one another and this is another way of becoming more united.
We feel the problem of our neigbour is ours; so all of us need to seek solution.
If one of us is hurt either morally or physically, or is happy, we all feel it very much.
The happiness or suffering of one of us should affect each of us in a way or another as we are more humane in our team than when separate.”
The organization is thankful for those members who meet on a weekly basis to give support to one another.
Also, the men and boys are helping the widowed and older women to rebuild their huts that have been damaged.
COFAPRI is very pleased with all who are helping us move forward as we reach out to the many women, girls and children in their rural hideouts. We are so grateful, as your assistance is truly supportive and welcome!