Bahati Valerie, co-founder and Executive Secretary of COFAPRI, tells of her delight that members have finished making their first batch of clothing:
I have been regularly going up and down the mountains of the eastern DR Congo, though there are lots of risks as most fighters who rape women are based there.
Naturally, this is not an easy task but because I know the people I am going to see, I get a strong internal motivation. I learned sewing and knitting skills in order to share them with these women in their villages.
Today I feel very honoured to have shared with the right people. I feel my efforts did not go vanished, did not go unnoticed.
The very first production of items by these women has given me real relief. The women have done wonderful work and I am sure they are going to do better and more in the days to come.
They have motivated me to do more for them, by helping them develop a sustainable lifestyle to show the future generations.
Women show clearly how happy and proud they are with the first products with their machines:
“We thank COFAPRI and all the people who have helped us to get these machines. We cannot forget our mother Bahati who taught us the first notions of sewing and knitting and she brought us a lot of materials. We shall never deceive them all as they are mending our broken hearts.
Now, we can sew, as you see these clothes here; we shall sell them to school-goers and we plan to make a deal with all the schools here so that we can be sewing uniforms for the children.
The people who get married will also come to us. Look, these clothes, how do you see them? Now we can do things with our hands.”
Bulonza Makego - rape survivor
“I cannot say something and forget all the people who helped us to do what we are doing today. I am shining in my heart and I say we are making big steps from day-to-day. Who could know we could sew as we are doing today?
Many women here could not do that before, but today, this is giving us pride and happiness. We feel we are doing something important and durable for our families.
As the world had ignored us when we were being raped, let us beat the bell and tell them we are here, we survived. They will see what we are doing with sewing machines here.
We want the world to remember we exist though they closed their eyes on us.
We tell the world they abandoned us in rape, but they should think of us as we survived, they should give us a hand of support now and it is from this that they can now do that. They have to tell our leaders to develop us and protect us; COFAPRI is not big [enough] to help all the women who are coming to seek help.”
Murhimanyi Chantal - rape survivor
“These clothes are beautiful and we want to make more, but our means are reduced.
We have learned sewing skills that are helpful to us and the community.
We want to have bigger and well equipped sewing and knitting centres that will remain a legacy to our children; we want something sustainable.
We thank everyone who has helped us achieve this great advancement.’
“I am now able to make shorts, skirts and shirts for my children. I feel very proud of this. Tomorrow, I will do more and I can sew my own clothes. This helps me very much in my family.
The only problem we have is that we need a stock of materials to use in sewing and knitting like yarns, scissors, practice papers and clothes, needles, more machines, etc. If we can have all these, more women and our daughters can learn a lot for the future.”
COFAPRI Coordinator, Mushagalusa Ezechiel, says that the sewing and knitting projects benefit the whole community:
”There are many things for which we will never forget COFAPRI; today, our wives, daughters, sisters, and mothers are able to sew and to knit, things they could not do before.
This will help our families – and us, of course, and I am sure more is still to come. Then we have to attract people to buy our products.”
Mugisho Ndabuli Theophile - Co-founder/Exec.Director, COFAPRI, explains the project:
Recently we have introduced the teaching of knitting skills to rural DR Congo women, too, which is also very popular in addition to sewing skills.
When families are unable to fund the schooling of children, we do our best to help them.
The Congolese Females Action for Promoting Rights and Development (COPFAPRI) was set up in 2009 with the aim of helping rural DR Congo women and girls who are victims of rape and domestic violence, as well as the children born of rape since they are vastly discriminated in their families.
This situation motivated COFAPRI’s Executive Secretary Valerie Bahati to learn sewing skills, in early 2013, with the aim of helping these women sustainably.
By sharing the skills with the women, it is intended that the women acquire such life skills so that they can create items to sell, and so generate income in order to be self-reliant and address poverty. From that time, we have been saving funds for purchasing sewing machines, in order to set up sewing centres where the women can meet – not only to learn the skills, but also rebuild their broken hearts due to rape and domestic violence.
The centres are also a place where women share and discuss issues regarding their lives and social situation. Here, they learn a lot from each other.
Helped by a Michigan Student
In August 2013, a Michigan student by the name of Olivia Mateso Mbala-Nkanga set up a fundraising platform for her 25th birthday, in order to raise funds to help COFAPRI women.
This fund, together with other donations from supporters, and our own savings, helped us to purchase four 'Singer' sewing machines, so that we could set up two centres, respectively in Munya and Kalango villages.
The centres are operational today and more women continue to learn sewing and knitting skills. We have one assistant to help them, who we pay, but an increasing number of women are asking to learn and COFAPRI is unable to train them all at once, so the women are divided into groups and take turns in coming to learn.
The women have other activities so they do not train everyday but twice a week only.
Now we have sewn clothes for children; they are the first products sewn by these women in their villages. Soon, they will be sewing clothes for adults, men and women.
The women are very thankful to any person who has thought about helping them, either financially, materially, or emotionally.
They say they want to sew a lot of high quality and affordable clothes so that they can have a wide market.
The latter is important – they have already been in touch with schools and local people so that, once they have got a bigger stock of their sewing and knitting products, they can sell them with no problem.
Here at COFAPRI, we will do everything we can to lift these women from the quagmire of poverty and underdevelopment and help them recover from the trauma of rape and domestic violence.
We want the people of good heart to join us in this mission for healing and empowerment.