By Bahati Valerie, Co-founder & Executive Secretary, COFAPRI. January 2015.
Sewing and Knitting Skills Projects
On 26th December, 2014, I made my way to the DR Congo to meet with the women and girl members of COFAPRI.
I was keen to see the progress being made by the women involved in COFAPRI's small business programmes.
The sewing and knitting skills projects were initiated by our organization in August, 2013.
The women and girls being trained are those who are victims of rape, and those facing discrimination by their families and homes due to rape.
They are many in number, and continue to increase.
“When we started these activities, we were only 30 women and girls and we were put in teams and in each team there were five persons in six teams.
Today, we are very many who need to learn these skills; many more are still coming.
The means and tools we are using are not really enough as we have no money to buy everything, but the organization is paying for the trainer for us.
We still need more machines, tools to use and more trainers.
Some of those who were trained before are helping but they are still learning, too.”
Grassroots Business Programme Unites Women
In 2014, through an online programme, an MBA team from the Kelley School of Business in Indiana, USA, chose COFAPRI to help develop a pilot study for training women to operate small businesses, grassroots at the community level.
At the end of the training, the MBA team decided to assist the women in starting small businesses. It is greatly appreciated.
The coordinators reported that things are going well.
The women and girls are very happy with their sewing activities and small business programme, despite the fact that they lack some of the necessary materials. More women and girls want to join the program, but again, are prohibited by the lack of enough trainers and supplies.
“Our sisters, mothers and wives are now sewing and all of them are happy with it. They are very thankful to be involved in such activities as they help them learn helpful skills.
While sewing, they also take time to exchange on the different issues pertaining to the violence they went through and those they are still facing in their families and together they discuss ways to deal with this harmoniously.
Through sewing, they are becoming more and more united toward a better future.
They also gain something as they sew: some are now making a living, thanks to selling their products.
They are sewing, knitting, and today they were introduced to beading activities.
All these activities are very helpful to them and so they will get a way of rebuilding their lives.”
Business Programme Expanding Through Generosity of Members
Each woman began the programme with 50 US$. The women have chosen to contribute 5 US$ every month to a central 'pot' of funds, and once another 50 dollars has accumulated, they give it to another member, and so on. So that, in the long run, each member will be involved in her own small business.
“Since I have been earning this money I see things are changing positively in my life. My family can now enjoy things we were not enjoying before.
I think if we can be using this money well we can go far. If we help other members, after a long period all of us can develop.
This can give more motivation to those who help us. But if we do not use it well, we’ll have discouraged those who wish to help us.”
Diversity of Small Businesses
COFAPRI is training more than 60 DR Congo rural women and girls, victims of rape and domestic violence, in sewing skills. These women are grouped in teams of five and under the training of a trainer we pay on monthly basis.
In addition, many women have micro-businesses involving food production.
And on this recent trip, I taught beading skills to some of the women - which I learnt myself in November, so that I can pass on the skills.
With more financial support all interested women can become involved in the COFAPRI business programmes, and have the opportunity of stepping out of poverty and healing from the trauma.
Joining and supporting us in these endeavors would be very helpful for these women.