Mike visits Congo five or six times a year whilst I only manage to get there once or twice each year. So I am very sad on this occasion that I shall not witness the sheer joy of all concerned when they hear the news. I can picture the scene however as I know the women will turn out in their best Sunday clothes as a mark of respect to their visitors, they will sing and dance and zaghareet because Mike and Arnold promised to come back and they have.
I’d like to give you a little background information about our project and explain some of the issues we will have to deal with as we progress.
Congo has had a violent and turbulent history for centuries and in recent years the Kivu region we are working in has been subject to the most horrendous atrocities by rebel militias some of whom are still hiding in the hills only a few miles from Sake where we will be setting up our workshop.
He has decided that it is best to have the sewing workshop in the centre of town, rather than in the rural surroundings where the training workshop is, as it offers better security and will take advantage of Sake's trading crossroads.
In the months to come we will be taking the advice of Arnold who is an experienced human rights worker specialising in supporting the victims of gender based violence, rape, torture and slavery – yes there is still slavery going on in Congo. We will also be listening to the village elders and our own Congolese team from Ensemble Pour La Difference.
There are many taboos in Congo and Mike and I have already learned that it is socially unacceptable in Congo for us to single out any one person, for example, using a photograph depicting an individual for a poster or on a business card would be taboo in Congo. Equally if we show a photograph and imply that that woman has been raped she would be immediately ostracised should she be recognised. So please understand why we can’t introduce you to some of our ladies or tell you all of their stories.
If they are willing to share then of course we will but many are just trying to forget – if you missed this short video then it introduces a young woman Lumulu Shakwa who felt it was important to tell you what a sewing workshop will mean for her:
I could tell you all about the horrors that have occurred. I could give you graphic descriptions that would give you nightmares for the rest of your life. I have heard stories which leave me completely unable to comprehend the mentality of some to conjure up the most twisted sick things you could do to a woman – but this is not what the Congolese people want. They have suffered enough and want to leave this past behind and move forward to a better life.
So I won’t be dwelling on the past even though that is what tends to get people to open their wallets.
We have so far raised enough money to actually start the project but do need to continue our efforts to get to the ultimate goal of $15,000 which will enable us to keep the workshop running in it’s first year and will also mean we can buy extra machines, especially as we now have even more women who have successfully completed their training.
On behalf of our women in Sake I would like to thank you all once again for making this happen and would ask you to keep spreading the word and encouraging others to do whatever they can to help us raise the rest of the money required. We have a long, tough road ahead so please be patient and I’ll be in touch later in the year when we have some more news for you but in the meantime please feel free to forward this update to anyone you think may be interested in helping.
Contraception on Idjwi
In addition to the Sewing Workshop Sister to Sister has a second project so I would also like to thank those of you who have already sponsored a sister on the island of Idjwi in the middle of the stunningly scenic Lake Kivu.
With the personal support of Carolena Nericcio-Bohlman, founder of ATS® belly dance, we are working with a group of women to help provide contraceptive implants for the poorest and most vulnerable women on the island.
It is common for a woman to have 8 or more children, for some that means giving birth every year. She is often exhausted because in addition she has to perform hard manual labour to survive.
Esperance, the wife of the Mwami (regional king), and her aide Henriette have succeeded in educating 4,560 women in family planning. These women now want to take control of their lives and their bodies and either stop having more children altogether or would like to increase the spacing between children to allow their bodies time to recover before falling pregnant again. Their preferred option is a contraceptive implant protecting them for either 3 or 5 years.
The cost of the implant is about the price of a couple of cups of coffee - £5 ($7) including insertion by trained staff using sterile equipment in one of 3 medical clinics on the island. The irony is that many of our women are coffee farmers and just don’t make enough money to save to buy an implant so we are inviting the world-wide dance community (not just ATS) to ask if you would partner one or more women and buy their implant for them
So far we have provided $1,000 which has given the clinic buying power - it means that they can place a bigger order and get a discount. Just over 150 women have now received an implant as a result of your generosity and sponsorship - this is direct action with every single penny of your donations going directly into the projects as Mike and I cover all our own costs.
If you would like to partner a woman on Idjwi you can gift via the DONATE button at the bottom of the page on my website
Very very many thanks for taking the time to read this and for any help you are able to give in spreading the word and for any support you are able to give to these projects - it really is very much appreciated.