Women of the Congo Rebuild Their Community One Trade at a Time

This past year, 30 women graduated receiving a sewing machine, fabric and the skills to start their own business in one of the most economically impoverished countries in the world. The Ushindi Center’s vocational training program is one of several projects started in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to empower women and rebuild communities. DRC women are finally given the supplies to overcome the worst of odds in the worst of conditions.

For sixteen years, two civilian wars have raged over the world’s richest country in mineral resources. Although the war officially ended in 2003, corrupt leaders and the international demand for “conflict metals” fuel daily terrorism leaving women with nowhere to turn.  A staggering 70 percent of Congolese women are survivors of sexual assault and a continued 47,000 people die each month from preventable disease. It is said racial tensions started the war, but greed now drives the violence.

Local organization ABFEK in the eastern Congo gives health care, consultation care and vocational training for traumatized women who can only rely on a destroyed national health care system.  Women are rebuilding their lives by learning to sew, sustainable agriculture, to make soap, and by request, the art of hairdressing. By creating economic stability for themselves and their family, these women can stop the cycle of violence and increase their family’s chance of success in the community.

Our dependence on modern electronic devices continues to enable a country in turmoil. One way to stop to root of the struggle is to only support businesses that use conflict-free metals. Mining for metals funds warlords and perpetuates the ongoing battle for resources on Congolese land. Cell phones, electronics such as Macbooks or gold jewelry all contain these fought after metals. Giving money only to transparent companies, such as Motorola Solutions for mobile devices that use conflict-free metals, demands that the violence stops.

Emmanuelle Chriqui, the actress who played Sloan on “Entourage” promotes an Apple iPhone that is made completely with conflict-free metals, as part of the Raise Hope for Congo campaign. The world’s most valuable company can certainly afford to be the leader in the first ever conflict-free electrics with minerals from the Congo, Chriqui said. Another actress Natalie Portman is one celebrity that opted for a wedding ring from recycled metals and conflict-free diamonds, according to People Magazine. Knowing that her gift did not result on behalf of someone’s harm makes the value that much greater.

Falling Whistles is a Los Angeles-based jewelry company working the Congo to support community leaders and bring awareness a forgotten people. Started by a young and passionate group who saw the broken system first hand, the nonprofit sells whistle necklaces as symbolic conversation starters for each of us to be “whistle blowers for peace” here in the States. The fashion-forward pieces may not yet be made from conflict-free metals, the gold especially raises an eyebrow, although the NGO certainly puts funding back into the village.

The organization also works with local nonprofits, including ABFEK, to fund the construction of Mumosho Peace Market. Located on the river border to the DRC and Rwanda, two countries long at odds with each other and their own people, makes the market an ideal place to bridge relations. An estimated 30,000 people will benefit from the project. The same smiling faces who earned a sewing certificate will now have a nearby space to sell patchwork aprons boasting burnt orange, jade and burgundy prints. This Spring, Empower Congo Women will even premier a clothing line showcasing not only local fashion, but a new voice for women long left unheard.

By: Katherine Peach

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