Women in Congo Succeeding Together

by: rb137

Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 12:39:29 PM EST

Some of you here know me and are familiar with my interest in development and gender equality in Democratic Republic of the Congo. You have extended kind comments and interest in diaries I've written about HEAL Africa in the past, and expressed interest in new projects I stumble across. Well, today I want to tell you about something new and wonderful. I also have an action item for you at the end.

First, I want you to meet Judy Anderson. Here, she is being interviewed at Clinton Global Initiative while she was director at the US based HEAL Africa, which she and her husband Dick founded:

Judy is a talented facilitator. She has been working with national leaders, vulnerable people, and communities to find real solutions so people in Congo can build a better life. She grew up in Congo, and has been focused on helping groups address health, leadership, gender equality, economic growth, and conflict resolution for most of her adult life. Her focus and commitment recently lead her and Dick to found a new non-profit organization called ACT for Congo.

ACT's website is under construction and the tax status is still pending, but Judy is hard at work supporting real change. I think this organization is a genuine treasure. Following lessons learned by Robert Chambers (see Rural Development: Putting the Last First or Whose Reality Counts: Putting the First Last) and Paulo Freire, her goal is to find a way to support effective development projects in Congo that are run by proven Congolese community leaders and grassroots organizers. She partners with credible organizations who are doing effective work and demonstrating measurable, positive change in DRC communities.

International relief organizations have their role in helping countries ravaged by famine, upheaval, and war, but they execute temporary projects with finite goals. External relief does not often create any lasting positive change. Lasting change in Congo has to come from the people of Congo.  

rb137 :: Women in Congo Succeeding Together
Next, I want to tell you about one of ACT's partner organizations, HOLD-DRC. HOLD is an acronym for Humanitarian Organization for Lasting Development. It was incorporated as a non-profit inside Democratic Republic of the Congo in April 2012. Its board of directors is made up of mostly people who worked as senior staff at HEAL Africa in Congo that were interested in approaching human development in an integrated way, and wanted to create a new organization focused primarily on improving Congo's low human development index by addressing community development and public health.

HOLD runs an amazing program called Succeeding Together that is focused on helping single -- teenage, unwed, abandoned -- mothers. Mothers of children born outside of marriage are left to the periphery of society. Traditionally, they can hold no position of real respect, and often live with their children in abject poverty with no hope for a better life. There isn't even a common word for "unwed mother" in the DRC -- the term means "girl mother" at best, and it demonstrates that these women are not held in any esteem. HOLD thinks these women have tremendous value. In fact, they have so much value that they can change the face of Congo.

HOLD has a comprehensive training program for them. When they graduate, they have what is equivalent to an associate's degree in tailoring, cosmetology, or culinary arts -- as well as training in how to run a business. They learn leadership skills, and focus on governance and peer education in human rights and basic health, such as malaria prevention, HIV prevention, planned approaches to reproduction, and how to avoid and care for common illnesses such as respiratory infections. HOLD also teaches early childhood development and runs a daycare for mothers who are studying in their programs -- although day care centers are mostly unknown in the DRC.

Most of the people in the DRC don't have access to microcredit. That involves a bank, and they mostly haven't been in a position to attract one. To that end, HOLD has initiated a rotating credit program where its graduates can have access to a small pot of money which they share with a small group of other graduates. The group has democratically elected leadership, and all loan terms are negotiated collectively by the group's membership. So, if a group of five women shared a pot of $100, three women might borrow $20 each to grow their businesses and pay back the pot plus interest in six months. Then it's another woman's turn. The system keeps their businesses growing, and establishes a solid business ownership and credit history for them -- which is what a bank or credit institution wants to see before extending microcredit.

When a woman enters this program, she joins a human development club of about ten women who are living in the same neighborhood. They support each other and share circular credit to help start and grow their businesses. Together, they become leaders in their community. These women are sharing what they learned with other women, and they are making quite an impact.

In the following video, you'll meet a brilliant woman named Modestine Etoy. She is the coordinator of Succeeding Together:

And here a woman tells her story:

In the video above, Natalie says that she doesn't have trouble buying soap anymore. In Congo, this is a euphemism for, "my basic needs are met." If you have food for your children and a roof over your head, you can buy soap.

To date, 238 women have completed the training program -- and on April 14, a class of 83 more will graduate.

Here is the action request:

The women want to extend their leadership by spreading their message that real change is possible in Congo. Unfortunately there isn't a lot of communication in the DRC aside from national radio. Cell phone technology is growing by leaps and bounds, though, and the internet is becoming more and more common.

The women at Succeeding Together want to make a music video with famous Congolese musicians Innoss'B and Maisha Soul. If this video gets made, the message will ring across Democratic Republic of the Congo. The musicians have volunteered their time and studio for writing, recording, and filming the video with the women at Succeeding Together. They only need money for gas to run a generator to provide electricity to their studio for the time they need to work.

My dear friend Kyondra Kennard posted a Kickstarter, which will expire in a few days. If you could donate a pittance, that would be great. If you can't -- could you please spread the word?

Kyondra's Kickstarter link is here.

Here is a recent Innoss'B video (he's the youngest brother in Maisha Soul -- and a celebrated star in Congo):

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Thanks for reading. (2.00 / 10)
This work is so important -- and amazing. I want to write in more detail, but this post is mostly to draw attention to the Kickstarter that will expire soon.

If you can share this story on Facebook or Twitter, I would really appreciate it.

I will probably crosspost this diary tomorrow.

Thanks again!

"If you buy cloth for your mother-in-law, do not tell her it is to cover her butt."  -- Congolese proverb

Thanks rb137 (2.00 / 7)
In the face of such overwhelming need it's good to remember a small donation to smart programs can make a difference in real families lives.

I clicked the twitter ink and found my way to Kickstarter....and this time I'll remember to click post for my comment!

Love is the lasting legacy of our lives

[ Parent ]
Thanks! (2.00 / 6)
It's really incredible how much a dollar is worth in the Congo (also crazy how much gasoline costs -- an unimaginable amount more than in the US).

About clicking "post": I think there is a cosmic vortex over the pnw this week. I am the poster child for "no attention span" lately.  :)

"If you buy cloth for your mother-in-law, do not tell her it is to cover her butt."  -- Congolese proverb

[ Parent ]
Thanks for reading. (2.00 / 6)
I am going to crosspost it some time tomorrow. Please stop by then if you can. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that these folks will be able to make their video.  :)

"If you buy cloth for your mother-in-law, do not tell her it is to cover her butt."  -- Congolese proverb

[ Parent ]
A terrific diary on many counts. Thanks. (2.00 / 7)

Here is another Maisha Soul video... (2.00 / 5)
Well, it's a mix, not a video. I hope you enjoy.

"If you buy cloth for your mother-in-law, do not tell her it is to cover her butt."  -- Congolese proverb

[ Parent ]
Thank you for this! (2.00 / 7)
far too little attention is paid to Congo - except by exploiters of chaos.  

One of the greatest of today's ironies is that the Congo region is the richest in the world in mineral resources, and also hardwoods, which aren't often mentioned.

DR Congo is estimated to have $24 trillion (equivalent to the combined Gross Domestic Product of Europe and the United States) worth of untapped deposits of raw mineral ores, including the world's largest reserves of cobalt and significant quantities of the world's diamonds, gold and copper

The manipulation and exploitation of the region by a variety of external and internal forces has been going on for a long time...rape and destruction are one of the tools used.

I was just talking with someone recently about the documentary "Mission Congo" exposing evangelist Pat Robertson's dealing in diamonds while raising money ostensibly for refugee relief.


"If you're in a coalition and you're comfortable, you know it's not a broad enough coalition"

Bernice Johnson Reagon

It would take a dozen diaries to scratch the surface of (2.00 / 4)
their mineral wealth, I think. Afterward, I probably wouldn't understand it any better, either! They've recently discovered a huge oil store beneath the National Park, by the way, which adds some extra flavor to the mix now...

I think the most desired conflict mineral coming out of Congo today is tantalum. You've heard people say, "conflict is in your cell phone" and such -- but it isn't just in the cells. It's in everything. I don't know if it got its name from it's wonderful engineering properties or not, but it has a bunch of desirable properties. We aren't going to stop using it, and Congo is sitting on a substantial percentage of the earth's stores of it.

But the people of Congo are sick of the manipulation, and they want a better life. They are willing to organize for it, too. That's what this music project is about.

Huge swaths of the DRC are cut off from other parts right now, because the infrastructure was destroyed by the World War, or because it was washed away by neglect. Whole industries have been brought to their knees. Farmers in some regions can't sell their crops because they can't ship them to other parts of the country. The purpose of the music video is to spread a message -- to connect the country with a positive message of activism so they know that change is even possible.

There are horrible, corrupt things going on in Congo buy all kinds of actors, no doubt. But that isn't the only story.

I'll look forward to watching your video. It will probably torque me off!  :)

"If you buy cloth for your mother-in-law, do not tell her it is to cover her butt."  -- Congolese proverb

[ Parent ]
Tantalum (2.00 / 4)
It got it's name from Tantalus, a figure in Classical Mythology known for his eternal punishment in the underworld. He stands in a pool of water beneath a fruit tree, the fruit just beyond his grasp, and the water receding before he can take a drink.

The adjective tantalizing comes from the same source.

Tantalum has a very high dielectric coefficient, which makes it very useful in the manufacture of capacitors... electronic components that store electrical charge.   For a given amount of capacitance (charge-storing ability), a tantalum capacitor can be significantly smaller than capacitors made from other materials,  In small, portable electronic devices, this offers an obvious advantage.

[ Parent ]
Yes -- I suspect its name came from the fact (2.00 / 2)
that it's tantalizing.

It is a refractory metal, which can be heated to extremely high temperatures. This one is still malleable after it's been annealed, though, and can be re-machined (and also makes dandy filaments.) It isn't very chemically active, so it's highly resistant to corrosion -- and is used in corrosive environments and as well as in applications that need corrosion protection.

Its oxides have similarly useful properties, so that makes the material useful in all kinds of gadgets from camera lenses to capacitors.

We can make caps from other materials, but it ain't gonna stop us from wanting to mine tantalum.

"If you buy cloth for your mother-in-law, do not tell her it is to cover her butt."  -- Congolese proverb

[ Parent ]
I don't understand. nt (2.00 / 3)

"If you buy cloth for your mother-in-law, do not tell her it is to cover her butt."  -- Congolese proverb

[ Parent ]
Rashaverak is correcting his typo. (2.00 / 3)
"It's" ---> "its".

Words have meaning. Our words will reflect what is in our souls.

[ Parent ]
I don't see typos! (2.00 / 3)

"If you buy cloth for your mother-in-law, do not tell her it is to cover her butt."  -- Congolese proverb

[ Parent ]
Thanks for this diary, rb. (2.00 / 6)
We tend to get caught up in our own issues and priorities and only peer across the oceans when international crises occur and someone wants us to go bomb somebody.

We could do more good if we would spend some of that money on these kind of projects and make friends instead of enemies. It helps everyone when women (and men) have a chance at economic success.

I am looking forward to learning more about this project!

Words have meaning. Our words will reflect what is in our souls.


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