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.
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?