“It’s not that democratic, it’s barely a republic, but it is Congo”. – Lonely Planet travel guide DRC
My passion for making a difference to the lives of women in the DRC began as a result of my own tumultuous life story. In 2012, I found myself having to cope as a single parent in SA, after leaving an abusive relationship. It was a shock to say the least to find myself solely responsible for caring for myself and my daughter in a country where I had no family and no other financial support, so I had to make my business work, and fast. Once I’d got back on track, I went to the Congo.
Life in the DRC is tough for women. Living in an atmosphere of constant armed conflict (there has been civil war since 1996) means that women are at risk of rape and abuse at the hands of armed militia (DRC has been dubbed “the rape capital of the world”) on a daily basis. Rape victims are often shunned by their husbands and families, so not only do they then have to deal with the physical and emotional trauma of what’s happened to them, they have to find a way to feed themselves and their children singlehandedly. This task is made doubly difficult by the fact that women in DRC are often uneducated (boys are sent to school as a priority over girls) and that women have an average of six children!
I spent time in Goma and Bukavu during my trips to DRC with two charities – HEAL Africa and Action Kivu – who provide medical assistance to rape victims (take a look at HEAL Africa’s website to understand more about this) as well as skills training so women can start to run their own businesses and begin to take care of themselves and their families. Empowering women who have had their lives shattered and then giving them hope for a better future is so powerful, and I’m passionate about doing my bit to help this happen.
Here are just a few of the ladies (and one extraordinary man) that I met:
I met this lady in Goma at HEAL Africa’s primary school. She was working in the vegetable garden as a trade exchange so that some of her children could attend classes at the school. As we chatted (via an interpreter) she told us that she had 14 children that she was caring for single handedly because her husband had left.
This lady was living in a HEAL Africa safe house in Goma. She had sustained horrific internal injuries as a result of being raped, which couldn’t be fully repaired. I was constantly amazed that despite having been through such terrible experiences, the ladies I met were cheerful and happy to talk and tell their stories.
This lady was at the HEAL Africa hospital in Goma for an operation to repair an internal fistula as a result of post child birth complications. Given her age, she’d probably been living in discomfort for some time. We had a giggle when I asked her how old she was and she didn’t actually know. We tend to take for granted being taught to count and having the use of a google calendar!
Meet Amani, the most inspirational man I have ever spent time with. Amani is a campaigner for women’s rights in DRC and with the support of Action Kivu, created a women’s centre in Bukavu. Women can come to the centre for literacy classes and sewing workshops that give them the skills to take care of themselves. They also have a seed distribution programme that supplies potato and cassava seedlings so that women can grow their own food.
Amani and some of the ladies who had come to collect potato seedlings. They were very happy to pose for photos and share their stories about how having access to the women’s centre has changed their lives. One lady told me that the seeds are a source of hope for the future, she knew she had something to look forward to once they started to grow and she would have food.
This lady was repeatedly raped by a friend of her boyfriend (at the boyfriend’s request) when he found out that she was pregnant. Despite that, she gave birth to this beautiful little boy. She was at the women’s centre attending the sewing workshop.
This lady was learning to write her name during a literacy class. I felt for her a bit as her first name had 14 letters in it, so she had to concentrate very hard to get it right. As a ‘first world’ educated woman, I cannot begin to imagine not being able to read or write.
Another super happy face in Bukavu after receiving her allocation of seeds.
It is really hard for me to fathom what life would have been like if I hadn’t have been able to be financially indepedent, It’s something I took entirely for granted before I discovered what life is like for most women living in DRC. One of the HEAL Africa staff told me about a Congolese lady who was in total shock when she saw a woman driving a car because she thought that “only men were allowed to drive cars”. So, as an independent woman, I am making it my mission to do what I can to support women living in Congo so they too can be independent.
Every Personal Branding shoot booked will include a $15 donation to Action Kivu which will cover the cost of fabric for one lady attending a sewing workshop. By upscaling your own brand you will be helping a fellow entrepreneur to do the same in the middle of Africa. Click here for more information about Personal Branding Photography.
To find out more about the conflict in DRC and how it’s affecting women’s lives, please click here – healfrica.org/crisis_in_congo
For more information about Amani’s work in Bukavu and what Action Kivu are doing, please click here – www.actionkivu.org