Blog #24 | A Tidal Wave

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Blog #24 | A Tidal Wave

If I didn't feel my work in Totonga Bomoi was important, I wouldn't be doing it. However, the work of Totonga Bomoi isn't meant to be important to me. It's important to the women and artisans whose drive and passion for their community and families make Totonga Bomoi and bring it to life.

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On my last night in Congo, an artisan shared with me the story of how she lost the love of her life. He was killed at the hands of corrupt politicians who are willing to destroy men and women who dare to speak truth to power against local corruption. Hers is obviously not the only family left with a gaping hole as a result of this brutality. But she bravely chose to fight back to empower herself and other women through the education and opportunity provided by the work of Totonga Bomoi.

From this side of the work, I don't often see that it is more than business training. But to many in Congo, what we do is truly life-affirming and life-changing.

Esther has been with Totonga Bomoi from the beginning. She taught sewing classes and was soon recruited by Totonga Bomoi in Congo to train women in the village of Watsa. Traveling back and forth, Esther established herself in a new village, among a new community. Only during this recent trip did she share with me that, after the death of her husband, she had initially distracted herself with work to help the pain go away. But, the shared network of women within Totonga Bomoi moved past the confines of what Totonga Bomoi is on paper and came together, pooling their limited resources to collect $30 to assist Esther in her time of need.

More than a year has passed since Esther needed the help of the community, and now she is in a place to give back to the community. On graduation day last Wednesday morning, after reminding the graduates that God provides the talents that they are now to use, Esther proudly called the names of those women as we congratulated each of them on passing their sewing course with Totonga Bomoi.

In Matthew 26, Christ tells us that "the poor will be with you always". But the words of Christ also instruct us that poverty is not due to something that the poor lack, but that society itself has failed to provide for them. We are that society. We are all a global society, each acting in our individual manner for the common good. And what we do in part, together as a community, can and will end poverty.

Totonga Bomoi doesn't aim to move dollars from one hand to the next. We aim to teach those hands to earn and build and provide for themselves. In doing so, the artisans transcend their lessons and become a community. This community, and coming together as a society to improve life and reduce poverty in the Congo is what is important. To me. To the women who are a part of Totonga Bomoi. And to our global community.

To many, a dollar is just a drop in the bucket. But enough drops can become a tidal wave with the power to break down walls and barriers holding back progress. This is what we do. We provide the drops that help the women of Totonga Bomoi become a tidal wave.

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Blog #23 | Our Year-End Appeal

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Blog #23 | Our Year-End Appeal

Some of you know we’ve recently transitioned into a nonprofit! The revenue we’ve been able to generate from our store purchases has significantly impacted sustainable growth and development at our cooperative in the DRC. Now, we’re taking this impact to the next level.

As we dive into the season of giving, we’re excited to announce our first annual Year-End Appeal fundraising campaign! From now through December 31st, you can become part of achieving our fundraising goal of $12,000. These funds will expand our capacity to provide business training and professional development for more deserving artisans and entrepreneurs in Congo. Any gift, no matter the size, will contribute to making this possible.

“My friends are excited to learn more about running our own local business so that we can provide for our children.” —Tandiayo, Totonga Bomoi artisan

As a proud member of the Fair Trade Federation (FTF), our donors can rest assured that their gifts are making an authentic, responsible, and significant impact on the lives of our cooperative members and their families. The FTF is a community of verified businesses committed to holistic, 360° fair trade—which means the entirety of our operations are socially and environmentally accountable. FTF membership represents an entire organization, not just an individual product. This high bar of fair trade ensures that all business decisions are made with the well-being of local artisans and farmers in mind.

“The cooperative has blessed my life in many ways. This is my first time using the computer and registering for Facebook. I have also learned how to Google search for new fashion ideas. I love sewing and look forward to learning!”—Esther, Totonga Bomoi artisan

“I studied Business Management at the local university. I am proud to be part of Totonga Bomoi because of the development it brings to our community. It motivates me to use my knowledge to help others. I am able to use my understanding of computers and social media to connect our artisans to their customers in the U.S.”—Faustin, Totonga Bomoi Program Manager

In addition, purchases from our store will continue to positively impact our ability to serve our cooperative members and their communities. If you’re looking for a unique holiday gift, our vibrant head wraps, bow ties, and pocket squares are perfect for adding a special glimmer of compassion! (Make sure to get your Christmas orders in by December 17th!)

Whether you make a charitable donation or a purchase from our store, your involvement in Totonga Bomoi’s mission will connect more Congolese artisans with thoughtful and compassionate consumers around the world. Join us today!

“Our cooperative has opened  my eyes. The financial impact on my life is amazing. It helps my community in many ways. Thank you to all my customers who have helped me to create a brighter future.”—Patience, Totonga Bomoi artisan

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Blog #22 | A Multidisciplinary Artist

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Blog #22 | A Multidisciplinary Artist

From artists, to human rights activists, to journalists, to athletes—there are so many Congolese thought leaders spreading big ideas and enriching global culture. Sabrina Moella is one of them.

A Toronto-based writer, performer, and filmmaker, Sabrina Moella’s work is strengthening Congo’s voice across the globe. She explores critical subjects like immigration, family lineage, womanhood, and body image while narrating the everyday life, traditions, and culture of the Afro-Caribbean diaspora.

Moella received her first screenwriting accolade in 2000 for the short film “Letter to Abou,” which was featured at the Cannes Film Festival. Since then, her films have been screened at more than 100 festivals across Europe and North America, including the Toronto International Film Festival, Hollywood Black Film Festival, UrbanWorld Film Festival, and the Reel World Film Festival. Her poetry has been featured on various radio shows, such as the LA-based “Words on the Street” and South Africa’s “Badilisha Poetry.” In 2014, Moella made her Broadway debut at the United Solo Festival with her autobiographical one-woman play, “Made in Congo.”

Sabrina Moella’s illuminating work provides us with a means of becoming informed and empowered via multidisciplinary art. Today we’d like to share one of her powerful poems, “We Are Not Ruined,” which captures the shared resilience Congolese women share in the face of unending violence:

We are not ruined

We are the ones who wear cornrows in our heads and draw tattoos on our wombs to show the world our precious uniqueness 

We are not ruined

We are the ones who tie wrappers around our hips to go out, two for the married women, one for the single ones

We are not ruined

We are the ones who eat white clay when we’re expecting, to give strength to our babies while they’re growing inside our wombs

We are the ones who gather together in the evening to share stories and laughter and to ask one another: “citoyenne, tokoseka na biso nini?”

We are not ruined

We are the ones who wake up every morning to go sell dumplings and cassava at the market to provide for our families

We are the ones who manage to make a living despite the power cuts, the unpaid salaries, and the unmaintained roads

We are the ones who are tired of our corrupted governments who steal the country’s money while our own children are starving

We are not ruined

We are the survivors of colonialism, imperialism, dictatorship and genocide.

We are the ones who know that when foreigners come and take our diamonds, our copper, our cobalt, our coltan and give us a rice bag in exchange, this is not fair trade

We are not ruined

We are the ones who reclaim justice for the 5 millions dead in the Democratic Republic of Congo since 1998

We are the women whose mothers and daughters and granddaughters are abused and raped every day by soldiers who use guns and machetes to make sure that our bodies will never give birth again

But we are not ruined

We are the ones still standing on our feet, shaking, in tears, but still standing

Because they might destroy our bodies but they won’t destroy our spirits,

And though they want us to keep crying, we’re the ones who’ll keep on praying and singing, like “Lelu tudi tudila malaba lutulu ne luikala”

We are not ruined

We are the women of Bukavu, Goma, Uvira, Beni, walking together in our streets to reclaim our dignity 

And as long as we’ll be breathing, we’ll have the strength to keep on telling

To the soldiers who think that they can kill us

We are not ruined

To the westerners who think they can manipulate us

We are not ruined

To the governments who think they can despise us

WE ARE NOT RUINED

WE ARE NOT RUINED

WE ARE NOT RUINED

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Blog #21 | Respectful Partnerships

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Blog #21 | Respectful Partnerships

A healthy and prosperous economy means healthy and prosperous people. Fair trade relationships must be open, fair, consistent, and respectful—acknowledging the inherent dignity of every individual involved. One of the Fair Trade Federation’s core values is Respectful Partnerships:

We celebrate the contribution and value of all people in the supply chain and recognize the dignity of each person and organization in our interactions and relationships. We believe that people have a right to participate in the decisions that affect their lives based on open sharing of information.

As a new member of the Fair Trade Federation, Totonga Bomoi is committed to transparent, proactive communication that shows consideration for both artisans and customers. We work hard to ensure our production and transaction model helps both ends feel actively involved in the trading chain. In addition, our collaborative approach to social enterprise helps us take it a step further. We partner with organizations like Alternativ, who provides entrepreneurial training curriculum that keeps the doors open for our artisans to explore their futures while honing in their skills. Thus, our cooperative’s objectives go beyond the trading chain.

With the artisan sector being the second largest employer in developing countries, dedication to respectful partnerships is a must. Long-term and genuinely sustainable economic growth can only happen within the framework of equity, and maintaining this framework requires transparency. Once this level of respect is achieved, it shines through. As Patience, one of our artisans says,

“Our cooperative has opened my eyes. The financial impact on my life is amazing. It helps my community in many ways. Thank you to all my customers who have helped me to create a brighter future.”

Learn more about verified FTF members and the principles of fair trade here.

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Blog #20 | This is Congo: Exceptional Resilience in a War-Torn Country

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Blog #20 | This is Congo: Exceptional Resilience in a War-Torn Country

“When the bullets pass by your head, this is the moment you leave everything and just take what you can grab. Even children are left behind.” After being forced from his home and village, Hakiza has run from six war outbreaks with nothing to his name—except his sewing machine. As a tailor now living at a displacement camp with more than 60,000 other Congolese adults and children, Hakiza has figured out how to use his precious machine to make salt, cooking oil, soap, and other necessities for basic survival.

With multiple regime changes, widespread civilian impoverishment, a dismantled economy, and nearly six million casualties, the Congo’s ongoing conflict over the last two decades is the world’s bloodiest since WWII. Daniel McCabe’s harrowing documentary, This is Congo, follows a handful of individuals like Hakiza who are doing what they can each day to survive while living among the unending violence of a war-torn state.

Mama Romance, an artisanal mineral dealer, risks her life to sell gemstones like tourmaline, amethyst, topaz, and blue sapphire. She began her business ten years ago, when her children were malnourished and had been out of school for two years. “I said to myself, ‘I’m already dead. I don’t want to bury my children because of malnutrition.’” Despite the serious risks of her business, Mama Romance had to try. Now, smuggling minerals across the border to Rwanda and Kenya has enabled her to feed and educate her children. In fact, her first born recently completed university. “God has helped me with this job,” she says. Yet, each day, Mama Romance lives in fear that she may be caught.

Like Hakiza and Mama Romance, the people of Congo possess a unique resilience as a result of having lived through decades of conflict-related brutality. In addition to mass displacement and the constant loss of family members, friends, and neighbors, about 40% of the population lives below the poverty line—which equates to $1.25 USD per day. Under this broken economic infrastructure, Totonga Bomoi offers legal opportunities for Congolese artisans to make ends meet, while also providing invaluable skill-building, entrepreneurial training, and professional development opportunities to ensure long-term prosperity.

The principles of fair trade promote equity in trade relations between developing and underdeveloped economies like that of the Congo. Buying fair trade products not only supports communities affected by perpetual war and violence—it also assists them in emerging from poverty and developing sustainable practices to build a healthier, more equitable socioeconomic foundation.

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