A young man in Congo approached our cooperative for help this week. He had never attended school. He had no home, no food, and no money. Mama Aroyo told me when he knocked on the door of our shop it was as if Christ himself came begging. She and the other women of our cooperative welcomed him in and offered to teach him some basic sewing skills. He is now a part of our community. Everyday, he has a group of joyful young ladies who talk with him, teach him, laugh with him, and care for him. And I think to myself: Who am I that God has put these women in my life? See how easy they love and serve others when they themselves live in poverty. My heart is full.
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IN THE CONGO
"Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness."
Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Africa is as unpredictable as ever. It's my 5th time to the continent (4th to DRC) and being surrounded by such extreme poverty, I feel defeated. Our cooperative is wonderful in many ways though still there is room to grow as far as bookkeeping and inventory tracking are concerned, but when I look around it's all so gloom...malaria, illness, death, starvation, roadside killings, and hardly any employment opportunities. Several times a day, individuals, who know about our cooperative, and want me to help them find a good job or tell them how to create a social enterprise, approach me. It's inspiring but at the same time I feel so overwhelmed.
My trip this summer challenged me greatly. Everyday in Congo I encountered young men and women from our village asking for assistance. They want to start a business or improve their current trade by taking our business training. Yet they also need computers to open Internet cafes, generators to increase production at the local bakery, and science books for medical students. The list is endless, and I've often found myself in the position of being the only one they can ask.
Among many questions, I continue to ask myself how do we fit into all this? Where do we begin? And, will it ever be enough? When we start to see ourselves as the answer to the sufferings of others, we lose sight of authentic, human development. Development is not exclusive to improving the economic plight of the poor, though it is certainly one aspect, but rather we are called to something greater.
We are called to purposeful and fruitful relationships. I have learned one of the best ways we can do this is to simply begin with what we know - our talents. We acknowledge and embrace them not for our own benefit but for the good of others. When we do this, our capacity to impact those we love grows and we are inspired to give with joy. Our gifts will be constantly manifested and emboldened through our relationships, and so long as we have one another, there will always be hope.
Dieu Beni was a curious young twelve-year-old when we first met. She was sent to live within our volunteer compound, which was near her school. Dieu Beni's father is an English teacher. She picked up the language at home and with a little encouragement would often practice with me during the day.
Dieu Beni watched volunteers come and go from our projects in the village. She peered in through our windows while we prepared evening meals and we would often find her eavesdropping on our daily conversations. She was also very helpful, especially with new volunteers who didn't know how to burn trash, cut firewood, or prepare chicken.
In February, Dieu Beni came up to me and said that one day she was going to become a cooperative member of Totonga Bomoi. I smiled and told her that she had to study hard in school and complete her sewing studies, but inside I was completely filled with joy that this young girl, whom we often referred to as notre petit espion (our little spy), would one day become such an intelligent and determined young woman.
Dieu Beni is like so many others in the village who, after years of walking miles to school and studying by candlelight, are left to a life of inescapable poverty. Malnourishment and disease take so many lives that our families in Congo live with constant fear of loss and unpredictability.
By creating opportunities for our artisans to increase their monthly income and build community, we can strengthen families and communities across Congo.
Did you know that more than 30 million girls are denied access to primary and secondary education? Barriers can include everything from lack of teachers to negative cultural perceptions of education to extreme poverty.
Our artisans are responsible for the school fees, uniforms, meals, and well-being of more than three-dozen children. Mama Aroyo supports her three children and younger sister; Bernadette Enaru, Julienne Buve, and Francine Kandaru send money to their parents for the school fees of younger brothers and sisters; Marie Opisia supports the orphaned children of her eldest brother, and Jeannine provides for five stepchildren after her brother-in-law passed away and their mother left.
When you purchase Totonga Bomoi products 100% of the profits earned by our artisans are reinvested into the lives of their children, siblings, parents, and grandparents.
The NABUTA handbag, which means I RISE in the local Congolese language of Lingala, expresses our cooperative's desire to prioritize the education of young girls in Congo.
Quality-lined, black or blue interior; Cross-body strap; Inside pocket with zipper; and personally signed by the artisan in Congo
Everyday, we have this beautiful opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others. Our artisans are tremendously grateful for your love and support and we wouldn't be here without you!
Last week, I received several photos from an Italian volunteer who spent time in Aru, Congo. He stopped by our local office and workshop, where he met the young women of Totonga Bomoi.
Their talents and outlook on life impressed him. He recounted the joy he saw in their eyes, and the pride they took in their work as they sewed dozens of beautiful handbags for him to share with family and friends in Italy!
Just think: Six months ago, these women were working alone, struggling to make ends meet. Today, our artisan cooperative provides them a safe and clean place to work as well as a community of trust so that they can continue to share ideas and learn from one another.