By: Jennifer Fierberg
The eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been mired in violence perpetrated by various rebel groups in geo-strategic and ethnic wars for the last two decades. This area of the DRC is rich in mineral wealth that foreign countries seek to use in many electronic and travel innovations. Unfortunately, access to these minerals has wreaked havoc and devastation on the communities in this area.
Those most affected by these ongoing wars are women and children. Men also suffer from this horrific violence in many ways but when a woman is demoralized the community collapses. When a woman is raped in this region their men reject them, cast them out of their homes and often turn their children against them. Women become outcasts in their own communities and homes.
One way for these women to re-empower themselves is to have supportive groups come alongside them and assist them with re-establishing their lives. Two such groups have come together in order to provide an opportunity for these brave women.
Vision GRAM International has partnered with SowHope in order to better the lives of 50 women in Easter DRC who have been victims of physical and sexual violence. Vision GRAM International advocates on behalf of those who have suffered human rights violations, vulnerable populations, including survivors of armed conflict, women and child soldiers. SowHope is an organization that focuses only on the “holistic needs of women living in extreme poverty.” The mission statement of SowHope reads, “To inspire women around the world by promoting wellness, education and economic opportunities.” SowHope has assisted thousands of women since their start in 2006 and continues to reach out to women who earn less than $2 per day.
“It’s exciting when you see those women smiling after receiving the financial support, but many challenges remain. Peace and protection must be a top priority from the DR Congo government, to help them to rebuild their lives” says Victor AMISI, the executive director of Vision GRAM- International. Women do not have access to credit, properties and are not considered to be a member of the community after being sexually assaulted. But this project seeks to help them to have access to credit, property and be useful in their community. By receiving financial support, they change their lives, the lives of their families and the women are able to contribute to the socio-economic life in their community. Vision GRAM-International and Sow Hope, together, help those vulnerable women, affected by armed violence in eastern Congo to rebuild life.
The women in this project were identified by their level of vulnerability to ongoing threats of violence as well as through an interview process. The women identified had experience in small business and other income generating activities. A needs based assessment was conducted and found that these women have few if any possessions and lack personal effects such as proper clothing, medical care, and resources for hygiene products. This project sought to improve the socio-economic conditions of these 50 identified women via a basic revolving credit program over a period of three months. Of the 50 women identified over 500 people benefited from this project by extension.
In March 2013 these 50 women attended training sessions organized by Vision GRAM International and these trainings were held in the Vision GRAM International offices in Cifunzi/Kalonge.”From this project, children will attend school, but families need more to support education and wellness. “We believe that change will come because there is hope, declares Theophile Cishibanji, the coordinator of the project in DR Congo. The workshop focused on mechanisms of management of microfinance by a consultant of Vision GRAM with qualifications in business management. The women learned about capital preservation strategies and strategies for reimbursement. The women were educated about credit and that the support is not a gift but a supportive means for them to use in order to begin financing their businesses. They understood at this workshop that the credit would be repaid within six months from the time of receipt in April of 2013.
Each recipient chose to sell essential products used daily in the community such as rice, donuts, beverages, salt, yams and Cassava flour. With the profits made these women are able to fund daily food for their families, pay for school fees for their children and receive health care. The women underwent further training in proper daily nutrition in order to combat the problem of daily hunger. The women were also assigned a facilitator to monitor the activities and assist on a daily basis as needed.
The women continue in their business ventures with the assistance of Vision GRAM International and results so far have been positive. Thus far the women report being empowered to support themselves, their communities and their families. Further reporting will be available during the ongoing monitoring of the program and the women will continue to have the assistance of Vision GRAM staff. Assessments will be made along the way so that improvements can be made to the program for both the women already involved as well as being able to identify other women in the community who can benefit from this micro-finance program.