Women living in eastern Congo: Mukonondo's story

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Image of two Congolese women Women for Women International support women affected by the conflict in eastern Congo To celebrate International Women's Day, Women for Women International will be holding a free talk at the International Slavery Museum about their work with the families and communities that have been devastated by the conflict in eastern Congo. They will also show a short film telling some of the stories of the women they serve. Mukonondo is one of many women who has received help from the charity. She shares her journey with us here: "I am a 26-year-old married mother of five children, including 4 boys and one girl. Growing up, my family was very poor. My father was unemployed, and my mother cultivated land for other people. My mother had 12 children, including myself, but six of my older siblings died. Because my parents could not afford tuition fees for me, I stopped school after 4th grade. Instead, I worked to cultivate my family’s fields. I married my husband, Habamungu, ten years ago. At the time, I was completely financially dependent on him, and I did not earn an income on my own. We barely had enough money for our family’s needs, and life became harder when I started having children. I had no idea how to manage household finances. In September 2012, one of my neighbors told me that Women for Women International was enrolling new program participants in our community. She had recently started the program, and I knew another woman whose life improved after participating in the program. I decided to try to enroll, but when I arrived at the training center, there was a sea of women already waiting to enroll. Fortunately, I was selected to join the program and began classes in October. At the beginning, I was very shy and frustrated because my health was poor, but the atmosphere at WfWI made me feel at home. There was no segregation, women were respected and made to feel secure.
The trainings have opened my mind to new ideas, particularly our discussions of household financial management, savings, and women’s decision-making.
I began to apply the advice I received from my trainer, such as how to make merchandise attractive to customers, to my work selling kasiksi, a local banana-based drink. I also joined a rotating credit group with several of my classmates, which has enabled me to grow my business. My income is increasing little by little, and I have been able to provide food for my family, pay tuition fees for my children, and increase my savings to $100. Through WfWI, I also received training in agribusiness and learned how to grow various crops and to make my farming efforts more sustainable through techniques such as composting and growing hedges and trees to prevent erosion. I currently grow squash and amaranths near my house to feed my family.
I am already improving my life and that of my family, and my husband is very happy to see my success. He works with me to help sell my products. I am happy that my family lives off of my income, and I am now respected by my neighbors.
My relationship with my husband has also been strengthened by this. For example, after learning about how women can stand up for their rights, I talked with my husband about making our common-law marriage official. He agreed with me, and we are currently planning to have an official religious ceremony by the end of the year. Several weeks ago, I had the chance to use the advice I had received through WfWI about women’s rights and the law. My brothers-in-law, who were jealous of my increasing income, tried to expel my husband and me from the family house. We decided to consult a local chief, who told my husband’s relatives that it is our right to live in the house. We agreed to split the family house in two to accommodate them. In the future, I want to buy a plot of land with my savings and build a house of our own. This way, my husband will have space to reopen the beauty salon he used to run. I am grateful to WfWI for all that it has done for me, and all the advice I have received. My involvement in the WfWI program was a salvation to me." Women for Women International believes that lasting change can only be achieved when women have access to both knowledge and resources. On a one-year programme, women learn job skills and receive business training so they can earn a living. Women become confident, independent and productive, embracing their importance in rebuilding their families, their communities and ultimately their nations. Join Women for Women International for the talk at the International Slavery Museum at 1.30pm on Saturday 8 March 2014. No booking required. Click here for details.