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Report: Putting Smiles Back on the Faces of Women in DR Congo

by Kathy Jones on  July 18, 2011 at 9:31 PM Lifestyle News   - G J E 4
Women have been the worst sufferers in poverty-hit Congo.

It is market day in the Kavimvira district of Uvira and Riziki Mapendo is busy plating up rice and beans for customers at the small restaurant she runs in the quarter.
 Report: Putting Smiles Back on the Faces of Women in DR Congo
Report: Putting Smiles Back on the Faces of Women in DR Congo
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The bamboo-built eaterie has been open less than a year but the mother of nine says business is good.

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Mapendo, 30, is one of thousands of women in the Democratic Republic of Congo's eastern province of Sud-Kivu to benefit from business training provided by Women for Women International (WWI).

The aim of the aid organisation is to help vulnerable women, among them single mothers, victims of sexual violence and returning refugees.

"Before this I produced manioc but that didn't bring in much money," said Mapendo, who serves approximately 200 meals a day for about 4,000 Congolese francs -- less than $5 -- profit.

"It's a lot of work but it's going well. I'm providing for my family, my children are going to school.

"I enjoy my job," she says, with a broad smile.

Mother of two Marie Masoka, 38, returned to DR Congo from Tanzania in 2005 after fleeing the war six years previously.

After some training last year she and her husband began making and selling soap.

From her small home near the market, she makes the product to order, usually selling to other businesses.

"I learned the technique but also accounting, selling and buying. The training really helped me," she said.

This year 3,400 women in Sud-Kivu, most of them in Uvira, are benefiting from the WWI training programme which receives about $350,000 from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for its work.

The courses take place over 12 months and apart from teaching skills such as bread-making and the like, women also learn how to run a small business. Some take literacy lessons. Each receives $10 per month during training.

"The aim is reintegration -- women need a steady income, to be in good health, to defend their rights and connect with other women," said Thomas Wilondja, a training co-ordinator in Uvira.

Composed of several grass huts sitting in the sun, the sound of the waves lapping on the beach nearby, the WWI training centre almost looks like a little holiday camp.

But go inside one of the huts and a dozen women are attending a business workshop, carefully taking notes in their jotters. A little girl sleeps in the arms of one young mother.

The trainer explains key points: how to become a member of a cooperative, how to apply for a loan, how to deposit money safely rather than "keeping it in a box at home."

The students quietly pay close attention, but that does not mean there are not bursts of laughter once in a while.

"Before this I wasn't doing anything much. Now I know how to buy, how to make an income," said Aziza Ruti, 20, while feeding her two-year-old at the end of the class.

"I've started selling palm oil. And I'm meeting other women here. It has really given me hope."

Source: AFP
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