Friday, June 29, 2012

SHONA: Helping the Women of Goma, One Bag at a Time

"Congo is the worst place to be a woman."

"Women as human pack-horses."

"The human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo remained grave."

These are the descriptions and images that bombard the average citizen in the West when getting news about the DRC--that is, when any news is relayed at all. To most Westerners slightly acquainted with the country, it is a country of lawlessness and danger. It is a country where a woman can be raped at any moment. It is a country filled with rebel groups fighting motivated by greed and lust for power. It is a land to be pitied. The Western media thrives on this representation, perpetuating and almost relishing the image it presents of the Congo, and Africa in general (See a recent New York Times article It is a modern Heart of Darkness. So it is refreshing, and unfortunately rare to get a different perspective on the region.

Dawn Hurley is an incredibly intelligent, thought-provoking, and rare commentator on the Eastern Congo who writes, from a Western perspective, about what is hardly ever written when it comes to the Congo--the normal lives of the people she meets around her, depicted in a rather positive light.

Hurley, a New Yorker, came to the DRC with her husband, an aid worker who gives microfinance loans to the Congolese people. In a fresh, often humorous voice, Hurley relates the contrasts (water-collecting villagers on cellphones!) and beauty of the country.

While there, she started a small sewing group, that developed over time into SHONA. SHONA is a group of physically handicapped women who sew, and sell their wares through their website ( and on eBay. The women all live and work together as a group, exemplifying their interdependence and independence.

Hurley uses her blog posts to speak about the situation in the Congo and advertise her wares, and does a great job of selling each.

Check out her blog:

And SHONA's website:

Enjoy, donate, learn.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Book Review: Blood River—A Deep and Gritty Look at the DRC from a White Man

I've always found reading books—not dry, unintelligible history-style books, mind you, but gripping novels—to be the best way of understanding complicated issues and backgrounds on a subject. We humans are dramatic, intelligent beings, and with us, nothing is simple. Thus books are the only reliable tool of information-gathering—they rapidly draw you into the plot but linger with you for a long while, drawing out explanations and perspectives and woes. In terms of understanding the modern Democratic Republic of Congo, Tim Butcher’s Blood River: A Journey to Africa's Broken Heart, serves as a great jumping-off point towards gaining a richer understanding of the region and its troubles.

Butcher centers his novel around his goal to travel through the Congo taking the same route as that of Henry Morton Stanley, the first (white) man to penetrate into the depths of the Congo. Stanley later collaborated with the king of Belgium, Leopold, to get European control of the region, and committed atrocities against many innocent Congolese in order to get control of their land. Butcher realizes the cruelty of many of Stanley’s actions, and criticizes him harshly in the novel for it. Yet Butcher still admires Stanley for the arduous three-year journey he took, and longs to take this journey for himself. At this point (August 2004), the situation in the Eastern Congo is particularly volatile and the dangers of rebels looms large in Butcher’s mind as he sets out for his trip.In a witty, straightforward, analytic, and sometimes fearful voice, Butcher seamlessly carries the story forward, detailing the trials of his journey while comparing them to Stanley’s. 

“My journey through the Congo had its own unique category It did not do it justice to call it adventure travel, and certainly was not pleasure travel. My Congo journey deserved its own category: ordeal travel.” 

In between recapping his travel experience, Butcher outlines the history and struggles of the Congolese people. Butcher’s analysis spares no one, not the European imperialists, not the corrupt African leaders, nor the corrupt officials he encounters throughout his journey.

The novel is heart-rending in how real Butcher’s details are. He is clearly not exaggerating anything. He doesn't have to. Yet despite the fear and insecurity the reader feels throughout the whole book, Butcher threads a theme of hope throughout the novel. Yes, it’s true that when the rebels approach, most villagers have to respond by fleeing into the bush. Yes, the Congo has actually become more technologically-backward in the last 50 years. Yes, corruption is rampant in the region. Yet despite all that, there is a hope that things can change. The land is beautiful, and many of the people are kind and honest. Butcher emphasizes the idea that for things to change, the people have to push for change. And in his novel, there is the sense that push they will. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Interview with Dr. Yvonne Captain of George Washington University

Dr. Yvonne Captain is a professor of International Affairs and Latin American Film and Literature at George Washington University. She received her PhD at Stanford University, and she has published, interviewed, and read widely on the subject of internationalization. Dr. Captain speaks with Jatukik Providence Foundation about the Congo and its role in our globalizing world.

Hi, Dr. Captain. Thank you for speaking with us today. Before we delve into our other questions, could you explain your familiarity with the DRC and sub-Saharan Africa region?
Sure. I focus on South-South relations. I know about the colonial history of the Congo—that is, the “Scramble for Africa” and the Congo’s subsequent rule by Belgium. I am familiar with the violence in the region—and particularly, violence against women. I have been pleased, however, in recent days with the Lubunga trial being prosecuted by the International Criminal Court. I know that some in Africa are upset that some of Africa’s most infamous criminals (like Charles Taylor last month) are  being prosecuted internationally rather than locally. But think about it; Charles Taylor could not have been effectively prosecuted and jailed in Sierra Leone. At some point, African nations will be able to prosecute these criminals on their own, but they do not have the resources to do so right now. I was heartened to see that in Lubunga’s case, the International Criminal Court is working with the Congolese government. That is a very good thing.

Could you talk to us about the conflict mineral in the Congo?
Bringing more light and recognition to the issue helps, but it won’t stop the process. Greed is greed. I’m glad that the Dodd Frank Bill provision passed, but international companies need to be held more accountable. You have to change people’s minds and hearts, but once again, greed is greed. These international companies are the ones perpetuating the conflict though, in my opinion. It’s like hiring undocumented workers in the United States—employers know it’s illegal, but hey, it’s cheaper labor. To truly end the chain of violence stemming from the conflict mineral, there has to be a global movement to stop it. It cannot just be the United States trying to end the conflict with sanctions and what have you.

On that note, why doesn’t the DRC receive that much international attention, especially compared to nations in the Middle East?
A lot of it has to do with the media. Unfortunately, Africa in general is just not on people’s radars. And when it is, it’s to detail the corruption taking place in those regions. I’m not saying those stories shouldn’t be reported; I’m saying there has to be more good news reported internationally about Africa. In one of the classes I teach, I have my students do an assignment called the “Good News Wiki,” where I require them to find a news article about some region of Africa and read good things coming out of there. Students are generally surprised about the number of good news stories they can dig up on the region. Yes, there is still a deficit of democracy in Africa. But the country is really moving forward.

I don’t want to hear about all the details of the Queen’s 60th Anniversary party; I want that to be replaced with more stories about Africa! I’ve been really disappointed in general with the Washington Post and the New York Times with their poor reporting of the region. These are newspapers that most people will pick up, but will miss news of a whole continent in their reading. It’s sad that I need to visit (a website that syndicates worldwide news about Africa) to get this information. CNN actually does a pretty good job reporting regularly on Africa. We need that regularity.

Countries like Malaysia and India are also former European colonial colonies, but they have managed to develop rapidly and now have a thriving economy. Why do you think that the DRC and other former  colonies in Africa are having such a difficult time?
People really do ignore the African nations that are in fact moving forward. For example, Senegal and Liberia have move past their colonial wounds and are doing quite well for themselves. Women are still under-utilized, but even that’s changing in some parts. The entire region seems to do this dance of moving two steps forward and one step back. But whatever you want to call it, that’s still progress.

How do you get good intentions and other efforts to help the Congo be long-lasting?
The international community needs to step in firmly and put pressure on wrongdoers in the Congo. They cannot be allowed to get away with their actions. The African Union is doing more now, I think—it’s naming names, and it’s better able to enforce international standards. Another problem is that outside Africa, nobody thinks about the Congo—and people don’t want to think about it if they think it’s a hopeless cause. I remember going to this event hosted by the State Department. Some Congolese officials were there, and they showed the audience pictures of women who had been raped and murdered. People are just going to turn away from that. The media needs to make its representation of the area more multidimensional. It needs to show what’s not working as well as what is being worked on and actually working. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Call To Action

JPF Director Jean-Claude Atusameso with actor Ben Affleck
June 14-15 marked momentous days in the world of international development, as the governments of India, Ethiopia, and the United States, in collaboration with UNICEF, hosted a Child Survival Call to Action conference in Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. The conference focused on the goal of ending all preventable child deaths in a generation—optimistically pledged for 2035. The conference featured high-profile speakers like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Hollywood star and founder of the Eastern Congo Initiative, Ben Affleck, and the Congolese Minister of Health, Dr. Felix  Mukwampa. Affleck explained how the organization he founded, the Eastern Congo Initiative, has helped to reduce child mortality in the Congo in recent years. He emphasized the importance of Congolese efforts in their own communities when trying to achieve these goals. JPF represented the  conference through founder Jean-Claude Atusameso and Grants/Development Assistant Erik Suspanic.

The Democratic Republic of Congo has the fifth-highest childhood mortality rate in the world. Fifteen percent of the country’s children die before they turn five years old. Many of these children die from preventable diseases like malaria, diarrhea, and pneumonia. These are numbers that the world just cannot be comfortable with.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Help! Donate!

Every donation, every initiative, no matter how large or small, changes people’s lives for the better. This is a very important fact to remember when considering volunteering or giving money to a cause. Whatever you can give will be appreciated and be helpful. With that in mind (yes, shameless plug/segue), consider donating to JPF’s two rural initiatives in the Congo!

Un: Kibeti Health Center
Doctor treating young patient in Kibeti Health Center
The Kibeti Health Center, built by JPF, provides the only basic health services available to the poor villagers and farmers in the Kwilu District of Bandundu Province. People travel great distances to receive this care. The health center is currently comprised of a building for medical consultation, patient care, and lab testing. It also has residential buildings to house the clinic’s staff, and basic equipment to treat various common ailments. The health center needs more equipment, supplies, and staff training, however, to be able to adequately serve a population of around 100,000 people.

Deux: Poultry Center
The Mikonga training center (in Kinshasa) was founded in April 2008. A team of skilled providers work in the training center to promote the physical, moral, and intellectual health of abandoned street children in the area. JPF currently serves children ages 3-17 in the center. The center currently lacks enough income to finance itself. Our goal now is to build a poultry operation where children will learn how to raise hens and earn an income from the sale of poultry and poultry products. This project will have the twofold effect of creating a source of income to support the center’s work, and allow for a healthy reintegration of the children into society.

Well, What Can I Do?
You might ask. Well, it’s simple. You can donate to our projects at these links:
Donate one dollar, one hundred dollars, or just spread the word! You can make a difference, and we thank you sincerely for your help.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Very Very Brief History of the Kongo Empire, Zaire, and the DRC

                The political climate and current instability of the Democratic Republic of Congo creates an international media haze around the country that fixates largely on the inhumane treatment of workers in mines, the ongoing war in the region, and atrocities that have been ­­committed during wartime. The media’s focus on these issues, important as they may be, have the unfortunate side effect of taking away from the personal side of the DRC. The Congo is often portrayed one-dimensionally as a war-torn, politically unstable region—and far less attention is devoted to simply understanding the people and their history. The DRC has a rich and vibrant culture, and this blog post attempts to serve merely as a brief introduction to Congolose history. 

A Brief History
                Before and up to the European arrival, the Kongo Empire served as the dominant political force in the region. The empire extended out to parts of Angola and Cabinda. The empire was headed by a king known as the “Manikongo”to his subjects. At the height of its power, the Kongo Empire was the biggest  empire in western central Africa.
                The Portuguese arrived in 1484, and began trading with the Congolese people. The Congolese traded ivory, copper, and slaves (from various tribes) in return for textiles, jewelry, and manufactured goods. The slave trade continued till the 1800s, when slavery was made illegal in Europe. The Portuguese arrival provided the region’s first exposure to Western education and Christianity.
                The Portuguese did not venture much further than the mouth of the Congo River, but in 1867, British citizen Henry Morton Stanley successfully completed an expedition through the Congo. Stanley came back from this expedition with the determination to colonize Africa under a European power. King Leopold II of Brussels, determined to conquer a piece of Africa, hired Stanley, ostensibly to form a train route through the upper Congo. Leopold soon clarified his vision, however, and Stanley found himself negotiating with natives and tribes to buy or bully pieces of land from them.  In 1885, King Leopold established the “Congo Free State.” Small swaths of territory were also given to France and Portugal.
                During his cruel rule, Leopold established quotas in which the Congolese were required to produce certain quotas of ivory and rubber. Those failing to meet his quotas were punished by having their hands chopped off. The Congolese population decreased significantly during this time period. In 1908, Leopold technically handed the territory over to Belgium, turning the territory into the “Belgian Congo.”
                The Congolese finally got their independence from Belgium in 1960, and renamed their country “Republic of the Congo.”Patrice Lumumba served as the Republic’s first prime minister from 1960 until his assassination in 1961. Mobuto Sese Soke took over as the president of the region in 1965, and renamed the region Zaire in 1971. Mobuto was a corrupt leader who embezzled over $5 billion USD from his country during his time in office. He was overthrown during the First Congo War by Laurent Kabila in 1997. Kabila renamed the region the “Democratic Republic of the Congo,” and served until his death in 2001. He is succeeded by his son, Joseph Kabila.

                French is the official language of the DRC. Kikongo, Lingala Swahili, and Tshiluba are also nationally recognized languages. The population of the DRC is 66 million. The majority of the Congolese population practice forms of Christianity. The population is comprised of numerous ethnic groups, the largest of which are: the Bakongo, the Sangha, Teke, and M’Bochi. 


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Reflection from a Volunteer Teacher

by Dana Hale
February 2, 2012

In September 2011, I spent three weeks as a volunteer English teacher for the Jatukik Providence foundation in Kinshasa, DRC. The busy neighborhood where the job training center is located was bustling with activity: vendors, pedestrians, workers pushing carts and cars maneuvering along the bumpy roads. On my first day, I arrived at the center to find about 20 people waiting in the space outside that became our classroom. The number of students increased daily until nearly 60 had showed up for lessons during my stay. I spent my final week at the EVEN/EDEN orphanage teaching songs, vocabulary and games.

The most uplifting part of my stay was the conversations I had with adults and children where they expressed their concerns about their country and their deep desire to build a better life. Liliane, a 25-year-old student and mother, spoke about wanting to increase her English and computer skills because they were so important to her chosen career field of accounting. It encouraged me to know that I had been able to help her with her goals. I wanted to go to the DRC initially because of what I had read about the country and because I felt my knowledge of French would facilitate connecting with the people. The most difficult part of the experience was seeing the unmet needs—material and emotional—particularly among the orphans. My volunteer experience showed me that anything we are willing to contribute—in time, donations or skills—can inspire and help the Congolese face their country’s challenges.

What is an Ecovillage?

One of the Jatukik Providence Foundation’s proudest achievements has been the establishment of the pilot ecovillage in Kibeti. But what does it mean to be an ecovillage? Why does JPF believe that the ecovillages can be effective tools for providing communities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with a long-term pathway out of poverty?

“ECO”- As the “eco” in ecovillage suggests, the primary focus of the ecovillage model is to create communities whose relationships with the natural world are both harmonious and sustainable. To achieve this goal, ecovillages utilize a number of green initiatives including, but not limited to: 
  • Supporting organic food production 
  • Use of renewable energy sources 
  • Preservation of natural surroundings through proper waste and energy management
  • Maximizing use of local materials for construction and manufacturing
  • Protection of biodiversity. 

 This model of effective and respectful use of natural resources makes a particularly compelling case for long-term sustainable development in the DRC, which ranks among the world's poorest countries based on per capita GDP, but one of the richest in natural resources and minerals. By sharing knowledge about agricultural techniques and energy and resource management, the ecovillage model aims to promote sustainable social and economic development in the DRC by creating a system in which the Congolese people can take advantage of the abundance of natural resources around them as a means to achieving growth and prosperity.

“VILLAGE”-Central to the ecovillage concept is the establishment of community. In addition to integrating harmoniously with nature, members of the ecovillage implement systems and infrastructure for democratic governance, commerce, and education. In the DRC, where a lack of good governance, public participation in the political process, and gender equality have stifled growth and reform, the ecovillage emphasis on self-governance and self-sufficiency represents a promising community model for the empowerment of women and democratic decision making.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Life in the Ecovillage: Q & A

To get a more detailed glimpse of what life is like on the Kibeti Ecovillage, Hannah Fitter posed some questions to the Director of JPF in DRC, Raymond Kumbelunzweto. She discovered that great progress has been made, but there is always room for improvement.

Ecovillage Administration
Q: How many people work towards the administration of the Ecovillage?
A: 15 people work at the Ecovillage.
There are 8 officers of the Coordination: 
  1. Local Coordinator: Jean Bosco Bazika
  2. Vice Coordinator: Théophile Ziata Mukobi
  3. Recording Secretary: Arthur Zizi
  4. Assistant Recording Secretary: Joachin Mbutuyibi
  5. Treasurer: Denis Waditukila
  6. Councillors: Victor Ndeke, Jean Kalubi, Atuhelusa Kilaba

There are 7 Heads of the 7 Committees of the Ecovillage:
  1. Economy and Road Infrastructure: Akadikowu Nakasumba
  2. Agriculture and Livestock: Jean Mulosa
  3. School Education: Kazitangaku Kaketa
  4. Hygiene and Health: Tony Lukela
  5. Empowerment of Women: Magy Akawakowu
  6. Housing: Mbaku Kizola
  7. Environment: Bavon Namwisi
Q: How many people work in the Kibeti Clinic?
A: 6 people work at the Clinic
There are three nurses, a supervisor, a coordinator, and an assistant. JPF also relies on medical volunteers to assist in the Kibeti Clinic as well.

Medical Concerns in the Ecovillage

Q: What is the payment rate for health care at the Clinic?
A: The payment rate depends on the diseases/illnesses found on the patient by the Medical Assistant.

Q: How much is the cost of care, on average?
A: The average cost ranges from 3-5 $USD.

Q: What is needed at the Kibeti Clinic?
A: The Clinic needs medicines, medical supplies, medical equipment, and financial support for the construction of a large hospital and to cover the administrative expenses.

Q: What are the most frequently occurring diseases that the Clinic faces?
A: The most common diseases that are brought to the Clinic are:
  1. Malaria
  2. Yellow Fever
  3. Aches in the head and lower abdomen accompanying a cough
  4. Measles
  5. Polio
  6. Typhoid
  7. Tuberculosis
  8. Childbirth (complications resulting from)
  9. Meningitis
  10. Chicken Pox 
Due to the lack of a doctor and appropriate equipment, the Clinic cannot yet perform surgery.

Q: Are most women monitored during pregnancy?
A: Yes. Pregnant women are monitored through prenatal and antenatal periods. The process for pregnant women is:

  1. Purchase a of an ID Card at the reception
  2. Meeting with midwife to discuss the progress of the pregnancy and the most important information to be known
  3. Nurse consultation
  4. Prescription for lab tests
  5. Result of the lab tests given to the women
  6. Medical prescription is given according to the result of the lab tests
  7. Treatment and counseling sessions between midwife and pregnant women

Q: How often do children come to the Clinic?
A: Children make up 60% of the people who come to the Clinic.

Q: Is child malnutrition a serious problem in Kibeti?
A: No. Malnutrition has not been a problem thanks to the help of a committee’s campaign to raise awareness in preventive health care.

Q: What is the typical food intake of a child like?
A: Children have meals regularly, consisting of:
  1. Cassava
  2. Marrow
  3. Other Vegetables
  4. Very small amount of fish. We are assessing how to start a fish farming project to increase the production of fish.

Q: What is the current state of sanitation management in the Ecovillage?
A: Sanitary conditions in the 13 villages must be improved. It is for this reason that JPF is trying to partner with UNICEF specifically to work on improving sanitation systems.

Q: Describe the tax system for inhabitants of the Ecovillage.
A: There are three kinds of taxes
  1. Minimum “Personal Contribution Tax”
  2. Land Occupation Tax
  3. State-Owned Tax Revenue

Legal Matters
Q: Are there legal proceedings?
A: Yes. At the Ecovillage, in the case of liability and violations of the laws, there are lawsuits.

Democratic Elections
Q: Are there term limits for the members of the committees? How long?
A: Each member of the committee has a term limit of 3 years and can be re-elected once.

Q: What is the election process like? 
A: To be elected to a committee, a person must:
  1. Be honest
  2. Have leadership capability
  3. Have development initiatives for the Ecovillage
  4. Be literate
  5. Be a good listener
  6. Have a democratic spirit

Q: When and where are elections held?
A: There are local elections held at general meetings in each village; all of the villagers are welcome to vote.

Q: How are members of the village nominated?
A: When the term of an elected official is over, the Committee of Wise Men (Le Comité des Sages) convenes a general meeting of each institution.

Q: How often are women elected?
A: In the most recent autonomous elections held in each of the 13 villages, 10-20% of the elected officials were women.

Q: Are pesticides used?
A: No, pesticides are not used.

Q: Which crops are grown?
A: Crops grown include:
  1. Cassava
  2. Peanuts
  3. Corn
  4. Marrow
  5. Bananas
  6. Sweet Potatoes
  7. Beans
  8. Palm Wine
  9. Various Vegetables

Q: Are the crops grown used for income or for food nourishment?
A: The Kibeti Ecovillage agriculture is used for both income and nourishment.

Q: Are there animal farms?
A: There are animals in the Ecovillage, but they are not used for farming purposes

Q: What are the needs of the Ecovillage’s agricultural sector?
A: The agricultural sector needs funds to pay for training of farmers in green agriculture (Permaculture) and to incorporate animals into the Ecovillage

Q: How many farmers are there in Kibeti?
A: There are 150 farmers in Kibeti.

Q: What is the attendance rate of children in primary school in Kibeti?
A: 75% of primary school-aged children attend even though their parents are not always able to cover all the school fees.

Q: What sorts of materials are used in the schools?
A: Each school has a small amount of books just for the teachers and not for students; there is a lack of tables, desks, books and school furniture.

Q: What are the currents needs in the school system?
A: Kibeti needs to improve schools' infrastructures with new buildings in sustainable materials, equipment, textbooks and school supplies.

Q: Are teachers paid? How much?
A: Teachers in Kibeti who are certified by the Ministry of Education are paid by the State.
  1. Teachers who are not certified by the Ministry of Education are paid by the parents of students
  2. Teachers’ salaries are around $50 per month and are not self sufficient

Q: What is the rate of poverty in Kibeti?
A: Poverty is advanced in the Ecovillage due to a lack of income-generating activities or micro-enterprises. However, members of the Ecovillage have good initiatives in making hands products and have plans to partner with microenterprise projects to build the local economy.