Blog #22 | A Multidisciplinary Artist

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Blog #22 | A Multidisciplinary Artist

From artists, to human rights activists, to journalists, to athletes—there are so many Congolese thought leaders spreading big ideas and enriching global culture. Sabrina Moella is one of them.

A Toronto-based writer, performer, and filmmaker, Sabrina Moella’s work is strengthening Congo’s voice across the globe. She explores critical subjects like immigration, family lineage, womanhood, and body image while narrating the everyday life, traditions, and culture of the Afro-Caribbean diaspora.

Moella received her first screenwriting accolade in 2000 for the short film “Letter to Abou,” which was featured at the Cannes Film Festival. Since then, her films have been screened at more than 100 festivals across Europe and North America, including the Toronto International Film Festival, Hollywood Black Film Festival, UrbanWorld Film Festival, and the Reel World Film Festival. Her poetry has been featured on various radio shows, such as the LA-based “Words on the Street” and South Africa’s “Badilisha Poetry.” In 2014, Moella made her Broadway debut at the United Solo Festival with her autobiographical one-woman play, “Made in Congo.”

Sabrina Moella’s illuminating work provides us with a means of becoming informed and empowered via multidisciplinary art. Today we’d like to share one of her powerful poems, “We Are Not Ruined,” which captures the shared resilience Congolese women share in the face of unending violence:

We are not ruined

We are the ones who wear cornrows in our heads and draw tattoos on our wombs to show the world our precious uniqueness 

We are not ruined

We are the ones who tie wrappers around our hips to go out, two for the married women, one for the single ones

We are not ruined

We are the ones who eat white clay when we’re expecting, to give strength to our babies while they’re growing inside our wombs

We are the ones who gather together in the evening to share stories and laughter and to ask one another: “citoyenne, tokoseka na biso nini?”

We are not ruined

We are the ones who wake up every morning to go sell dumplings and cassava at the market to provide for our families

We are the ones who manage to make a living despite the power cuts, the unpaid salaries, and the unmaintained roads

We are the ones who are tired of our corrupted governments who steal the country’s money while our own children are starving

We are not ruined

We are the survivors of colonialism, imperialism, dictatorship and genocide.

We are the ones who know that when foreigners come and take our diamonds, our copper, our cobalt, our coltan and give us a rice bag in exchange, this is not fair trade

We are not ruined

We are the ones who reclaim justice for the 5 millions dead in the Democratic Republic of Congo since 1998

We are the women whose mothers and daughters and granddaughters are abused and raped every day by soldiers who use guns and machetes to make sure that our bodies will never give birth again

But we are not ruined

We are the ones still standing on our feet, shaking, in tears, but still standing

Because they might destroy our bodies but they won’t destroy our spirits,

And though they want us to keep crying, we’re the ones who’ll keep on praying and singing, like “Lelu tudi tudila malaba lutulu ne luikala”

We are not ruined

We are the women of Bukavu, Goma, Uvira, Beni, walking together in our streets to reclaim our dignity 

And as long as we’ll be breathing, we’ll have the strength to keep on telling

To the soldiers who think that they can kill us

We are not ruined

To the westerners who think they can manipulate us

We are not ruined

To the governments who think they can despise us

WE ARE NOT RUINED

WE ARE NOT RUINED

WE ARE NOT RUINED

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Blog #21 | Respectful Partnerships

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Blog #21 | Respectful Partnerships

A healthy and prosperous economy means healthy and prosperous people. Fair trade relationships must be open, fair, consistent, and respectful—acknowledging the inherent dignity of every individual involved. One of the Fair Trade Federation’s core values is Respectful Partnerships:

We celebrate the contribution and value of all people in the supply chain and recognize the dignity of each person and organization in our interactions and relationships. We believe that people have a right to participate in the decisions that affect their lives based on open sharing of information.

As a new member of the Fair Trade Federation, Totonga Bomoi is committed to transparent, proactive communication that shows consideration for both artisans and customers. We work hard to ensure our production and transaction model helps both ends feel actively involved in the trading chain. In addition, our collaborative approach to social enterprise helps us take it a step further. We partner with organizations like Alternativ, who provides entrepreneurial training curriculum that keeps the doors open for our artisans to explore their futures while honing in their skills. Thus, our cooperative’s objectives go beyond the trading chain.

With the artisan sector being the second largest employer in developing countries, dedication to respectful partnerships is a must. Long-term and genuinely sustainable economic growth can only happen within the framework of equity, and maintaining this framework requires transparency. Once this level of respect is achieved, it shines through. As Patience, one of our artisans says,

“Our cooperative has opened my eyes. The financial impact on my life is amazing. It helps my community in many ways. Thank you to all my customers who have helped me to create a brighter future.”

Learn more about verified FTF members and the principles of fair trade here.

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Blog #20 | This is Congo: Exceptional Resilience in a War-Torn Country

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Blog #20 | This is Congo: Exceptional Resilience in a War-Torn Country

“When the bullets pass by your head, this is the moment you leave everything and just take what you can grab. Even children are left behind.” After being forced from his home and village, Hakiza has run from six war outbreaks with nothing to his name—except his sewing machine. As a tailor now living at a displacement camp with more than 60,000 other Congolese adults and children, Hakiza has figured out how to use his precious machine to make salt, cooking oil, soap, and other necessities for basic survival.

With multiple regime changes, widespread civilian impoverishment, a dismantled economy, and nearly six million casualties, the Congo’s ongoing conflict over the last two decades is the world’s bloodiest since WWII. Daniel McCabe’s harrowing documentary, This is Congo, follows a handful of individuals like Hakiza who are doing what they can each day to survive while living among the unending violence of a war-torn state.

Mama Romance, an artisanal mineral dealer, risks her life to sell gemstones like tourmaline, amethyst, topaz, and blue sapphire. She began her business ten years ago, when her children were malnourished and had been out of school for two years. “I said to myself, ‘I’m already dead. I don’t want to bury my children because of malnutrition.’” Despite the serious risks of her business, Mama Romance had to try. Now, smuggling minerals across the border to Rwanda and Kenya has enabled her to feed and educate her children. In fact, her first born recently completed university. “God has helped me with this job,” she says. Yet, each day, Mama Romance lives in fear that she may be caught.

Like Hakiza and Mama Romance, the people of Congo possess a unique resilience as a result of having lived through decades of conflict-related brutality. In addition to mass displacement and the constant loss of family members, friends, and neighbors, about 40% of the population lives below the poverty line—which equates to $1.25 USD per day. Under this broken economic infrastructure, Totonga Bomoi offers legal opportunities for Congolese artisans to make ends meet, while also providing invaluable skill-building, entrepreneurial training, and professional development opportunities to ensure long-term prosperity.

The principles of fair trade promote equity in trade relations between developing and underdeveloped economies like that of the Congo. Buying fair trade products not only supports communities affected by perpetual war and violence—it also assists them in emerging from poverty and developing sustainable practices to build a healthier, more equitable socioeconomic foundation.

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Blog #19 | Trade as a Force for Positive Change

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Blog #19 | Trade as a Force for Positive Change

From mitigating poverty, to upholding humane working conditions, to promoting environmentally conscious production methods—there are so many reasons to buy fair trade goods. However, sometimes it can be difficult to be certain of a product’s origins and its journey to our shopping carts. Consumers deserve to know exactly what they’re buying and what they’re supporting, which is why Totonga Bomoi is thrilled to be a new member of the Fair Trade Federation! After a lengthy 18-page-long application and rigorous verification process, we are proud that every item you purchase from our artisans is ethically-sourced in accordance with the highest of standards. We know there are a lot of certification organizations and programs out there, but nothing can beat the legitimacy and steadfast commitment of the Fair Trade Federation. Our acceptance as a verified FTF member reflects our deep commitment to the principles and values of fair trade.

One of these values is Trade as a Force for Positive Change. As the FTF describes:

We value trading relationships that distribute power, risks and rewards more equitably. We believe that trade should be used as a tool to help alleviate poverty, reduce inequality, and create opportunities for people to help themselves. Trade should promote fair compensation, safe and healthy conditions, direct and long-term relationships, transparent business practices, and workplaces free from discrimination and forced child labor. When trade encompasses these practices, the lives of all people and their communities improve.

People thrive when there is ample space for empowerment, and we must all work together to protect that space. It’s critical to recognize that in our global economy, the products we buy and sell are connected to the livelihoods of others. The FTF works closely on the ground with producers and verifies transactions between companies and their suppliers to ensure the individuals producing Fair Trade Certified goods are working in safe conditions, building sustainable livelihoods, and earning a substantial income that not only allows them to invest in their lives and their work—but also uplifts their communities.

We are overjoyed to be part of a movement dedicated to the most rigorous standards of fair trade and the pursuit of a more just and sustainable world. Learn more about verified FTF members and the principles of fair trade here.

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Blog #18 | How Cancer Connected Me to Congo

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Blog #18 | How Cancer Connected Me to Congo

My husband and I were in one of the most beautiful places we had ever visited when we discovered the lump in my breast. As we lay in our bungalow on Lake Atitlán in the middle of Guatemala, my heart sank into my stomach and a wave of anxiety hit me when I first felt it. It was the size of a grape—probably just a cyst, I told myself. It couldn’t be cancer. I was 29, a nonsmoker, vegan, and had no family history of breast cancer that I was aware of.

In December 2017 just after Christmas, I was diagnosed with invasive stage 3 breast cancer. My world was turned upside down as I was thrown into a multitude of tests and screenings before starting an intense neoadjuvant chemotherapy regimen. I was lucky the cancer hadn’t spread, despite my tumor having rapidly grown beyond an innocent lump. But, due to a genetic mutation, I learned I have an increased risk of recurrence and ovarian cancer. I clumsily prepared to lose my hair, and eventually both of my breasts, ovaries, and fallopian tubes. As I struggled to get used to this new reality, I wondered how so many women have managed to power through and come out the other end confident and cancer-free.

Fortunately, I found a breast cancer support group in my area for young women. After going to my first meeting and unloading all of the questions, concerns, and various other emotional ramblings I had bottled up—I felt an immense sense of relief that I was not alone. One woman around my age who had finished chemo brought all of her old headwraps and caps she had accumulated over the course of her treatment. She encouraged the baldies in the room to take anything they could use. As I dug around in her stash, a bright, beautiful splash of color caught my eye. I pulled out a blue, green, and gold printed headwrap and tried it on. I loved the way it looked on me and how simple it was to adjust and tie. I looked at the tag to see which company produced it, and that’s how I first discovered Totonga Bomoi.

As someone who is passionate about investing time, energy, and resources into empowering others to thrive in this life, I was overjoyed to learn about everything Totonga Bomoi is doing to support such talented artisans and entrepreneurs in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I realized the headwrap I wore to protect my awkward bald head was more than just an accessory—it was both a symbolic and tangible outcome of a creative, resilient community working towards economic justice. This inspired me to purchase a second headwrap, as well as a third for a friend who is also going through cancer at a young age.

When I think about the values I share with Totonga Bomoi—community, education, dignity, compassion, creativity—I feel grateful for the twist of fate that has allowed me to contribute to their mission. Instead of sinking into a dark space of perpetual worry and fear of the unknown, I focus on appreciating what each day has to offer. The Totonga Bomoi artisans motivate me to stay inspired, stay creative, and keep fighting—and I’ll always cherish the brightly colored pagne that connects me to them from across the world.

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