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HOPE

"Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness." Desmond Tutu

"Africa is as unpredictable as ever. It's my 5th time (4th to DRC) and being among extreme poverty this month, I actually feel a bit defeated. Our cooperative is wonderful in many ways though still there is room to grow as far as bookkeeping and inventory tracking are concerned, but when I look around it's all so gloom...malaria, illness, death, starvation, roadside killings, and hardly any employment opportunities. Several times a day, individuals, who know about our cooperative, and want me to help them find a good job or tell them how to create a social enterprise, approach me. It's inspiring but at the same time I feel so overwhelmed..."

 - Message sent from Congo: June 2016

My trip this summer challenged me greatly. Everyday in Congo I encountered young men and women from our village asking for assistance. They want to start a business or improve their current trade by taking our business training. Yet they also need computers to open Internet cafes, generators to increase production at the local bakery, and science books for medical students. The list is endless, and I've often found myself in the position of being the only one they can ask for such locally rare novelties.  

Among many questions, I continue to ask myself, How do we fit into all this? Where do we begin? And, will it ever be enough? 

When we start to see ourselves as the answer to the sufferings of others, it is the moment we lose sight of authentic, human development. Development is not exclusive to improving the economic plight of the poor though it is certainly one aspect, but rather we are called to something greater and that is purposeful, and fruitful, relationships. I have also learned that one of the best ways we can do this is to simply begin with what we know - our talents. We acknowledge and embrace them not for our own benefit but for the good of others. When we do this, our capacity to impact those we love grows and we are inspired to give with joy. Our gifts will be constantly manifested and emboldened through our relationships, and so long as we have one another, there will always be hope. 

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SMALL ACTS TRANSFORM THE WORLD

While many of our dreams have become a reality our work in Congo has only just begun. It’s time we connect more Congolese artisans and entrepreneurs to global consumers so that families and communities everywhere can thrive. The next generation has a great opportunity to spread positive social change. Just take a look at the awesome impact made by the kids from East Cooper Montessori in South Carolina.

Every year the Montessori Model UN (MMUN) invites students from across the country to participate in simulations at UN Headquarters in NYC. Students come to learn and exercise public speaking, debating, critical thinking, teamwork, and leadership skills.

Students are then assigned to represent the identity and interests of different nations. They come together to address and solve issues regarding peace and security, human rights, the rights of the child, child labor, the environment, food and hunger, economic development and globalization. The ultimate purpose of MMUN is to inspire youth to create a better world. And the kids from East Cooper Montessori did just that.

These young professionals wore their artisan made products throughout the UN halls and meeting rooms that week. 

As we continue to connect Congolese artisans and their handmade products to consumers in the U.S., our mission grows to impact the next generation of changemakers because not only did these young students discuss issues of health, security, and literacy that week = they provided it! 

"EDUCATION IS SIMPLY THE SOUL OF A SOCIETY AS IT PASSES FROM ONE GENERATION TO THE NEXT."

G.K. Chesterton

Thank You East Cooper Montessori!!

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A promising young artisan: Dieu Beni

Dieu Beni was a curious young twelve-year-old when we first met. She was sent to live within our volunteer compound, which was near her school. Dieu Beni's father is an English teacher. She picked up the language at home and with a little encouragement would often practice with me during the day. 

Dieu Beni watched volunteers come and go from our projects in the village. She peered in through our windows while we prepared evening meals and we would often find her eavesdropping on our daily conversations. Though she was also very helpful, especially with new volunteers who didn't know how to burn trash, cut firewood, or prepare chicken. 

Summer 2011

Summer 2011

In February, Dieu Beni came up to me and said that one day she was going to become a cooperative member of Totonga Bomoi. I smiled and told her that she must work hard in school and complete her sewing studies, but inside I was completely filled with joy that this young girl whom we often referred to as notre petit espion (our little spy) would one day become such an intelligent and detemerined young woman. 

February 2015

February 2015

Dieu Beni is like so many others in the village who after years of walking miles to school and studying by candlelight are left to a life of constant poverty. Malnourishment and disease take so many lives that our families in Congo live with constant fear of loss and unpredictability. 

By creating opportunities for our artisans to increase their monthly income and build community, we can strengthen families and communities across Congo. 

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#Day Of The Girl

Did you know that more than 30 million girls are denied access

to primary and secondary education? 

Barriers can include everything from lack of teachers to negative cultural perceptions of education to extreme poverty.

Our artisans are responsible for the school fees, uniforms, meals, and well being of more than three-dozen children. Mama Aroyo supports her three children and younger sister; Bernadette Enaru, Julienne Buve, and Francine Kandaru send money to their parents for the school fees of younger brothers and sisters; Marie Opisia supports the orphaned children of her eldest brother and Jeannine provides for five step children after her brother-in-law passed away and their mother left. 

When you purchase TOTONGA BOMOI products 100% of the profits earned by our artisans are reinvested into the lives of their children, siblings, parents, and grandparents. 

 

The NABUTA handbag, which means I RISE in the local Congolese language of Lingala, expresses our cooperative's desire to prioritize the education of young girls in DRCongo. 

Quality-lined, black or blue interior; Cross-body strap; Inside pocket with zipper; and personally signed by the artisan in Congo

Everyday we have this beautiful opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others. Our artisans are tremendously grateful for your love and support and we wouldn't be here without you!

When a young girl receives an education her entire community thrives. 

When a young girl receives an education her entire community thrives. 

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La Dolce Vita

Last week, I received several photos from an Italian volunteer who spent time in Aru, Congo. He stopped by our local office and workshop, where he met the young women of Totonga Bomoi.

Their talents and outlook on life impressed him. He recounted the joy he saw in their eyes, and the pride they took in their work as they sewed dozens of beautiful handbags for him to share with family and friends in Italy! 

Just think: Six months ago, these women were working alone, struggling to make ends meet. Today, our artisan cooperative provides them a safe and clean place to work as well as builds a community of trust so that they can continue to share ideas and learn from one another.  

Marco with the ladies of Totonga Bomoi!

Marco with the ladies of Totonga Bomoi!

Miracles happen everyday in Congo!

Miracles happen everyday in Congo!

Thank you for supporting our initiative!

Thank you for supporting our initiative!

Spread the word as we bring our brand – Totonga Bomoi – to the world! 

Spread the word as we bring our brand – Totonga Bomoi – to the world! 

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Empowering Women Through Microfinance

Microfinance has become widely regarded as an important tool for empowering women and addressing gender inequality in an economy. As the Events and Social Media Intern, I serve Totonga Bomoi with a social enterprise study mission to learn how very poor women are improving the lives of their families.

In the village of Aru, Congo where our social enterprise was initiated, the local economy is very simple. Those who are active in the local labor market are employed or self-employed as farmers and day laborers who do not have regular work. There are of course a few with some basic skills in sewing and machinery, etc. However, due to lack of government policies, cooperation becomes the key element for people to improve their social and economic development status.

Totonga Bomoi gathered with 10 local women to create the first artisan cooperative in 2014 and recently partnered with Yobel International to provide accounting, marketing, and leadership education for these women to create and manage business of their own. We believe that education will be a benefit to the empowerment of women as gender equality is realized and will serve these women to stand against injustice and violence.

Last weekend, Katie, Founder of Totonga Bomoi, showed me a report of these women’s salary increase, from 25 dollars a month to almost 150 dollars a month. One of our artisans, Julienne Buve said, “With my earnings, I purchased a sewing machine which I have transferred to our cooperative office that opened in March 2015!” Another artisan, Bernadette Enaru, said, “I was able to use money that I earned through our cooperative to buy the building materials. Our cooperative has also allowed me to support my siblings with their education. Receiving one’s secondary diploma is very important to the future of my country.”

These women are looking forward to creating many more products! It has always been the social enterprise and NGOs to fill the gap between the government, who provides public services; and the private sector that usually only engages in for-profit business agendas.

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