Meet The Family
Neema Namadamu
Founder & Executive Director 
Hero Women Rising & Synergy of Congolese Women's Associations

Neema Namadamu is a visionary game-changer. Women Thrive Worldwide named her as 1 of 14 Fierce Women’s Rights Advocates To Watch In 2014. In a Huffington Post article, peace activist John Dear said,

“She ranks with Leymah Gbowee, the Nobel laureate from Liberia and Mairead Maguire, the Nobel laureate from Belfast — two of our greatest living peacemakers.”

Crippled from polio, she is the first woman with disability from her ethnic group to earn a university degree, going on to serve in Parliament for South Kivu province, and then as Chief Advisor to DRC’s Minister of Gender and Family. Upon leaving government service, Neema founded an NGO to support disabled female-victims of violence in East Congo.


In 2012, Neema founded Synergy of Congolese Women’s Associations (SAFECO), a forum to foster collaboration among women-led NGOs to work their Peace, Rights, and Development agenda.


On behalf of the Maman Shujaa members, Neema generated a petition that garnered over 100,000 signatures that resulted in an audience at the White House, and helped spur the appointment of a U.S. Special Envoy to DRC.

Neema has become the face representing Women’s Transformative Leadership in Africa, as depicted on the cover of MasterCard Foundation’s recently sponsored study.  In 2013 Neema was awarded “Architect of Peace and Civil Society Activist” in the Great Lakes Region. In October 2014 she was honored by South African-based Celebrating Excellence in Organizations as “Africa’s Most Influential Woman for 2014”, in the Welfare and Civil Society category.


In December 2014 Neema was given the Outstanding Women Leadership Award by the World CSR Congress for “Outstanding women professionals who have the vision, flair, acumen and professionalism to demonstrate excellent leadership and management skills in an organization, making changes and achieving results.”


In 2015, Neema has been honored with the Inspirational Woman Leader award by the World Women Leadership Congress & Awards (WWLCA) 2015 in Mumbai, India, among SALT Magazine’s 100 Most Inspiring Women, and featured in the Unsung Heroes in the Face of Evil Exhibition in Rotterdam, Netherlands.


Says Neema, “Impact is not measured by whether or not you are amassing followers, but whether or not you are inspiring leadership. We don’t want a world of leaders and followers, but leaders only – all of us together leading this world into the good of all that’s possible.”

Boniface Rukumbuzi 
Administrative and Program Manager
Synergy of Congolese Women's Associations

With a university degree in Law, Boniface has been a valued contributing member to South Kivu Province’s Civil Society for many years. Recognized as fair and articulate, Boniface has distinguished himself among his peers and before the government as an ardent Human Rights Defender. With more than 10 years of project administration and management experience in the nonprofit world, Boniface has become invaluable to SAFECO’s project implementation since joining the staff 2 years ago.

After collaborating for years with her fellow PWD (person with disability) in Civil Society, Neema hired Boniface to facilitate a meeting she had arranged between the government of South Kivu Province and eight committees she'd formed from indigenous and other communities living in and around the Itombwe forest. Boniface proved himself more than capable of facilitating and mediating between the government and the female and male committee leaders of many tribes. Ensuring each voice was heard and acknowledged resulted in the creation of a mutually beneficial agreement between the tribes and the government to protect the old-growth forest from further destruction due to the indiscriminate granting of mining and logging contracts.

These days, Boniface takes responsibility for the day-to-day operations of SAFECO’s many paradigm-changing programs; managing staff, overseeing projects and financials, liaising with local partners, Civil Society and government agencies, all with his heart firmly centered in the vision of the “Maman Shujaa” (Hero Women) founder.

Rebecca Roberts-Wolfe
Director of Communications and Development
Hero Women Rising

Rebecca joined the staff of Hero Women Rising in October 2017 after being a friend of the organization for a few years.  A writer, a documentary filmmaker, and a former Program Director in the non-profit world, she is passionate about women’s solidarity and changing the paradigm of our times.  

Before becoming involved in HWR, Rebecca had previously lived and worked in West and North Africa.  Although she hadn’t had much experience with Central Africa, she had felt drawn to the region for a long time.  She jumped at the opportunity to work with a visionary change-maker like Neema and act in a supporting role to such impactful grassroots efforts in one of the Hearts of the World.

Rebecca’s fluency in French facilitates greater communication and collaboration between Hero Women Rising in the US and SAFECO in DRC.   Her background in agriculture also helps to inform her support of some of SAFECO’s programs and future projects.

Bukavu Center

Esperance Nashimwe  
Office Manager -Bukavu Center
Synergy of Congolese Women's Associations

Esperance, or Espe to us, has been part of the SAFECO staff since its founding. In fact, you can’t imagine walking into the Bukavu Maman Shujaa Center and not seeing Espe waiting to greet and serve you. Behind that heart of service to the Maman Shujaa is also a keen eye on the bottom line. Espe so values SAFECO’s impact in the community that she is always watching out for SAFECO’s fiscal viability. As such, Espe not only oversees the office as a whole, but takes full responsibility for the daily bookkeeping and accounting.
Espe got her Business and Administration degree from UNC / ISGEA Bukavu, DRC in 2003. Espe then worked for the National Independent Electoral Commission in the department of finance and logistics, and then with another nonprofit as their accountant. Espe is one who epitomizes just how difficult it is to put a value on the contributions of our staff to the success of SAFECO and the Maman Shujaa.

Clementine  Namasomo
Computer Center Manager- Bukavu Center
Synergy of Congolese Women's Associations

Clementine was the first Maman Shujaa put on staff. She had come to the Center to learn the computer and advocate, but we soon realized she was not only very passionate, but very capable. Clementine has now been an integral part of the staff for over 3 years.


Clementine achieved her bachelor’s degree in Economics in 2013, but she is truly a young woman who has proven that she is able learn and play any role with excellence. As such, when SAFECO opened the Business Center operations in 2015, Clementine was put in charge of the Cyber café.

Brigitte Mauwa Kufis  
Trainer for Maman Shujaa- Bukavu Center
Synergy of Congolese Women's Associations

Brigitte joined the Maman Shujaa in 2013 and volunteered at the Center for about a year, when she was then asked to join the staff. Brigitte loves her work. She says it is such an honor to have work that involves empowering women.


Brigitte’s first role on staff was as a computer literacy trainer; teaching the basics. She then stepped into the role of helping those who’ve been trained, learn how to navigate online, and now also teaches about how to write your story, and online networking with social media.


Brigitte herself is very active online and so is not only a teacher and an inspiration to the Maman Shujaa, but an inspiration to women all over the world. Brigitte also played a role in the Girl Ambassadors for Peace Program, playing “mom” with the girls in their skits to dramatize the value and potentiality of girls in Congolese society.

Girl Ambassadors for Peace 
Synergy of Congolese Women's Associations

The Girl Ambassadors for Peace program is a mentoring program where Neema is raising up the next generation of Maman Shujaa, or Hero Women.


They are trained and then exercised through the various application mediums, such as teaching literacy to unwed teenaged mothers, doing theater skits on radio or live before entire rural communities, to dramatize the value of girls, the cultural inequities of an average girl’s life, the value of education to the girl, her family, and the community, and the rights of women and girls according the DRC’s Constitution and Family Code, and United Nations Security Resolutions 1325, 1820, among others.

Annette Scarpitta 
Rwenena Kids Founder and Gender Specialist
Synergy of Congolese Women's Associations

Annette Scarpitta prides herself on impacting vulnerable communities throughout the world. From 2008 to 2016, she played an active role as Board Secretary of the Kakenya Center for Excellence, an internationally acclaimed Maasai girls’ school. She also served on the board of Kabultec, an Afghan women’s group that provides couples literacy education and orphanage support.

It was in 2009 that Scarpitta’s social justice class for 7th graders initiated a program to serve vulnerable Congolese children. The project grew through subsequent classes and funding opportunities to eventually become Rwenena Kids. 

Ms. Scarpitta has served as photo and text editor for more than 20 years, with additional experience as a generalist researcher, writer, and fact checker. She holds the B.A. in European Studies from Scripps College and the M.A. in History from Rice University.

In 2013, she was the honored recipient of the Innovative Social Justice Program award from the Unitarian Universalists for Social Justice “for her years of initiation, devotion, and creativity in addressing global human needs.”

Emerance Nabizana 
- Bukavu Center
Synergy of Congolese Women's Associations

BIO Coming Soon

Itombwe Center

Carlos  Kinyama
Facility Manager- Bukavu Center
Synergy of Congolese Women's Associations

Carlos is a man of Itombwe. He was born in Marunde, the village where the Center is located. He grew up there and knows and is known and respected by everyone in the vast Haut Plateau.


Wanting to contribute, Carlos decided to go university after already in his 30s. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Business from the Kigali Institute of Education. But Itombwe is home to Carlos and after graduating from university, he was looking for a way to get back. Neema presented Carlos with her vision to build a Community Center, a Women’s Center in Itombwe. Carlos accepted and has now built a Center with over 3,000 square feet of space, built in four separate phases. The Center has a number of work spaces, a number of meeting spaces, 3 sleeping rooms, two inside bathrooms with every accommodation, solar energy and satellite internet. The Itombwe Center has set a new standard for development in the Haut Plateau, an area the size of neighboring countries Burundi and Rwanda combined. And Carlos has had a huge hand in bringing development to Itombwe.


Besides maintaining the Center, Carlos is responsible for supporting the Environmental Conversation and Tree Planting initiatives, the Keep Girls in School program, the Media Center activity, the Girl Ambassadors for Peace program, and a number of other projects and programs.

Masoka Jeanne Namunezero
Program Manager, Keep Girls in School- Itombwe Center
Synergy of Congolese Women's Associations

Says Masoka: “I love to change Africa through young women, because it is them who will be the mothers of the nations of the world.” Masoka, a former Girl Ambassador for Peace, is in charge of our Days for Girls – Keep Girls in School program, operating out of the Itombwe Center in the mountainous region of our province.


Masoka received her Baccalaureate degree in Financial and Accounting Management in 2015. In preparation for taking over the Keep Girls in School program, she went to Kampala to study their Micro Enterprise course at the Days for Girls University in Uganda.


Masoka is from the remote area of the Itombwe Center and is happy to be able to work in the area of her home village, to change the paradigm for women and girls there.

Letithia Nantabara
Seamstress Trainer- Itombwe Center
Synergy of Congolese Women's Associations

Letithia served as Neema’s personal assistant for many years. Whatever needed doing, Letithia was always there to make sure it happened the way it was intended. Letithia is a doer, not afraid to carry any burden; willing to support in any way she can.


In 2014, Letithia began learning how to sew. So in 2015 when SAFECO was embarking on its Micro Enterprise industry to make washable, reusable feminine hygiene kits, and needed capable staff in remote Itombwe, Letithia joined Neema there and became a key member of the Keep Girls in School team. Now she is an invaluable trainer at the Itombwe Center, teaching young women how to sew the Stay in School kits. 

Justin Nkundanyirazo
Environmental Conservation Field Manager
Synergy of Congolese Women's Associations

Justin is a local of Marunde. He grew up living in the forested mountains of Itombwe and working in the agricultural fields his ancestors had made by clearing areas of the forest. Now, intent on changing the traditional land-use paradigm, Justin is SAFECO’s Field Manager, overseeing its forest awareness, conservation and tree planting program.
Justin graduated from a Bukavu teacher training school in 1988. He moved to a neighboring country for work, serving in different positions, eventually becoming a district manager in charge of Gender, Social Affairs, and Literacy, where he was very involved in community development projects and activities. 
Justin joined SAFECO in Itombwe in 2013 as Community Mobilizer for our first tree planting project. Justin demonstrated a real passion and indigenous understanding of the Itombwe forest in the tree nursery development project, as well as a keen interest in working with and developing the knowledge and capacity of the local women to care for the nurseries and re-plant the forest. In 2014 he was made SAFECO’s Environmental Conservation Field Manager.

Pete Giovale
Board Chair

By training, Pete Giovale is an engineer.  His work includes serving as a Director for W.L. Gore & Associates, President of GeoFamily Foundation, Board member for a Waldorf-based charter school in Flagstaff, AZ, founding partner in a Hawaiian permaculture chocolate farm, filmmaker, and father.  These divergent projects share the common orientation of interesting people, relationships, and ideas.  Pete loves to learn about and support people's dreams, especially those that are geared toward social justice, sustainability, health, and vitality.


Pete was first introduced to Neema's work after his wife Hilary joined a delegation on sexual violence in conflict to Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.  After watching Hilary's process of recovery from the traumatic stories she heard and ingesting news stories, films, and photography generated by the delegation, Pete became viscerally aware of the urgent need to empower feminine leadership within Congo and throughout the world.


Pete joined the Hero Women Rising Board in 2016, after getting to know Neema through various shared experiences and conversations. As an HWR Board member, Pete uses his masculine skills and approach to support the emerging feminine leadership in DRC and beyond.

Joe Golinveaux
Board Treasurer

Joe's biggest passion is to overcome the systemic problems facing our global society.  His innovative approaches have spanned from working directly with people on the emotional/spiritual aspect of activism to the structural/logistical side of helping organizations to build capacity.  

Joe founded Mighty Nonprofits in 2015.  His company provides marketing, fundraising and accounting services to small nonprofits and NGOs.  He also consults for conservation organizations as part of the nonprofit consulting group TREC.  He holds a Master's Degree in International Development with a focus on nonprofit management.  

When Joe met Neema he was blown away that someone was doing International Development work in a truly grassroots way that so thoroughly embodied empowerment.  Initially sought out to do contract work for HWR, he was soon honored to join the board in the Spring of 2016.

Hope Ferdowsian
Board Member

Hope Ferdowsian, MD, MPH, is a double-board certified fellow of the American College of Physicians and the American College of Preventive Medicine. Known as “Dr. Hope” to many of her patients, her expertise spans the fields of medicine, public health, and ethics. For more than a decade, she has cared for patients; taught undergraduate and graduate public health students, medical students, and residents; and led key research and policy initiatives. Many of these initiatives have focused on the connection between the health and wellbeing of people and animals. She has published broadly in this area, and her book, Phoenix Zones: Where Strength Is Born and Resilience Lives (The University of Chicago Press, 2018) also explores this topic. The book also features the work of Neema Namadamu.


Hope has lectured in academic centers and public spaces in North America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia, and she has appeared on local, national, and international radio and television programs. Internationally, she has worked in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Uganda, and the Federated States of Micronesia. She serves as a medical consultant for Physicians for Human Rights Program on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones, and she has evaluated and cared for torture, sexual violence, and other trauma survivors for more than fifteen years. It was during the course of her work in these areas that she met Neema.


Domestically, Hope has worked with non-profit organizations providing healthcare and advocacy for vulnerable populations in urban and rural settings.

Elizabeth Billups
Board Member

Bio coming soon


Hero Women Rising

PO Box 944

Flagstaff, AZ 86002

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