"I want to enable, to put confidence inside of women, to transform the seed in their mind"
SynergY of Congolese Women's associations
Beginning in 2011, Neema Namdamu's first project for the advancement of women in Congolese society was a women's Media Center. Understanding how profoundly the ability to use computers and the internet had enabled her to move ahead in life, she sought to create an avenue for other women to have the same access.
From the start, a major goal was to empower other women with their own visions for how to lift up Congolese women.
For this reason, the organization she formed in 2012, along with the leaders of other civil society organizations, is called Synergy of Congolese Women's Associations (SAFECO).
The Synergy is made up of a group of local organizations operating in South Kivu province (eastern DRC) with the common goals of promoting women's rights and the socio-economic integration of women in society. The Synergy meets (how often?) to strategize together and support one another in achieving their missions. Through working together, the Synergy members increase the visibility of their work in Congolese society.
The Synergy members now also include civil society organizations led by men who are making significant contributions to women's empowerment and well being.
Member organizations include:
Women's Solidarity Actions for Rights and Development (AFESODD)
Action for Peace and Sustainable Development in Congo (APDDC)
Action Bureau for Crisis and Development (BADU)
Women and Children in Danger (FED)
Granary for Integrated Development in Bushi (GDIBU)
Women's Group for Light (GFM)
Justice Arises A Nation (JAAN)
Vision for Africa (VFA)
Keeping Girls in School
Before we started making “Stay in School” feminine hygiene kits, girls were being married off at the age of 14 or 15. After falling behind from missing several days of school each month, they’d give up and go work the field with mom, while dad shopped them for the wedding dowry. Thus, the vicious cycle of ignorance and servitude of girls continued generation after generation. But we’ve started a revolution!
Our campaign addresses this problem on several levels by producing washable, re-usable pads for girls, educating the population on the issue, and removing the taboo around women's menstrual cycles.
Girl Ambassadors for Peace
This troupe of university-aged young ladies are being trained and mentored to change the mind about women and girls in East Congo. They perform theater skits on radio, or in person before entire communities, raising awareness about the rights and value of women and girls, touching on typically taboo subjects as only they can, touching hearts as only they can, and making a difference as only they can.
This amazing group of young women are changing the conversation and changing the culture on issues such as sexual violence, women's right to own land, education for girls and the menstrual cycle.
Girls' School in Itombwe
Boys in rural Itombwe can go anywhere for school. But parents expect their girls to be home early for chores and work around the house. This, coupled with the danger that girls face when walking long distances to school, means that if girls don't have a school to attend close by, they will likely stop going to school at a young age.
This modern, well-equipped school building in the heart of Itombwe means that girls will have a place to study and thrive. And just as Neema's education enabled her to achieve beyond anyone's wildest dreams, we know these girls will exceed all expectations for what they can accomplish when given the chance.
We are enabling women who live in "the worst place in the world to be a woman" to travel the world without a passport or a plane ticket. Free computer training and internet access allows them to simply log on and start advocating, or blog their inspiring stories. Through technology we are amplifying the voices of those whose voices have been suppressed.
We're teaching entrepreneurial and networking skills. At both Centers we’re focused on strengthening their voices and their capacity to change their future.
Congo is home to the second largest rainforest in the world, but as with all rainforests, it has suffered massive deforestation. The women of these remote mountainous areas bear the brunt of the hardship, so are passionate about addressing Climate Change.
They are waging their war in the most primitive conditions – without basic equipment and resources – for their children’s sake; operating four nurseries and planting tens of thousands of trees each year. Live by the trees.
Ability and economy
Women with disabilities are some of Congo's most vulnerable citizens. They suffer disproportionately from sexual violence because of their inability to run away from predators. Generally considered un-marriageable, and therefore frequently single mothers, they often struggle to support themselves and their children.
We teach a group of women with disabilities to make bags, clothes, dolls, and jewelry. These products are marketed abroad. The women in the co-op not only earn a living, they learn the incredible value and opportunity that they can offer to the world.
The Maman Shujaa - or Hero Women - movement is all about empowering women to become change-makers. We provide University scholarships to a select few promising girls to help them develop their voices and their abilities to create the future they envision for Congo - as doctors, lawyers, government officers, and highly educated women with empowered voices.
In 2018, four Maman Shujaa are running for parliament to represent South Kivu province. This is the kind of change that will move our region forward into peace, prosperity, and equality.
Providing the gift of education to those who wouldn’t otherwise receive it. Children born from rape or with disabilities are often disregarded, orphaned or ignored. Our program provides direct support for tuition and materials for these children through our relationship with a humble school on the Ruzizi plain. We’ve cemented their dirt floors, provided new desks, and started a unique sports-oriented preschool program.
Neema Namaduma is a visionary peacemaker. She says,
“I want women to discover the gift that they are and the gifts that they embody. My goal is that every woman develops the constitution and capacity to be the agent of change for their little world, and mine – not by preaching things they’ve learned, but by living out of the enlightened and illuminating woman they’ve become and are becoming.”
Neema travels around the world raising awareness and engaging in dialogue. She has spoken at COPEC Summits, for the UN, for the offices of John Kerry and for many conferences on women and women’s rights.
Itombwe as well as the rest of DRC is a water-rich region. But to find quality, safe drinking water is not easy, due to a lack of regulated land use. Farming and mining activities have utterly devastated a large area of the Itombwe forest, leaving the abundant water sources, which serve the many families living in the Itombwe villages, polluted.
To address this situation, we are determined to build a sanitary community water system. Once this system is built, local communities will have access to clean water, without walking far, and without the need to gather fuel wood for boiling.
Water for Itombwe
Healthcare in poor rural communities is often lacking. In our region of the DRC, the situation is no different. The urgency of this need cannot be overstated.
We train our local communities in HIV/AIDS prevention, give out free condoms, and teach school-age girls about their menstrual cycles and reproductive health.
In addition, we are in the process of forming a partnership with MCN Healthcare to provide continuing education for health practitioners in rural areas.