Imagine being caught in the middle of the bloodiest war since World War II. You are uneducated and can barely spell your name. Your husband was killed by the rebels who raped you while your six children hid nearby, and had your husband lived, he would have left you after the defilement of your body by another man. Your friends and family are among the more than five million who have been killed by the war and you feel like you have no way out. This is the everyday reality for Congolese women caught in the crossfire of a war over resources, technology, and money.
Within the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), there is an area controlled by the United Nations called Bukavu. This is where PhD candidate and co-owner of Mamafrica Designs, Ashley Nemiro, founded a company to uplift, empower, educate and provide a source of income for people in the area.
Nemiro visited Africa for the first time in 2009 while studying for her Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology in Ghana. Then, in 2012, she returned to Africa; this time to the DRC. While working with the Congolese women who had been traumatized by violence and subversive war tactics, Nemiro was driven with the need to do something more to help. As the women began to heal emotionally through sharing their stories, Nemiro appealed to anyone and everyone to help get her organization off the ground.
In an interview with Mamafrica’s Operations Manager, Casey Hayes, she describes how Mamafrica is different from outfits like TOMS shoes who also have a positive impact agenda for impoverished communities in Africa. “What sets us apart from TOMS is [Mamafrica] focuses on the self empowerment of our women, as well provide employment,” said Hayes.
Hayes has visited Africa several times and says, “you go and feel like you have to do something.”
Today, Mamafrica Designs provides employment, living wages, adult literacy classes and healing arts classes after work, as well as child care and education for every child. Over 100 women in Bukavu are employed by Mamafrica — a place with scant hope of employment as Bukavu has an unemployment rate of 90 percent.
The women of Mamafrica create unique clothing from locally resourced fabrics and materials. “Mamafrica is not just selling a product,” explained Hayes. “We are selling a woman’s story.”
The main goal for Mamafrica is to provide education and healing for the women and children of the DRC. Mamafrica Co-Founder Aline Makelera was born and raised in Bukavu. She is quoted on the Mamafrica web site emphasizing the necessity of education, “the most powerful weapon against violence is education.”
When asked about what Mamafrica hopes specifically to achieve through educating women of the Congo, Hayes answered that they are inspiring the entrepreneurial spirit in both the women and the children. Mamafrica encourages the growth of these women for them to move on and create their own sustainable businesses.
The only way women can stop being used as pawns of war is if they remove themselves from the equation. Mamafrica Designs provides a way out and a way up from the horrific tragedies these courageous women have had to endure.
If you would like to find out more about Mamafrica and how you can contribute to the cause, visit Mamafrica’s web site for more information on donating, sponsorship, and volunteer opportunities. What are your thoughts on this controversial war? Are you aware of conflict minerals? Let’s talk here, or you can tweet me @TiffaniJPurdy.