Before the Maman Shujaa Center opened in July of 2012, the online voice of Congolese women was virtually mute. The obstacles to access, though few in number, are virtually insurmountable by most. Anuarite sums it up well: “In our country, ...there are still women who have never seen a computer, or how it looks or works, there is not talk of the internet since it is inaccessible to all. ….Here in DRC to navigate just 15 minutes is 500 FC ($0.50), then, when you take an hour it is 2000 FC ($2.00), poor women that we are, with only 2000 FC ($2.00) to eat that day, so we say, if once we go to internet that day, children go to sleep with a hollow belly.”
When starting the free online Center for women, I announced the opening to only educated women leaders. I thought that to build a strong foundation for our advocacy movement, I would initially draw women who were already computer literate and connected online. However, the very first night I realized that even CEOs of women-led associations in East Congo are unfamiliar with computing. I immediately restructured things to schedule women leaders to come with their associations for two nights in a row. The first night the staff and I spent getting each one an email address and registering them on World Pulse, so that on the second night we could teach them how to write their story; their first assignment being to write their World Pulse bio.
When we were able to open the Center in our own space in February 2013, we immediately started a digital literacy training course for new members. 80% of the new members enroll themselves in that class to learn basic computing before we introduce them to the online community of World Pulse. But it’s a whole new world to these women and so even after graduating the class, our staff of four trainers is continually assisting them to make their way online. But how rewarding it is when after posting their first journal entry, they receive a comment from some sister half-way around the world saying, "your story touched me."
As Feza ROSEMARIE states: “Thank you very much for these computer skills. Before I did not have the occasion to understand, but with Maman Shujaa I have come to learn this tool. I am grateful to the Maman Shujaa Center that I have learned these skills and thanks to the Center that I have become connected to World Pulse. …I encourage other women to do the same thing as me and to share with other women around the world.”
But as Mauwa Brigitte says: “We need more digital learning centers in all 11 provinces of the DRC, these trained women are able to take advantage of the power of technology; they can help their communities to …improve their skills, and above all, to participate in the modern era of digital knowledge, not just as a consumers but also as sources of knowledge!”
BAJIRA CHISHUBA sums it up perfectly: “World Pulse is an exciting platform that allows women in the world to connect. Through this connection, we become more aware of the realities and challenges facing women. We also become more aware of the power that women have to overcome their obstacles!”
Our impact at the Maman Shujaa Center is not measured by whether or not we are amassing followers, but whether or not we 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.WWW: Women Weave the Web