World Pulse

From a Rumble to a Roar: Women Speak Out in the Congo

Kim Crane
Posted September 22, 2015 from United States
Girl Ambassadors at the Maman Shujaa center in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo © Jade Frank.

Their words break through geographic, economic, and linguistic divides with urgent messages for the world.

Yvette is a woman who has ambitions for her country.

Laetitia wonders when sexual violence will end in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Odette sees her sisters violated every day; she wants to become their mouthpiece to interrupt the decision makers.

Mayele says “Non” to war, impunity, and political manipulation.

Brigitte hopes to conquer the world with her quill in her hand.

Women from the Maman Shujaa (Hero Women) center in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) penned these words in July in a poetry exercise for a World Pulse writing workshop.

The poems, each beginning with the words “Je suis” (I am), are a powerful collective statement from a group of women seeking authorship over their own stories. Through writing, the women resist being defined by others: by global headlines painting the Congo in broad strokes of war and violence; by leaders and politicians who make decisions on their behalf; by the men in their communities with greater access to public spaces, online and offline.

I Am, by Yvette Mwinja

I am a woman who has ambitions for her country

I ask my self how we can reduce violence against women

I hear the cries of girls and women in rural areas

I see the misery that befalls my people in the DRC

I want change and improvement in the socioeconomic lives of women

I am a woman who has ambitions for her country

I need support and partners who will understand my ideas and help me

I fear that human rights are not respected in our country

I weep for those women and girls who are raped night and day

I am a woman who has ambitions for her country

I understand that woman can be independent and assert her rights

I say no to violence against women in my country and everywhere in the world

I hope that one day womankind can rediscover her dignity

I am a woman who has ambitions for her country

English translation by community member amys

World Pulse community leader Neema Namadamu established the Maman Shujaa center in 2012 as a space for women in the South Kivu region of the DRC to express themselves, learn new skills, build movements, and access technology to connect with the world.

“Having free access to the Internet to connect with peers, with influencers, with sponsors, is of incomparable worth when trying to make a way in a place where there is no apparent way,” writes Neema in a recent e-newsletter from the center.

From the beginning, the women coming to the Maman Shujaa center have enthusiastically embraced opportunities on World Pulse to connect across the borders of their own communities. The DRC is now the country with the second highest representation on the World Pulse network, and members from this region have participated in nearly every World Pulse Campaign and Call to Action.

Stany Nzabas, program manager at the center, is constantly looking for ways to help Congolese women navigate barriers that can stand in the way of full integration of their voices into global discussions.

The last several years of partnership with the Maman Shujaa center has brought a number of changes to World Pulse. Before the partnership, content on WorldPulse.com was available primarily in English, a daunting hurdle for women in the South Kivu region of the DRC, who speak a diversity of mother tongues and share the common language of French. Today, World Pulse programs, stories, and opportunities to participate are increasingly accessible in French.

The determination of women in the Congo to make their voices heard drove the expansion of World Pulse’s volunteer program, which now recruits francophone volunteers from all over the world to support the French-speaking community and close the language gap. To date, volunteer translators have now translated over 2000 community journals into English, to engage a wider audience.

Some Maman Shujaa members touch a computer or open an email account for the first time at the center. Maman Shujaa staff lead classes and workshops to help these women achieve the digital literacy needed to participate meaningfully online. Stany recognizes that even women who are already familiar with the technology are looking for new opportunities to engage.

Laetitia, for example, is a 59-year-old Maman Shujaa member who has been involved in higher education for 12 years and women’s rights NGOs for 10. She logs on to World Pulse to discuss global issues with other women and strengthen contacts with women around the world.

Stany notes that even for professionals like Laetitia, who may be well-versed in writing reports for nonprofits, sharing their own stories and communicating their perspectives with a global audience is often a new experience.

When World Pulse began planning this month’s Call to Action around climate justice— a topic the Maman Shujaa have been active in—Stany approached World Pulse about developing a writing workshop. The goal: to ensure that the Maman Shujaa would be prepared to share their stories and solutions with the world.

Brigitte profile image

I Am, by Mauwa Brigitte

I am autonomous

I wonder about women’s support behind our development

I hear Congolese women becoming independent

I see change in my community

I want Congolese women to become visionaries

I am proud to see every woman evolving with technology

I need access to computers to promote learning

I worry that women are keeping their knowledge hidden away in their drawers

I cry at the thought that my great grandparents were not autonomous

I am known through the world through World Pulse

I understand that technology makes the difference

I say YES to the empowerment of women

I hope to conquer the world with my quill in my hand

I am at peace when I divulge my self worth

English translation by community member VickyM

On Wednesday, July 15, the first day of the training, 14 women, including Laetitia, gathered at the center. Some traveled long distances by bus to get there.

The room was equipped with laptops, but the laptops were set aside that day in favor of familiar pen and paper.

This idea of starting with the familiar was a theme woven throughout workshop, which was held over two evenings. Participants wrote about who they are, the places they are from, the experiences that shape them, and their burning messages for the world.

Stany facilitated at the front of the classroom while World Pulse Online Community Leads Emily Garcia and Eliza Gilmore introduced activities and answered questions over Skype from the World Pulse office in Portland, Oregon.

Stany was happy to watch women he had previously seen hesitate in front of a blank World Pulse journal form, unsure what to write, now filling up pages and pages with their words. The World Pulse staff members on the other side of the Skype connection were thrilled to witness women writing as a community, gaining confidence, and discovering the value of their voices.

After this experience, Laetitia says she now has new skills that she can integrate into her human rights activism. She and another participant, Brigitte Mauwa, say they refer to and appreciate the handout from the workshop of 10 questions to ask oneself while writing journals. It is a starting point they can use for writing of all kinds.

Stany says many women come to the Maman Shujaa center looking for skills that they might be able to use in their job or to find employment. He says training like this gives them the confidence to start. They are seeing their voice acknowledged by their peers and they affirm they have something important to say.

“I am at peace when I divulge my self worth” writes Brigitte, in her “I Am” poem. The 14 participants in July’s workshop represent a microcosm of what the Maman Shujaa Center is trying to accomplish. In an environment where women confront violence and inequality on a daily basis, these women are writing from a place of power. They are drawing from their own rich experiences and their visions for a better world.

Now that they have found a place to begin, they haven’t stopped. Several Maman Shujaa members have posted their writing from the workshop on World Pulse. Their messages have been translated to English and garnered supportive comments from all over the world. A few participants have already submitted stories to the Climate Justice Initiative, which runs through the end of the month.

In her poem on climate change, Mayele appeals to her global readers: “I realize I need your support as well as mine for ecosystems to survive.”

The problems facing the DRC, from gender-based violence to climate change, have always been deeply connected with the rest of the world. Now, so too are these pulsing voices for progress.


Dive Deeper: Maman Shujaa hero women are eager to connect with YOU! You can access the latest journal posts from the Democratic Republic of Congo here. If they haven’t yet been translated into your language, you can use the Google Translate drop-down menu at the top of each page for a rough translation.

Comments 4

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Olanike
Sep 26, 2015
Sep 26, 2015

Wow! I so much love the depth of the messages and meanings conveyed through the creatively pieced together words of our sisters in the DRC.

Great things are sure happening in and through our World Pulse community, and I feel truly blessed to be connected to the Maman Shujaa on this platform. Keep the flag flying, trailblazers!

Much love to you all from Nigeria, Olanike.

TSHEPISO BETTY MOKOENA
Oct 06, 2015
Oct 06, 2015

What a touching piece. I am moved by this powerful story you have shared with us. We can change a world and empower those who are in need or need to be helped I love both poems sending a powerful message at the same time recoginising girls and women strength! Thank you for sharing! 

All the best! 

Angelica F
Oct 13, 2015
Oct 13, 2015

I loved this entry, as I am a huge fan of self-identification and personal growth found through writing. I loved how the beginning held declarative statements about participants of the workshop: "Yvette is a woman who has ambitions for her country. Laetitia wonders when sexual violence will end in the Democratic Republic of Congo...." I find that personally, writing things down helps me clarify how I feel about certain things. Did the women from the Maman Shujaa find themselves doing this as well? It sounds like it from the post. I loved the two poems that were posted and I found it interesting how different they were even when each line began in the same way. This shows how each individual woman was able to use their unique thoughts and create powerful statements! Bravo! I look forward to hearing more about Maman Shujaa. 

Sally maforchi Mboumien
Jan 23, 2016
Jan 23, 2016

Great. Say it out and change the situation. Good initiative