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Row by row: Women in the DRC heal from violence while learning to farm

June 23, 2022

By Janice Biehn

Near the southeast corner of the Democratic Republic of Congo, among the steep green mountains, sits the town of Kaziba. On five hectares of farmland, women are learning how to make compost and plant seeds in rows. Eggplant, cabbage, beans, corn and plum seedlings are neatly spaced and sprouting up.

The project is one of three farmer field schools established in 2019 by Maison Dorcas, part of the Panzi Foundation. The Dorcas Rurale program in Kaziba supports 100 survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. PWRDF is funding the three-year program now in its final year.

Mostly women but also a few men are working together in what is called Mutuelle de Solidarité, or solidarity groups. This community-integrated approach empowers women and challenges long held beliefs that women are weak. The solidarity group approach and agro-pastoral activities have enabled several women and households to get out of precarious situations and regain their livelihoods. PWRDF funded 14 out of the 57 solidarity groups, with each group averaging 25 members. PWRDF also funded 17 business plans developed by the groups.

Barhasima Karhambwa, a pastor and counsellor in one of the Kaziba groups, says this approach has brought more benefits to the community. Families have seen their socio-economic situation improve.

Matumaini Espérance, a resident of nearby Bwegera, says that the group has helped her learn what it means to contribute, but even more so, it has promoted social cohesion between the members of the different communities living in Bwegera.

Louise Safi M’Sanvura agrees. Beyond social cohesion, through the solidarity group she has learned several agricultural techniques and was able to build her own house, thanks to income earned through her agricultural activities and the loan received from the group. The beneficiaries saw their standard of living improve, which encouraged other people to either join the project or emulate the beneficiaries in order to achieve the same result.

PWRDF has been supporting other activities at Maison Dorcas that improve the standard of living for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. Through training in income-generating activities such as basketry, soap making, carpentry and sewing, women are successfully re-integrating into their families and communities. More than half of the women started incomegenerating projects with the skills they gained and the reintegration kits with which they were provided. They produce, display and sell their products at covered structures known as Nobela centres. Survivors continue to strengthen social ties by helping each other and selling their wares together under the same shelter.

(with files from Panzi Foundation)

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For media requests please contact Communications Coordinator Janice Biehn at (416) 924-9199;366.

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