I recently chatted with Ashley Nemiro, cofounder of MamAfrica, a social enterprise based in the Congo. MamAfrica provides educational and health programs and economic opportunity for women who have been displaced by a civil war that spanned two decades and killed more than 5 million people.
Ashley first visited Africa in 2009 while volunteering at a health clinic in Ghana and has been going back ever since. She decided to return to the Congo while pursuing her PhD in clinical psychology to provide mental health services to survivors of gender-based violence.
Much like ONE’s core belief that poverty-fighting efforts are about justice, not charity, MamAfrica works hard to ensure that they have a long-term, sustainable impact on the lives of the women and children that they work with.
In order to bring about systemic change, MamAfrica offers cooking, health, literacy, healing arts, sewing courses and financial management to all employees, including a savings program where the women can elect to set aside $20 a month for school fees. Busy with courses in the morning, the women spend their afternoons working on different sewing projects that you will eventually see for sale online.
Ashley is most proud of MamAfrica for providing these women with jobs and a reliable income: “The ability to have a salary means everything. It means they can pay for hospital and school fees, they can rent homes, they can purchase nutritious food.”
MamAfrica works with a local church to help place women living in internally displaced person camps with jobs, many of them working in the formal sector for the first time in their life.
Because of the war, Bukavu is a completely failed state with little to no access to employment. Where women can find work as a seamstress, access to materials, sewing machines and workspace is difficult to come by.
Fortunately, MamAfrica is there to help change that. The women transition from seamstresses to mentors and supervisors with the experience they gain.
Ashley has done the same with MamAfrica staff- all employees are women who participated in the program and have graduated to become administrative staff.
Young children who aren’t yet enrolled in school come to MamAfrica for school meals, reading, art and music programs. Besides keeping the children busy learning and playing, these early educational programs make sure that the organization has an impact on more than just the women working for them.
After all, Ashley knows that it’s the families and communities of the women who work at MamAfrica who will have the most influence: “It’s really the Congolese people who are going to change their country.”
The progress that the women have made in the short time since MamAfrica was founded two years ago is really exciting. While they have experienced heartbreaking violence and loss, these are strong and resilient women with optimism about the future.
Aswifewe, a 19-year-old mother of three, shares that she did not have hope after growing up as a street child but all that has changed since she found a job at MamAfrica. She is so thankful to be surrounded by a supportive community that enables her to feed her children and send them to school.
One of Ashley’s favorite items is the Rasta purse (pictured here), named in honor of the new leather sewing instructor. MamAfrica is committed to supporting the surrounding economy by purchasing materials from local shop-owners in Bukavu. Check here for more of MamAfrica’s unique, beautiful pieces, all using local materials and labor.
There’s a bright future ahead for MamAfrica- besides expanding the product line to include belts and shoes, Ashley wants to open their first brick and mortar shop in Bukavu to provide another job opportunity for women in retail and sales. She also has set her sights on expanding and enrolling more women in the area and continuing to create more jobs in the community.
Shop or donate now. Your donation or purchase will help MamAfrica expand their programs and provide more support, including a campaign to raise $3,000 for an after-school program that will include education, health, dance, singing, soccer and the arts.