7 November 2013

A Star in Kinshasa

I have known Nyota Babunga - whose first name means "star" in Swahili - for two years.  We first met over email - discussing press releases, advertising, and sponsors for Kima Mbangu (Run Fast!), the annual 5K run our school holds to benefit the organization where Nyota works.  

It only took a few conversations to realize that this woman is a star in every sense of the word: energetic, independent and dedicated.  She truly believes that hope and promise exist in even the most chaotic communities.

Les Fonds Pour les Femmes Congolaises (FFC) is a unique NGO founded and run by incredible Congolese women for Congolese women.  Nyota is one of those women.  

Here are some of her thoughts on life and the Congo:

Tell us a favorite memory from when you were a child:

My favorite moment when I was a child is when I would remove my dada’s shoes when he came back from work and also the weekends when we would go visiting places with my dad.

Nyota and her family!

Where did you grow up?  How did you settle in Kinshasa? 

I grew up partly in Bukavu and Kenya but with a lot of travelling in the south region of Africa.

Baby Nyota.

Coming back to Kinshasa after being born here and knowing nothing about Kin was a new and adventurous experience that I enjoyed. It was my first time to be away from my family and to start life in an unknown town.  It is interesting to be back in my country for a noble cause of helping women and fighting for women’s human rights. At first, I had to stay at family members but at some point I thought, "With the type of work I am involved in it will be great for me to have my own place."  Thus, step by step I took a house and am still finishing it up now.  This was a move that was not accepted and well taken from most of the people in Kinshasa because the belief that a women should stay with her parents or family until she gets married and that if you stay alone you might be taken as “femme libre” and might not receive solicitations for marriage. I am a firm believer that actions speak louder than words and so I decided to embark on this journey. I believe that if the man that is up to the task he will not be intimidated by either my position or my way of life.

At the African Women's Leadership Conference

How did you start working for FFC?  How long have you been at the organization?

In 2011, I was working for Urgent Action Fund-Africa (UAF-A) when I received a solicitation from the FFC to apply for the position of fundraising and communication manager.  Given that UAF-A was working to advance women’s human rights in Africa as a whole, I was delighted to work in Congo for the advancement of rights in my own country.  I knew that I would have the opportunity to impact women's lives and to bring a smile to their faces. It is always an encouragement when I see a women relieved from oppression, a woman accessing a decision making position or a woman accepted back into society after being rejected and stigmatized due to health problems. Most importantly, I love seeing a woman who has survived sexual violence smile and recover from this horrible event.  It helps me.  

Nyota at ISIOLO, a secluded area of Kenya.  She was conducting a training on sanitation.

It seems like there are many great ideas out there for how to help women in Congo - education, micro-loans, skills training.  In your opinion, what is the most important tool for women to be safe and successful in the DRC today?

I believe that the most important tool for women in DRC is their economic and social empowerment. I believe that raising awareness about their rights will contribute a great deal to women’s success and development in the DRC.

Many people are also talking about the huge concerns for women in Congo - dropping out of school, pregnancy at a young age, rape, war, illiteracy.  In your opinion, what are the greatest challenge facing Congolese women today? 

The greatest challenge facing Congolese women today, apart from rape and rights violations, is poverty and lack of parent education. This is not only for women but for the general population.  This is the reason why we see dropouts and teenage pregnancies.  Girls always think they will receive something better or that their lives will improve and later realize it was a trap they can't escape from. There is a lack of vision in the lives of young girls.  I think that this is because our education systems does not provide the students with motivation, role models or source of inspirations apart from music and other distractions.

Tell us one of your favorite moments from working with the FFC.  We are especially interested to hear about a particular person who has touched your life.

I could talk about many instances where women have touched my life and work.  This has had a big impact on my life - like the way the FFC director sacrifices everything just so a woman's life can be changed.   But one particular moment I will never forget was when one of our grantees came to thank me for what FFC has done for her. Her words still resonate in my head: “FFC has enabled me to travel and come and talk about my life and the promotion of peace in my country.  You have enabled me to be important in the history of my country and in the lives of women. I will go back and talk about you to our young girls. I will talk about how they should work hard and focus on their future.  I will take your pictures to them as an inspiration.”   This statement  gives me strength and encourages me to work hard.

Nyota & I with the FFC's founder, Julienne Lusenge, at last year's Kima Mbangu event.

The huge divide between the "haves" and the "have nots" is very obvious in Kinshasa.  There is a small number of very rich and powerful people and a large expanse of poor and disadvantaged.  What are your thoughts on this situation?

This is true- and sad for our country - but I have seen that it is almost the same in most capitalistic countries.  The only difference is that, at times, the rich in this country are not willing to assist the poor but rather work to ensure that they have it all and that the poor stay down. I personally dream of a Congo where the rich - or any person in an influential position - will look down and stretch out their hands to help assist the poor or the less fortunate instead of mocking and stepping on them. I hope for a Congo where we will all come together to work for the development and advancement of our country without giving in to corruption or greed.

A 17-year-old student recently told me that she considers herself part of the "generation that will change Congo for the better."  Do you think this is true?  Why or why not?

I might not be well placed to answer this due to the fact that I am not the one who determines the fate of another person. But as long as the student maintains her vision and works hard, I believe it is possible and I believe she can even go beyond her dreams. This is because I believe in the will and determination of a person.  If you believe it and if you are determined, you can achieve it.

"If you believe it, you can achieve it", Kinshasa.

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