The women of Rhukole Kuguma get work
Friday was another busy day for the KAIROS delegation as we met with three different civil society groups, all based in Bukavu and all working for the social advancement of women in the Congo, or studying the impact of mining activity on Congolese society generally and on women in particular. But it was clear during our dinner-hour delegation debrief meeting that many of us were deeply affected by what we had seen during the morning.
We left the hotel bright and early in a convoy of three vehicles. We travelled through the city and up into the built-up areas in the hills that surround Bukavu. This area is densely populated with people who have moved from rural areas in search of a livelihood and security from the conflicts, and has some of the roughest stretches of “road” that I ever expect to see. We climbed higher and higher, leaving the city behind and travelling into the forest. Eventually we stopped, and were taken down a rough walking path to a village where we were met by a group of a dozen Congolese women. They were very happy to see us and welcomed us to an outdoor meeting where one of their number led us in prayer in Swahili. We listened to the story of these women. They make a meagre living transporting loads of stone from a nearby quarry in simple garments arranged so they can carry a load on their foreheads and backs. We learned that the women were not paid for this arduous work until Héritiers de la Justice trained them about their rights and helped them advocate with the men who were selling the stone – and now these women are paid for their work. Some of the women took the opportunity to express their obviously sincere gratitude to Héritiers de la Justice for their support and advocacy.
After the meeting, the women picked up their individual garments for carrying the stones and returned to their work. When we left in our vehicles shortly after, we caught sight of them in the quarry down from the road, and we stopped and watched as they carried their burdens up a trail from the area where the stone was quarried to the roadway where we were stopped. As the column of women made its way up the hillside toward us, they sang and continued their singing with more enthusiasm when they saw us waiting for them. And, after they dropped their loads of stones, we joined in their singing and dancing.
I had a chuckle to myself when I saw one of the women wearing a worn-out t-shirt with a slogan on the front that simply read “got work?”
Peter Lamont is a member of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Ottawa. He trained and practiced as a criminal lawyer and will retire this summer after 10 years of service as a military judge in the Canadian Forces. Peter is representing the Presbyterian Church in Canada on the KAIROS delegation to the Democratic Republic of Congo.