DRC: New Trades Help Women Rebuild From Conflict

Famiya Omari, 50, says she hopes to be able to start a soap making business with the new skills she's learned as part of the WFP Food for Training programme. Copyright:WFP/Elizabeth Bryant

After years of armed conflict, women in southeastern Democratic Republic of Congo are playing a leading role in its economic recovery with the help of vocational training centres which keep them fed while they learn new skills. Famiya, the sole breadwinner in a family of seven, says she’s learning to become a businesswoman.

KALEMI – Famiya Omari, a 50-year-old mother of five, once trudged for miles each day to ply fresh cassava. Now, she sells the bread and soap that she has learnt to make at a vocational centre run by a local NGO, the Reflection Committee For Development and Social Promotion (CORDPS).

“I don’t earn much now,” Omari says. “But eventually I’d like to expand so that I can make more soap, and earn more money.”

As part of a WFP "Food for Training" programme, she also receives daily rations of cornflower, pulses, oil and salt to keep her family fed while she learn her new skills.

Eating while they work

Famiya counts among some 660 women enrolled at CORDPs’ training in the Kalemie area, where they make straw baskets, brightly coloured crocheted doilies, cakes of soap and student uniforms that will soon be snapped up by parents for the new school term.

"Women go to the centre largely because they know they will get food," says Marie Therese Cimanuka, field aid monitor assistant at WFP's Kalemie office. "It really motivates them.”

Besides craft making the women are also trained in vegetable farming which has helped improve their diets. The crafts they make during the three-month training period are sold, with the profits divided among the women.

The food they receive in the meantime fends off malnutrition, and endemic problem in this country, where an estimated 11 percent of the population does not eat enough to lead a healthy life.

“Little choice”

The years of conflict throughout DRC have taken their toll on the Kalemie region, a sandy scrubland of banana and palm trees edged by the silvery expanse of Lake Tanganyika.

In addition to grinding poverty, thousands of women in this area fell victim to sexual violence during the 1997-2003 civil war, which has left behind untold physical and psychological scars.

Famiya , like many of the women at the CORDP centre was one of them. Though she has not forgotten the pain and humiliation, today she has other worries. “My husband is old. He has no work,” she says.

Her family’s sole breadwinner, Omari has little choice now but to seize the opportunities she has and hope for the best.