Sewing Machines in the Congo and the 5%

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From our first release, each Cake Pattern envelope back has carried this promise to you.  I see the 5% as a small way to build connections between women of the cloth, wherever we may live.  It allows those of us who work with our hands as a hobby to provide support to those who work with their hands to feed their family.   Since the first Tiramisu sale, Cake has sent money to Action Kivu.

Action Kivu

Action Kivu is the organization which supports a sewing school in the Kivu province of the Congo.  It’s a region that has been much in the news for war, unrest, child-soldiers and violence against women.  The problems in the region are depressing, overwhelming, constant.  With all the news coverage on these issues, it’s easy to forget about the individual human beings caught up in this mess.

Amani Mataboro Tom is one of those human beings.  He chose to react to horror and violence with compassion. He is an educated man, and worked as an interpreter for various aid organizations.  His wife, Amini, is a seamstress.  Two of his cousins were raped in 2006 by rebels and subsequently cast out of their community.  Rape destroys the life of the victim as surely as a bullet in the brain would end it.  Mr. Amani and his wife took in the cousins and taught them to sew as a way to provide the women with a trade and repair their identities.

Word got out and more living casualties of war appeared at their home, which grew into a sewing school.   Now they also send children to school:

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This school, these kind people inspire me.  You can read more about Action Kivu on their website, and also at Handmade by Alissa.  Alissa runs a yearly fundraiser for Action Kivu, and her twin sister Cate works for them.  She recently visited the school.  I emailed back and forth with both women about the work done by Action Kivu, and it’s solid.  It’s an organization run by and for Congolese that works to repair lives one stitch at a time.

Your Contribution

I really look forward to sending quarterly donations to Action Kivu from Cake.   So far, we’ve sent $750 to Action Kivu.  This seems piffling until I think about the ways the money may be spent.  $750 provides:

  • 1 year of primary school for 10 children or
  • 1 year of secondary school for 7 children or
  • 3 new sewing machines for sewing school graduates or
  • A months’ wages for the 3 sewing school instructors

In fact, I rather enjoy looking through the Action Kivu Operating costs and thinking about how our money helps change the lives of people we’ve never met.  It’s a little bit magical.

If you’d like to donate to Action Kivu directly, then please visit their website.

Future Cake and Weaving Destination

Debi Fry is hard at work launching a social enterprise that markets organic cottons and ethical silks woven in small scale sustainable factories in India.  Weaving Destination provides a livelihood for women who have been victims of human trafficking, and their fabrics are gorgeous.  Debi and I are working together behind the scenes for several upcoming projects, I can’t wait to show you!  (Admittedly, it’s a few weeks away yet, but I wanted to mention it!)

Hummingbird Peplum Top & Skirt

The Hummingbird Presale Ends April 7

What do you think?

Do you know of other organizations that help create financial independence for women through handcraft?  Let me know in the comments, I want to check them out.


  1. Not exactly handwork, not always; but the Diaconia (?) of my church supports women in Ethiopia via the Ethiopian Lutheran church; widows, I believe often or always also HIV positive, they get to learn a simple trade and the basics of money management, buy the necessary equipment and set up shop. Several people I know have been there, so it’s, let’s say, failsafe. So if ever you want to go that way, I’m sure I could get some contacts for you…

    • I would be interested in more details/specifics like the trades they learn, and if possible find out about how the women fare afterwards. I can’t imagine what life would be like under those kinds of circumstances… I’d like to know more, definitely.

      • It’s definitely possible to find out how they fare. One of those people who have been there – at least two times – is actually my father’s cousin, and she met some of the women several times. I guess the best course of action would be to get you a contact for someone directly in Ethiopia, though… it’s an Ethiopian project that the Czech people just hopped on board of, to address the issue below. Next week, OK?

  2. This sounds like a very cool organization to support. Sometimes I’m a little skeptical about people going into other countries to “help” or on “mission trips”, I know they might mean well but they usually don’t know the culture enough or stick around long enough to really make any change, so this is really awesome that it was started and run by Congolese people.

    • Yeah, I can’t stand the “white savior” complex that our society seems to have and those mission trips fall right in line with it. I too love that this is an organization created and ran by the Congolese themselves. Right on.

      • Yes, I understand completely what you mean, and I think historically there has been much cultural destruction in the name of religion. I have heard tell of many “missionaries” who seem to care more about their cause than the people they are helping.

        However- there are many good, kind people who believe in God and believe it’s important to show His love to all people. My grandparents are two such people. They spent their own money in the 80’s to buy medical supplies and travel to the Congo (then Zaire) for two years in the 80’s. My grandfather helped in a hospital, and my grandmother taught women to sew. Their experience was deeply imprinted on me as a child, hearing their stories about these wonderful, warm, loving Congolese and watching their films that showed the life and light in the people. They didn’t have a white savior complex at all, but a great deal of humility and a desire to help those who need it. :)

  3. When my husband asked me why I love your patterns so much, one of the many things I mentioned was that you donated part of your proceeds to help women in need. Thank you for telling us about Action Kivu. The difference they are making is amazing. And how cool that you and Debi are cooking up something up. As for other organizations, two women from our church started a fashion design company with the goal of helping with women in poverty. They currently employ marginalized women in Africa, India, Cambodia and the United States at fair trade wages. Here’s a link to the impact section of their website: There’s lots more info on the website. Thanks for inspiring me to look beyond myself. Have a wonderful weekend!

    • I wish I could do more.

      Thanks for the link, the work they are doing is really interesting, and I look forward to sitting down and taking a good look at the site. I think projects like that are a wonderful idea.

  4. I love hearing how sewing can help change lives. Someday I would love to teach in a place like Action Kivu.
    I can’t wait to see what you and Debi cook up! I really admire her idea as well. Looking forward to hearing more.

    • Yes. When I first started reading about Kivu, I was struck by how much they understand that working with one’s hands is a solid path to rehabilitation. I would love to teach somewhere like that, too, but for now I think I’m doing what I can with what I have, know what I mean? That’s what we can all do..

      Debi is a lovely person, and the fabrics from WD are just beautiful. I can’t wait to show you! But it will be a little while yet… I just thought I’d mention it though. :)

  5. I cannot imagine how a woman can ever recover from such a horrific assault, but I am delighted to be able to support Action Kivu, albeit in a very small way. I keep those brave women in my thoughts and prayers.

    • Thanks, Fiona. Sadly, this experience is common to many women but with love and the kindness of good people, it’s possible to begin to recover.

  6. Hi

    Kiva is microfinance for laypeople. The site allows you to search selectively by region, gender and type of industry and then give loans in $25 increments. I have sat with my seven year old to ‘choose’ people/projects to support.

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