“Women face an array of challenges in this sector. I am, however, very encouraged by the creation of a national “Women in Mining” association RENAFEM”

Kaleba NgoieExclusive interview with Kaleba Ngoie-Kasongo, Executive Director of Hear Congo, USA. During the corporate social responsibility track at Katanga Mining Week in Lubumbashi in October, she will address delegates on “Investing in creative collaboration: win/win for communities and mining industries”. She also chairs the session on skills and training.

Please tell us more about your organization, the history, goals etc.
In 2007, I founded Hear Congo with the primary mission to rebuild the shattered lives of women and children in DR Congo and to see them become agents of change, central actors and beneficiaries of their own physical, educational and economic development.

Women and children in DR Congo are the worst affected by this prolonged conflict. Displacement, poverty and insecurity have crippled the Congolese society tremendously, especially women and children. In the early stages of the foundation, Hear Congo focused on basic humanitarian assistance. We worked mostly with the Internally Displaced Population including survivors of gender-based violence in both Katanga and Eastern Congo. It soon became clear that possibilities were endless for women and children if only they were presented with resources and opportunities to help them accomplish their dreams. The Organization’s vision developed into one of a stronger DR Congo where women and children can experience long term peace, stability, leadership and prosperity.

Our success is based on the concept of meaningful collaborations with others in DR Congo and abroad. The ultimate aim is to achieve Hear Congo’s mission as well as support skilled and experienced Congolese who are committed to the development of their country. We implement programs with grassroots Congolese led-organizations designed to improve the physical and mental wellbeing of women and children while providing access to literacy and education and economic resources. Society in DR Congo benefits when the individuals we work with reinvest their personal development in their communities.

What is your own background?
I am Congolese-American. I was raised and born in the Democratic Republic of DR Congo in Katanga. I went to the United States to pursue college education where I earned a Bachelor Degree in Business Administration and Management at Northwood University. I worked for a number of years as an Executive at Citibank and Oracle Corporation in the international development sector.

I have always been passionate about empowering women in my home country as well as participating in long lasting development. I volunteered for a number of women organizations such as Heal Africa and HOPE. A combination of my corporate experience and my passion helped me acquire the necessary skills to lead the work of Hear Congo.

Seeing that the issue of women’s rights is global, I initiated the ” Proudly UNITE to End Violence Project” in support of United Nations Secretary General Campaign to end violence against women and girls worldwide. I am working in partnership with UN Women to bring together entities and people in both the private and public sector to join efforts and promote a peaceful world for women and girls.

I am also a Director of the United States National Committee for UN Women of the Miami Chapter.

Tell us more about the projects you are involved in in the DRC?
I am currently involved in several projects. One of the projects, in Lubumbashi, It is a literacy program that Hear Congo helped launch with a partner organization Alfalit International. During a 3 year period Hear Congo assisted Alfalit DRC with the technical, administrative and development support to get the project off the ground. I am pleased to share that early this year, Alfalit DRC began offering classes to more than 270 people in the outskirts of Lubumbashi. Most of the students are women and girls. This is the first French program that Alfalit has ever offered and it is going extremely well. As Hear Congo seeks to go beyond literacy, we plan to introduce the Alfalit DRC graduates to our integrated program that we are using in Goma. This leads us to the second project that I would like to share with you.

Hear Congo is working in partnership with HOLD-DRC, a Grassroots organization based in Goma. We work together to empower and re-insert teen and single moms, survivors of sexual violence into society. This program was rolled out during the time that Goma was briefly occupied by M23. A number of new camps were created to accommodate a new round of internally displaced people from around Goma. We saw an opportunity to train some of the young women as peer educators to address issues in the camps that were not being addressed in the region. The 8 month program is based on a holistic approach where single or teen moms and their children have access to psychological care and a series of trainings in literacy and numeracy, vocational, leadership, good governance, management, Business ethics, saving clubs and micro-credit. Our young women also learn about Climate change, Environment conservation and relevant topics in Public Health.

There is a Children Space as well where we offer nutritional support and Pre-Kindergarten classes while the mothers are attending the training.

This program is state certified and it is the only one of its kind. Our collaboration with the Congolese Ministry of Social Affairs is essential as we follow some of the curriculum developed by the government.

We have assisted more than 400 girls and their 600 hundreds children to present. We are very pleased with the progress of the program. This is our model program that we wish to adapt and expand to other regions in DR Congo.

What do you see as the main challenges in the mining industry in DRC?
I had the privilege to travel around the country and assess the work conditions of women and children in artisanal and small-scale mining. Women face an array of challenges in this sector; Sexual violence and abuse in the mines, risk of HIV/AIDS and other STDs due to prostitution, health risks due to lack of sanitation and gender discrimination whereby they do not receive equal pay or opportunities.

I am however very encouraged by the creation of a national “Women in Mining” association RENAFEM initiated by the Congolese Government with the support of World Bank and the European Union. Through this national network, stakeholders work jointly to disseminate laws on the participation and protection of women in the mining sector. Clearly such programs will promote sustainable development in the mining industry in DRC.

What will be your message at the Katanga Mining Week?
As mining operators are working closely with local communities to participate in the development of DRC and the Katanga area, creative collaboration at all levels is key to foster long-term development.

Anything you would like to add?
Congratulations to iPAD on the 10th anniversary of great work. We appreciate this opportunity to share about our work. To learn more please visit www.hearcongo.org.