Follow Rebecca’s work with Action Kivu on Facebook.
On the television show Project Runway, aspiring fashion designers sew for a chance at sudden fame and success. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, a small group of women sew in hopes of feeding and educating their children. These two realities, still so distant on our small planet, are connected by one woman: Rebecca Snavely.
Rebecca grew up a bookworm and followed her fascination with story into entertainment and journalism, and to countries like Ethiopia and Kosovo. Her most recent job is casting for Project Runway, where she explores the fashion blogging world in search of the next potential star. “My favorite part of the job is interviewing people to find out the quirks of their personal stories,” Rebecca told me by email.
A few years ago she and her friend Cate Haight, a film editor in Los Angeles, read Half the Sky, Nick Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn’s treatise on global injustice against women. When they reached the section about Congo, about rape being used as a weapon of war and the courage of women in the face of such violence, they decided together to do something. Through a friend, they connected with Amani Matabaro, a Congolese man who founded his own non-profit to serve women and children in eastern Congo. “I have never met anyone like Amani,” Rebecca told me. “Cate and I are inspired by his never-ending dedication to making a difference in his community, his persistence, his joy, his intelligence, his empathy and love for those he works and lives with.”
She and Cate founded Action Kivu to help Amani fund his work, and to support positive change in Congo through the “powerful, purposeful people of its local communities.” The work they support tackles practical challenges like education, income generation, and stopping domestic violence. And it’s all driven by the needs of the Congolese communities where it’s accomplished. In a land where women are often scorned and abused, Ernata, a woman who learned tailoring in Amani’s program, sums up the benefits: “I am very proud of myself today, and my husband is proud of me and he’s happy to have me as a wife, especially as I help make an income for the family.”
Rebecca, Cate, and Amani plan to start a fair trade program to sell the products created in Congo in the American market, and to create a ‘Peace School’ to provide education for the vulnerable children of Amani’s home community, many of whom are orphaned by war and disease. Rebecca dreams of working full time on Action Kivu, connecting with funders and other partners to magnify their impact. The work of Action Kivu, she told me, “is what makes my heart break with anguish and joy, what wakes me up, what makes me come alive.”
In the meantime, she will keep splitting her life across two worlds. “It’s an odd and beautiful balance of realities: women who are trying to sew their way into the world of fashion, and women who trying to sew their way out of poverty and into empowerment.” She is helping bring those stories a little closer together, and as she put it so well, “as we all grow closer and share our stories, helping each other find our talents and our voices, as we create places of peace, peace that is crucial for hope to take hold, we can learn from watching each other begin live life to the fullest, without fear.” A worthy dream indeed.
Rebecca told me you can support her and her dreams by connecting with Action Kivu on Facebook and Twitter, and by sharing the stories of the women, men and children of eastern Congo. You are, of course, encouraged to donate on their site. And introductions to foundations that might invest in their work would be a tremendous help.