“Making bread feeds my family every day”
Joint WFP-FAO project empowers women in the Democratic Republic of Congo with new skills
Visit Marie’s bakery in the Tanganyika province of Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo where the Swedish funded resilience program has trained 1,200 women in literacy and equipped them with small business skills so as to empower into their households and community.
A mouth-watering smell of baking bread fills a small wooden hut. A woman in her forties is pounding the dough as she has been doing her whole life. Marie Ngalima started as a pastry cook nine months ago after the training provided to women through the World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) resilience project launched in Kabalo in 2017. Today Marie will be baking at least 120 loaves of bread that will be sold all around the village of Kabalo where she lives with her family.
Resilience is a word with great significance for women from rural areas. They are often totally dependent on their husbands’ incomes, although they do most of the grueling field work: planting, strapping and harvesting crops. They have skills and talents and know how to make ends meet, play a decisive role for their families and communities to achieve resilience, but they hardly ever take the lead. As a member of the Agricultural Organization (AO) of Mapendo (Love in Swahili language), launched with support from WFP and FAO, Marie was selected for the literacy program, along with many other women. When she was young, her parents could not afford to send her to school. So, she jumped at the opportunity. Reading, writing and calculating is what Marie has learnt first in this joint resilience project. And it somewhat changed her life:
“I never thought I would ever see a black board someday. At the beginning I was even afraid to face it, writing can be so complicated! Before the literacy courses, I was farming our land. I didn’t know there could be other activities to do that would give me better livelihood, especially as a woman,” says Marie.
The literacy course was the very first step to empower women like Marie towards resilience. After completing the literacy course, the next step is the training to gain the skills needed to run a small business in a chosen area. Marie chose the three-month training in bakery: “I have seven children and they were often asking for bread to eat. I like making bread because it’s a one-day job that feeds us every day while field work requires six months or one year before we can see the results and eat!” she laughs.
The courses allowed her to have a better understanding of numbers and gave her practical knowledge on how to make bread, a much-coveted product. A 25 Kg wheat flour bag costs 50,000 Congolese francs (FC); it lasts three to seven days and Marie can earn a 20,000 FC (around US$ 12) profit from selling the bread she makes out of it.
Marie’s husband has a manioc field which could barely feed the whole family. During the dry season he buys corn that he transports by bike from Kakuya to Kabalo — a 100 km ride. On some days he could not make any money at all and the children had to go to bed hungry. Now Marie can use the money she earns to pay school fees and buy food, shoes or fabrics she needs without asking her husband for money. She’s the main money maker in the household — a big change she’s quite proud of.
She has also mastered other tasks, like writing a letter for administrative purposes or even dial a number on a mobile phone and this is giving her a higher status in the community.
“I’ve gained experience and the conviction that women have to learn a job to take care of themselves and their family. I have a different life than other women now and I want to encourage them to take literacy courses and learn a job. If I made it, they can make it too!”
The WFP and FAO resilience program in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is a viable path to support stability and peace because it supports directly community-based agriculture, and helps Congolese women and men to improve and expand their crops, giving them better access to markets, offering skills training to create new livelihood opportunities. This approach developed by WFP and FAO with funds from Sweden, does not simply save lives, it changes them too, offering prospects for a brighter future for these women and their children.