Young Tanzaine women learning to sew

Transforming lives in Tanzania and the Congo

Harvest Hope Africa and Lolendo Collections were established four years ago by Patrick and Rebecca Lubilanji. The aim - to transform the lives of impoverished, vulnerable young women in the Congo and Tanzania. Uniquely, Harvest Hope Africa, the charitable arm, is aligned with Lolendo Collections, a social enterprise and profits from the social enterprise are redistributed to the charity to help educate and empower the girls.

Rebecca and Patrick are Mill House Ventures GRIST graduates and theirs is an extraordinary story.

Rebecca: Believe it or not when I was about 8 years old, I saw a World Vision Ad on TV and thought to myself that I wanted to be able to affect real change in someone’s life. As I grew older and got my teaching degree, I thought I would travel to Tanzania to volunteer. I arrived full of aspiration and ideas, however, working in a NGO, I quickly learnt that the most effective way to help is to listen to people to gain a real understanding of their culture and needs.

After two years there I met Patrick who was working as a chaplain, previously helping people impacted by waring revolutionaries and rebels.

Four years ago, Patrick went to Goma on the Rwandese and Democratic Republic of Congo border. This is area where there is a lot of fighting and violence; men are murdered, and the women and children raped.

One day he visited a rape crisis centre and was confronted by about 40 girls aged 12 – 18 years. He rang me shortly after. The experience had moved him so profoundly he said, ‘I have found our mission,’ to give these girls a voice and to help them achieve a better life.

They are very poor, very young and once they give birth, they are no longer considered children by their families. So, they must fend for themselves, even if they are only 13 years old. The circumstance of the pregnancy does not matter, so these girls are often destitute and traumatised with no prospects.

When Patrick returned, we began planning. Being raised in the Congo he knew his way around local culture and mores. We decided that sewing could be the key. By teaching the girls a trade we could give them a hand up rather than just a handout. Sewing was something they could do while raising their babies. It would also provide them with the opportunity of independence and dignity.

Rebecca: We work closely with Kyeshero Hospital, the sister hospital to Panzi Hospital founded by Dr Mukwege, a world-renowned gynecologist, civil rights activist and 2018 Nobel Prize laureate. The girls go there to have their babies and after a few days they are released. We take those girls that are interested. They are generally aged between 16 to 20 years old. At this age they are mature enough to manage vocational learning.

During their time with us they usually stay with family or people from their village living on the outskirts of Goma. This promotes a sense of belonging and is culturally appropriate. If this isn’t possible, we find them a local sponsor family. In the case of very young girls, we also help them get into school.

Rebecca: Our sewing training program earns Government accreditation and after the girls successfully graduate, they begin work in our co-operative which we run in a safe part of town. Here they receive mentoring while building relationships with the other girls which plays an important role in their recovery. The co-operative creates and sells made to order clothing for locals and this provides them much needed income. The facilities, mentorship, machines and threads are paid for by the charitable arm.

Once the girls have demonstrated a level of proficiency and emotional stability, they are gifted a sewing machine and thread so that if they choose to, they can return to their village.

Rebecca: Aside for money, there was no existing model for our idea. We weren’t looking for a sponsorship model because we understood locals wanted opportunity.

So, we reached out to our network here and found the right minds that could help us bring our vision to life. It was a huge learning curve. We needed legal advice, accounting, charitable status and as we both work full time here as teachers time was a real issue.

Then we had to raise money. Originally this came for family and friends. However, I’m happy to say we have slowly built a broader supporter base.

Rebecca: Word-of-mouth plays a big role. We’ve only been operating for four years and already we’ve helped train 140 young women. A big thanks to the 16 volunteers on the ground and our six employees. We couldn’t do this without them.

We have several individual supporters along with private purpose driven companies like Greenroom Strategic that donate a portion of their profits each year, and organisations like Lions Club.

Q: Do you have any other programs available to the girls?

Rebecca: Some of the girls demonstrate strong learning capability so we organise pathways for them to attend school and a foster family to support them. We pay for all their tuition costs. Currently we have three that are attending university studying Community Development, Design and Computer Science.

Rebecca: Some of the girls demonstrate strong learning capability so we organise pathways for them to attend school and a foster family to support them. We pay for all their tuition costs. Currently we have three that are attending university studying Community Development, Design and Computer Science.

Rebecca: We have big dreams. We want to grow a strong charity that creates significant and long-lasting impact for as many people as possible in the Congo and Tanzania.

But we’re starting with manageable steps. We are exploring extending vocational training in the area of hospitality and we are establishing a food program.

As part of our wholistic approach to supporting the girls we have recently established a psychology support program as some of the girls are extremely traumatised.

Rebecca: First and fore-most the confidence and skills to start our own social enterprise. They helped us see our dream through a different lens and find the solution that would achieve what we set out to. The program provides support throughout the process and on an ongoing basis. Someone is always checking in to see if we need anything. And we’ve connected with like-minded people who have become part of our family.

Patrick and Rebecca Lubilanji, founders of Harvest Hope Africa and Lolendo Collections
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