This post was originally published on the Ashoka Peace Blog.
Hope can make all the difference in a person’s life. One small light of hope can lead people to peace, even in the massive shadow of war. SHONA, which means “sew” in Swahili, started with a simple idea; to give dignity and hope to a handful of handicapped persons living in Goma, in the DR Congo who are normally expected to beg for their subsistence. 85% of these craftspeople have never attended school; not even for a day. 60% of them are refugees. Now, instead of being dependent and a burden on their families or charity, they are providing for their families. They are making on average $250 per month in a country where the average income for an able bodied person is only about $15 a month. They are educating themselves, taking courses in French, math and basic accounting, and are using this knowledge to budget their money for future healthcare and emergencies. They are bringing together different minds, from different tribes in peace.
SHONA is a grassroots cooperative. There is no outside funding or support. There are no overhead costs, because there are no paid staff, no offices and no middle men to pay for. Each craftsperson essentially operates their own business—and receives 100% of the profit from their own labour. This is fair trade in the truest sense. It is about empowerment, sustainability and independence in a region where war has claimed many victims. The craftspeople of SHONA refuse to be victims. They will create their own futures with their own hands, and they will pass on their skills by teaching others as they can.
The story of Argentine, a young craftswoman at SHONA speaks volumes of how a little bit of hope can change a person and bring them inner peace. Argentine grew up unable to walk in the heart of war in Eastern Congo. When the fighting began, Argentine’s mother used to carry her on her back into the woods and hide her in a hole until the fighting subsided, sometimes for months at a time. Today, Argentine supports herself and helps to support her family with her own hands. She said of her time at SHONA:
Before I never used to dream. Other people would dream of having a house, or land, but not me. I just hoped that someday something would be better. But now it is different. Now I dream.
Their motto stands tall: Each item we sew is our claim to a better world. A world where we are seen Not only for the challenges we face But for the beauty we create. Think Big Buy Small Support a Better World
Learn more about Shona in the video below.