The Democratic Republic of Congo has been plagued by political upheaval and conflict for decades. Equal Exchange founded the Congo Coffee Project with the Panzi Foundation as a means to bring Congolese coffee to market in the United States and raise awareness about the alarmingly high rate of sexual violence engendered by the conflict.
Sexual violence has affected thousands of people in the Congo over the last two decades, and for women, men and children in need of medical attention, there are not many options; they are sometimes ostracized, abandoned or ignored with nowhere to go. Survivors of sexual violence seek refuge and assistance at the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, DRC, a bustling place with more than 360 staff members and thousands of visitors each year. The hospital treats patients with various ailments, but has become known as a safe place for survivors of sexual violence to seek treatment and heal from their trauma.
The Congo Coffee Project just celebrated seven years of partnership with the Panzi Foundation. Through the sale of Congolese coffee and handmade bags, we have raised more than $80,000 for survivors of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Over the years, the funding has been dedicated to the vocational and skills training program at the Maison Dorcas center at the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, an aftercare center that supports survivors of sexual violence. This work has supported hundreds of women in the vocation program, as well as a smaller program to bring woven bags to the U.S. through Equal Exchange.
The project has evolved and we are pleased to directly connect some of the small farmers of the SOPACDI cooperative who grow the coffee we sell to raise money for the Congo Coffee Project with the work done by the Panzi Hospital, through a small medical clinic in their own community, in Bulenga, DRC. In 2016, the Panzi Hospital received funding from the World Bank to construct a One Stop Center in the small village of Bulenga, home to many coffee farmers that belong to the SOPACDI cooperative. The small clinic is designed to provide basic health care services to the surrounding community. It works to provide both counseling and legal services to survivors of sexual violence. Soon after the construction of the clinic, Beth Ann Caspersen, the Coffee Quality Control Manager for Equal Exchange and the liaison with both the farmer cooperative and the clinic, asked to bring together the staff of the Bulenga clinic and the management of SOPACDI. How could we work together? We learned about some of the challenges that the clinic faced, including their need for clean water and a blood bank to help with serious medical conditions. The needs were many and while our resources were limited, we all wanted to see the funding come full circle. SOPACDI has supplied amazing coffee to Equal Exchange since 2011. We sell some of this coffee through the Congo Coffee Project to raise money for Panzi --now we had an opportunity to support the newly constructed clinic with funding.
The $11,000 raised by the Congo Coffee Project in 2016 helped to contribute to construction of a pump house and water tanks for holding the water. Our funding from 2017 ($11,000) and what we hope to raise in 2018 will be directed to the further expansion of this infrastructure and to bring clean water to the greater Bulenga community. We will be running a Commit Change campaign in the coming months if you would like to contribute to our effort.
Through these efforts, Equal Exchange has worked with numerous organizations to tell the story of the DRC to the world, to encourage peace in the Congo and contribute to economic empowerment through the purchase and sale of Congolese coffee. We believe it is our duty to educate, participate in industry events and stand up for the voices that need to be heard.
The Panzi Foundation
Panzi Hospital was founded by Dr. Denis Mukwege, a world renowned gynecologist and outspoken activist on behalf of the women he treats. Dr. Mukwege was honored by Women for Women International in November of 2015 with the Champion of Peace award and in 2018, he won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work with Congolese women. He is supported by an amazing staff and his sister, fondly known as Mama Zawadi, is the Director for the Maison Dorcas aftercare center.
The Maison Dorcas aftercare center provides survivors of sexual violence with a place to heal and receive counseling and vocational skills training. For many years, money earned by the Congo Coffee Project has been dedicated to this training. Survivors are taught sewing and weaving skills to be later used when they leave the aftercare center and Equal Exchange’s support has helped to bring to market a woven plastic bag that we call the Panzi Bag. More recently, funds are being directed to a One Stop Clinic in Bulenga to support infrastructure improvements.
Beyond investing in individual women, Equal Exchange is also investing in creating a sustainable, entrepreneurial program at the hospital, importing beautiful Panzi Bags made by the women at Maison Dorcas for sale in the United States. Lives, livelihoods, and communities are rebuilding themselves. It’s a remarkable partnership.
Equal Exchange is proud to partner with Panzi Foundation USA, purchase coffee from our partners at SOPACDI cooperative and work with likeminded organizations and activists to bring the conversation to life. We believe that through action and financial support we can help to contribute to the Congolese economy and assist the women, men and children by telling their story and supporting the power to heal.
Here are a few easy but important steps that you can take on behalf of the survivors of sexual violence in DRC and to support the Congo Coffee Project:
- Buy Congo Coffee Project Coffee for yourself or a friend
- Listen to our Podcast
- Read our blog
- Take a stand and ask for free and fair elections in DRC: Call your member of Congress - tell them to co-sponsor the DRC Democracy and Accountability Act (H.R. 6207).
- Contribute to and support our Commit Change Campaign: Your support will help the Bulenga clinic to continue to build infrastructure, invest in renewable energy and continue to build systems for clean water for the clinic and the wider community.
- Learn more about DRC: check out the Enough Project