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Planting Hope in the DR Congo: Women Lead First Ever Reforestation Effort in Itombwe

WECAN-Congo women walking to the tree nursery in Marunde, Itombwe

For almost two years, women in South Kivu Province, Democratic Republic of Congo have been organizing through the Women’s Earth & Climate Action Network (WECAN) Regional program with local partner Synergie des Associations Feminines du Congo (SAFECO) to raise awareness about deforestation, protection of the Itombwe Rainforest, and defending the rights of Indigenous Pygmy Peoples and the local communities living in and around forest areas.

Through an ongoing series of online and on-the-ground trainings with WECAN – the women have built understanding about local and international environmental protection laws, Rights of Nature, the need for women’s leadership, and how care and damages to local ecosystems fits into a worldwide story of climate crisis and hope.

Women walking past the Itombwe Center

The women have come together to share their Traditional Ecologic Knowledge and strategize on how to protect it, exchange information about the medicinal properties of local forest plants, and envision the transformation of the now stripped dry landscape back into the lush forest that remains in bits and pieces across the region.

In recent months the women have moved from analysis to action – beginning to employ solar lights and Improved Cooking Stoves to lessen their demands for fuel wood, and creating and maintaining tree nurseries in Marinade, Itombwe, which now holds over twenty-five varieties of local tree saplings.

Through sessions with WECAN and SAFECO, the women have also formed a local conservation committee, drafted a declaration, and met with government officials, military members, and local NGO’s to share their work and action plans while calling for accountability and support from state actors.

In September 2015 the women hosted the Territory Administrator of Mwenga (akin to a Governor), the Itombwe Sector Chief, the Marunde Village Chief and other local officials at their center in Itombwe.

Women leaders present their tree nursery to local government officials

The women shared their concerns around illegal deforestation and environmental degradation, presented their Improved Cooking Stoves initiative, and led officials on a tour of their nursery and growing reforestation project. They then united with the officials and military members to hold a tree planting ceremony, which the Administrator celebrated as the first-ever official event to reforest and protect the Earth in the Itombwe Sector of South Kivu Province.

The Administrator spoke of the extreme value of the women’s work and the significance of this new beginning, sharing hopes that one day soon the world would be able to reflect and admire how the people of the region respect the forests of the Congo, one of the largest rainforests in the world, second only to the mighty Amazon.

Planting trees during the ceremony

After the government delegation departed, approximately 40 women gathered to celebrate, discuss the results of the visit, and strategize on next steps to heal the land and address the needs of their communities.

Reflecting on all that has been accomplished thus far by the women forest guardians of Itombwe, Neema Namadamu, the Coordinator of the WECAN DR Congo program, explained,

“The women of WECAN-Congo are determined to change things in our little world of Itombwe, for ourselves and for the rest of the world. We are taking our stewardship seriously. We know that the difference we make not only affects our world, but the rest of our planet. We feel the weight of it all and are doing our part. To our sisters around the world we say: We are TOGETHER!”

Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network Co-Founder and Executive Director, Osprey Orielle Lake and WECAN DR Congo Coordinator/Founder of SAFECO, Neema Namadamu, met up this month to strategize about next steps for protection of the Itombwe forest and the Indigenous peoples of the region.

On October 27th WECAN and SAFECO will lead the next online climate solutions training with women of Itombwe. On December 7th, Neema Namadamu will present her insights, actions plans, and stories of the women forest guardians of the DR Congo at WECAN’s ‘Women Leading Solutions on the Frontlines of Climate Change – Paris‘ event during COP21 climate negotiations.

Explore more photos from the September 2015 reforestation ceremony and training below:

Women forest guardians of Itombwe

On the dry plateau above the reforestation site

The women lead a tour of their local tree nursery, which now holds over 25 varieties of sapling

“The thought of making our home a forest again brings great joy.”

Views of the women’s growing tree nursery

A solider plants a tree as part of the ceremony

Neema Namadamu, Director of SAFECO and WECAN DR Congo Coordinator observes soldiers eating lunch at Itombwe center after the ceremony

Neema Namadamu leads a training and reflection session with women after the tree planting ceremony

The WECAN-Congo women gather in front of the Gazebo at the Itombwe Center for a group photo at the end of the day

Blog by Emily Arasim, Women’s Earth & Climate Action Network Communications Coordinator


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