Monday, September 25, 2017
After having just heard one of her heroes speak at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 10, Kingston resident Cathy Cleary stood tall with a large sign over her head that read: “Working with women in DR Congo. We need your advice. 5 minutes?”
With the sign over her face, she prayed she had caught Angelina Jolie’s attention.
“She’s looking,” squeaked her friend. “She’s pointing!”
Jolie had seen Cleary’s sign, and when Cleary lowered it, the actress and United Nations special envoy waved her forward as she spoke to her security.
Cleary’s mind — and heart — raced.
Cathy Cleary is a community development consultant and full-time volunteer. For most of the year she is preparing for just a few weeks when she is in Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In the central African country, she and artist Heather Haynes have started and are continuously expanding their Tchukudu Projects — key among them being the Women’s Training Centre.
They started the centre in Goma after Cleary’s first trip to the region in 2014, an experience she’ll never forget and was never able to just walk away from.
“We interviewed 10 women and it was very difficult to hear. They had very different stories, but the common thread that ran through them was of sexual violence and ongoing conflict,” Cleary said. “All of the women had run from their villages to Goma. They come with few skills for city living. Many were living under a tarp or in one of the camps just trying to get by.”
Speaking with their contact in Goma, Cleary and Haynes learned the women wanted a training centre to earn their way. To date, the centre has helped 42 women start their own businesses. It has another 36 in training.
Once at the front of the stage, Cleary watched as Jolie had photos taken with and signed autographs for fans. Once Jolie got to Cleary, it was just a few minutes of speaking with not just a celebrity, but a fellow humanitarian.
“The whole thing was surreal, but as I stood there and spoke with her, she was very present with me, she was very engaged,” Cleary said. “It was very nice. It was a nice conversation. She was very friendly, she shook my hand, she looked at me and smiled. She was just very nice.”
Cleary told Jolie what they were doing and asked for her advice.
“She talked about how important it is that we all work together,” Cleary said. “She was saying — and I agree — that there are so many of us there doing small projects, but you get very isolated and you’re not connecting necessarily with other people.
“She was saying how important it is for us to be connecting with each other because that’s how we’re going to do better work.”
At the end of their conversation, Cleary gave Jolie a souvenir journal with her contact information on the back.
Cleary and Haynes are continuing their work with the training centre and hope to return to the volatile region in October. Their next project for the centre is having the women sew reusable sanitary napkins.
“Here it is so easy, you just go to the drug store. But over there they don’t have the supplies that we have here,” Cleary said. “The women end up not being able to go to school, not being able to go outside of their house when they’re menstruating.”
They’ve started a GoFundMe campaign called “Women in DRCongo need our help,” to support their efforts. Funds raised from the initiative will go to purchasing materials, security, teachers, and to provide personal care kits to the women.
To learn more, go online to the GoFundMe page at www.gofundme.com/congo-angelina-cathy.
Posted by Fussy at 9:01 AM