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When Helena’s mother first told her that she would someday grow up to become a great woman, she assumed her mother was talking about marriage. In a culture that largely considers a woman’s place to be in the home, it seemed that that was all anyone expected Helena to aspire to. Nevertheless, Helena seemed to have this way about her—an unquenchable thirst to learn more, do more, be more. As a child, she read any books she could get her hands on, spent her days creating a variety of crafts, and took initiative in caring for her younger brother and cleaning their family’s house. But in June 2015 when she heard about the opportunity to receive leadership and entrepreneurial training from Congo Leadership Initiative, she knew that this was her chance to become explore the talents and passions that she had always had within her. According to Helena, “It was an answer to my aspirations… After I received my certificate the next year, my parents told me, ‘Helena, you have become the ideal woman! We are proud of you.’"
Today, Helena attends university while also maintaining the small sewing shop that she created using her CLI grant. She hopes to one day expand her business and teach the sewing trade to children across the Congo. “The training I received at the Leadership Institute has broken all the limits of being underestimated that I faced due to my marginalized position as a women in my country,” she says.
Without Robert, CLI would not exist. In January of 2009, it didn’t yet! Robert was working in a tiny Internet cafe in Kinshasa. He has an advanced degree in computer science, but there were no other job opportunities. In Congo, 85% of people are unemployed and there is little to challenge someone with Robert’s talent. Nate Houghton, CLI’s Founder, was visiting the Congo for the first time. As a college sophomore, he was still hopelessly addicted to Facebook and visited Robert’s Internet cafe at least once every day. Robert eventually mustered up the courage to ask Nate what he was doing in Kinshasa and both of their lives changed forever.
Today, Robert is a Partnership Manager for CLI and is responsible for the performance of every affiliate in Kinshasa. He’s already grown the Kinshasa program to ten times its original size. With his attitude, continued success is inevitable! Robert is an innovator, one of the hardest workers you will ever meet, and a crucial part of the CLI team.
Baraka is a true believer in the power of youth to change Congo. His given name, Emmanuel, means “God is with us”; Baraka believes that this is true. Despite challenges from childhood, he has not only survived, but thrived. Today, he manages DRC operations for COBURWAS and also serves as CLI's Partnership Manager for North Kivu. Thanks to Baraka, CLI was able to expand to Goma, perhaps the place in the Congo most deeply in need of leadership capacity building.
Baraka works with young leaders because he knows that “youth are the best chance for the DRC” and he believes that leadership is critical for a successful future in Congo. Baraka is fond of saying, “Leadership is not just a way to see others, but to see yourself in others.” He is proudly Congolese and driven by a deep optimism. None of this is to mention the fact that he is an incredible leader in his own right! It’s fair to say that if everyone were more like Baraka, we would have solved a lot more of our world’s problems.
Quite simply, Stephie exemplifies CLI. She was born and raised in Kinshasa and currently studies Psychology at the University of Kinshasa. She is an original CLI Young Leader and her success has paved the way for hundreds of additional youth to receive leadership training. In particular, she’s been a shining example for countless girls and young women both within CLI’s program and in communities across Congo.
Stephie says, “Everyone can be a leader. I know and I believe that I am a leader. Some might not believe it, but I am a leader because I am capable of changing the behavior of those around me.” Women’s empowerment is her true passion and she works everyday to enhance the status of women in Kinshasa. We are inspired by her efforts and proud to support her work!
Most people who are forced to flee their homeland have no intention of ever returning. Washikala is not most people. He was born in a small village in Eastern Congo before war and violence forced him to Tanzania. Washikala would never tell you himself, but his perseverance has led to notable achievements: A business that he started at Lugufu Refugee Camp became an enormous success and he eventually earned both Bachelors and Masters degrees at the University of Dar es Salaam. After university, he founded IED - one of CLI’s most prominent partners in Eastern Congo. Washikala is also CLI's Partnership Manager in South Kivu.
Washikala says, “I strongly believe that weak leadership is the principal root cause of the DRC’s problems. Therefore, development of leadership is key to bringing about lasting peace and prosperity in the country.” We couldn’t agree more!
Emmanuel has not had an easy life by any measure. When he was only 16 years old, his father passed away, leaving his mother to care for six children on her own. Rather than letting himself be consumed by his grief and anger, though, Emmanuel made the decision to become a judge who would be committed to restoring justice and human rights for all people in the Congo.
A few years into this dream, Emmanuel heard about CLI through a friend. He says his immediate reaction was, “Oh, that’s what I need!” Through his time at the Leadership Institute, Emmanuel learned not only practical skills that he used to open a small bakery using his CLI grant, but also life lessons about saying no to fear and trying no matter what, which he says have been invaluable as he has worked at the University of Kinshasa and served in a leadership role working with youth at his church. “I am grateful to have had the opportunity to explore my talent as a Young Leader. I aspire to create change in my country and throughout the world through the education of youth,” he says.