Action Kivu: From Film Industry to Philanthropy

Posted on November 08, 2012, by Lizzie Presser, Half the Sky Movement

Rebecca Snavely and Cate Haight were working in the film industry in Los Angeles when they both happened to pick up a copy of the book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. Sitting down to coffee, the long-time friends began chatting about the book and, before they knew it, the two had made a pact. They were going to figure out a way to take action, and they were going to focus their efforts on the Democratic Republic of Congo.


Participants in Action Kivu programs benefit from schooling, sewing training and accessible marketplaces. 

With the help of a journalist friend, Kevin Sites, Rebecca and Cate found a project they could get behind. Kevin introduced them to Amani Matabaro, an advocate for women’s protection from violence and the founder of a sewing program for women and an education center in South Kivu, D.R.C. After much research and discussion, Rebecca and Cate founded Action Kivu, a U.S.-based organization that could support Amani’s work.

“It’s the Congolese who know what is best for Congo. The initiative is there, the people are there, the motivation is there, but the money isn’t,” said Cate in an interview. “That’s where we believe the West can help.”

And they have helped. Largely thanks to Rebecca and Cate, Amani has been able to support the primary and secondary schooling of 200 children, all orphaned, vulnerable to the neighboring conflict, or at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS and other diseases. Amani has also established a forum for women to discuss domestic violence and has seen ninety women graduate from his sewing training courses.

“Both Cate and Rebecca have been a huge blessing and support to the work we are doing here,” wrote Amani in an email. “Since I first met them in Baltimore in 2010, their moral, emotional and financial support have been invaluable.”

Through fundraising outreach and events, Rebecca and Cate have raised nearly $80,000 in the past three years. They send Amani $1,500 each month to run his programs and additional funds to pay for equipment like sewing machines, fabric and other tools for women starting their own sewing businesses. Since Rebecca and Cate are volunteers who work from home, only about two percent of the money raised covers small costs in the U.S. The vast majority of the funds go straight to Amani's programs. 

In January 2012, Rebecca and Cate visited Amani in South Kivu, D.R,C., and saw firsthand how his vocational training and education programs are reshaping the lives of hundreds of women and children. “We saw women working and selling their goods. It was amazing to see that the money we raised was going to these women and really changing their lives,” said Cate. “Many of the women never graduated sixth grade and say that [previously] they couldn’t get work except as prostitutes,” Rebecca chimed in. “That’s where the importance of getting kids into secondary school comes in.”

Beyond the monetary benefits, Rebecca and Cate were moved by the sense of community that Amani’s programs were fostering in an otherwise war-torn and violent country. “It was almost as if the women didn’t talk about [domestic violence] issues before,” said Rebecca. “The women all seemed to feel really empowered by just coming together and realizing they weren’t alone.”

As Rebecca and Cate go forward, they are expanding their goals. They are hoping to raise $100,000 to help build a bigger school. And Rebecca, a casting director for shows like Project Runway and more, is hoping to take on a full-time position with Action Kivu. With exciting projects on the horizon in South Kivu and much money to raise, she is looking forward to her upcoming career change.


To learn more about Action Kivu, check out their website and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

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