Basket-weaving Training Project for Adolescent Mothers in Mt. Tshiaberimu

Categories: Journal no. 67, Rain Forest, Protective Measures, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mt. Tshiaberimu, Grauer's Gorilla

During the training for basket-weaving (© Kasereka Gervais)

Mt. Tshiaberimu, a mountain range on which Grauer's gorillas are protected in the Virunga National Park, is surrounded by several villages. The main activity of the villagers is agriculture. Apart from a few fish ponds, there are no local businesses or other means of generating income. Without any means of subsistence, the population of these villages lives in precarious conditions.

The consequences of these living conditions are manifold. To provide an illustration, the doctor at the Vurusi health centre warned of an increase in the number of adolescent mothers around Mount Tshiaberimu. These adolescent mothers live in difficult conditions and are unable to pay for the health care for their children, or even to send them to school.

This prompted us to try and understand how they live. After a number of consultation sessions with the local population of Mount Tshiaberimu, we found that most of them live off the park's resources. In fact, to be able to provide for these young girls, the perpetrators of their pregnancies try to use the park's resources as financial means to look after them.

All agricultural goods are transported in traditional baskets from the fields to the villages and from the villages to the markets. Several thousand people use these baskets for transport. The baskets are all made from bamboo. Although some local bamboo plantations help to provide materials for these baskets, it turns out that a large proportion of these baskets are made from bamboo that grows in the park. This contributes to the destruction of gorilla habitat.

We initiated a project to promote weaving baskets using synthetic strings instead of bamboo fibre. These ropes are sold in Butembo, about 37 km from Vurusi. The advantage of these ropes is that they can be woven quickly, and the baskets are very light, strong, resistant and easy to mend.

The direct beneficiaries of the project are 30 women, including 24 adolescent-mothers, 4 widows and 2 trackers' wives. These women were identified by the managers of three health facilities around Mount Tshiaberimu, namely the Vurusi, Kyondo-Mowa and Kisanga health centres. After identifying the beneficiaries, their training lasted 4 days, from 29 March to 1 April 2023, during which they learned all the steps involved in weaving: how to hold the strings to cut them, weaving the bottom of the basket, weaving the corners, the body, the end and the handle of the basket. Each woman signed a deed of commitment pledging to continue the activities after the project's support and guidance ended.

During the training, the women wove 60 baskets. One month after the training, they had woven 476 baskets. By the end of September 2023, 792 baskets had been woven, making a total of 1,328 baskets. The remaining rolls will allow the weaving of 900 baskets. This will make a total of 2,228 baskets. As each basket is sold at an average of 2 US dollars, this could provide them with a significant profit. Indeed, after deducting the costs of the training and the transportation of the equipment, the project showed a profit of 2,770 US dollars.

Assuming that one stem of mature bamboo can be used to weave one basket, this project made it possible to protect 2,228 bamboo stems. Other activities associated with bamboo cutting, such as trapping and collecting other unlined forest products, would also no longer be carried out.

Claude Sikubwabo Kiyengo