Hero Women Rising

A Congolese activist uses Google Search to help create opportunity for women in her country.

According to the UN, the Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the most dangerous countries1 in the world to be a woman. Girls are married off at a young age, women report endemic domestic violence with little protection under the law, and formal education is often an afterthought.

According to the UN, the Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the most dangerous countries1 in the world to be a woman. They endure child marriage, endemic domestic violence and little formal education.

Neema Namadamu was born in a rural Congolese village of Itwombe. Without access to modern vaccines, she contracted polio at the age of two. Though the resulting physical disability deemed her unmarriageable in the eyes of her tribe, it allowed her time to focus on her studies, escaping the typical life cycle of a woman in rural DRC.

Returning to her home province after graduating university and building a career, Neema was fueled by a newfound passion for activism and was determined to use her education to bring about change. Above all, she believed that access to information could harness her community’s curiosity and empower women to build their own futures.

1 Thompson Reuters Foundation Survey, June 2018

Neema Namadamu was born in the rural Congolese village of Itwombe. Without access to modern vaccines, she contracted Polio at the age of two. The resulting physical disability enabled her to focus on her studies and escape the typical life cycle of a woman in rural DRC.

Returning to her village after graduating university, she was determined to use her education to bring about change. Above all, she believed that access to information could harness her community’s curiosity and empower women to build their own futures.

1 Thompson Reuters Foundation Survey, June 2018

Landscape of Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo and Lake Kivu Bukavu, a city on the south-western shore of Lake Kivu, is one of the most densely populated areas of the DRC and home to Namadamu’s Maman Shujaa Media Centre.
Women in the streets of Bukavu carrying plants

Only 3.9% of the population in the DRC is online. Neema estimates that the vast majority of those users are men.

In 2012, Neema opened the Maman Shujaa Media Centre, offering free digital literacy training to women. Today, the centre serves as a gathering place and safe space for women and girls to learn more about the world around them, many using Google Search for the first time. This community of women work together to find answers, give support and build a future where all women have access to the kind of opportunities that Neema did. Over the past five years, thousands of women have walked through the doors of Maman Shujaa and set off on incredible journeys. These are just a few of their many stories.

How can you quantify having your understanding illuminated beyond your wildest imagination? When women come to the centre, they sit down at a computer in front of them and travel the world without leaving their seat. The Internet has opened up a world that they didn’t know existed. With the touch of their fingers they bring near that which is beyond their reach in this life. How can you quantify having your understanding illuminated beyond your wildest imagination? The Internet has opened up a world that they didn’t know existed. With the touch of their fingers they bring near that which is beyond their reach in this life.

Neema Namadamu

Princesse Muhindo Malembro

How to rebuild a car engine

Two years ago, while working as a mechanic at a garage, Princesse Malembro noticed women entering an office one floor above her work space: the Maman Shujaa centre. She began taking classes after her shifts – still in her work overalls – using Search to find videos or articles related to car repair in order to stay one step ahead of her colleagues at the garage.

Two years ago, while working as a mechanic at a garage, Princesse Malembro began taking classes at Maman Shujaa after her shifts – still in her work overalls – using Search to stay one step ahead of her colleagues at the garage.

I am not going to change the whole world, but what I am doing is to focus on my village, on my community. The reason I started my centre is to help people to know what the world looks like.

Neema Namadamu

Princesse working underneath a car in blue work overalls. Malembro uses her time at Maman Shujaa not just as professional development, but as a place to develop meaningful friendships and become part of a larger community sharing knowledge.
Princesse smiling and laughing with two young children.
Princesse walking and holding hands with her niece.
Since I arrived at the centre, I find myself more open to the outside world. I feel I’m part of a family when I’m with other members discussing what we find interesting on Google or YouTube.

Princesse Muhindo Malembro

Clementine Namasomo

Making a lesson plan

When Clementine Namasomo first arrived at the centre, she worked as a custodian but lingered after completing her tasks – drawn in by the work that other women were doing on their computers.

When Clementine Namasomo first arrived at the centre, she worked as a custodian, but was drawn in by the work that other women were doing on their computers.

Clementine walking along a street in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo. Each morning, Namasomo takes care of her one-year-old son before she and her husband cross the border from Rwanda into Bukavu on her way to the centre.
Portrait of Clementine with her husband and young son.
Clementine Namasomo walking down a dirt road.
She couldn’t go home. She stayed there looking at the computer. I could see curiosity.

Neema Namadamu

With Neema’s encouragement, Clementine took classes alongside other women and quickly became adept at using the Internet. Today, she is Maman Shujaa’s computer centre manager, a staff member helping women use Search and Translate to find answers to their questions and to plan future business ventures.

Riziki Badherhekuguma

Recording an album

Riziki Badherhekuguma, a mother of three, spends each morning making breakfast and taking her kids to school before attending classes at Maman Shujaa. An actress and a musician, she goes to the centre to access information about arts and entertainment and find others who share her interests.

Riziki Badherhekuguma, a mother of three, spends each morning making breakfast and taking her kids to school before going to the centre to research her interests in film and music.

Riziki making breakfast with two of her children. Badherhekuguma has now acted in seven films and directed three of her own. She even enlists other women in her community to collaborate on her projects.
Riziki playing music and singing with two collaborators. She also composes songs, which she shares with friends from her church to perform and record.
Riziki folding clothing in her home.
The first time I arrived at Maman Shujaa I asked a lot of questions: How do I get online? Are there only women here? Will this really work? But when the teacher took me under her wing and I started learning in Swahili and in French, I said to myself, ‘There is a future here’.

Riziki Badherhekuguma

Badherhekuguma, Ibrahim and Malembro met at Maman Shujaa, and now they spend time together working and sharing stories from their lives with each other at the centre. Badherhekuguma, Ibrahim and Malembro met at Maman Shujaa, and now they spend time together working and sharing stories from their lives with each other at the centre.

When women come to the centre, they come with different questions. Some come to look for fashion, others for sewing machines. Others come looking for how they can get a scholarship, how to cook better or how to look for a job online. Everyone comes with her own need.

Neema Namadamu

Djamila Ibrahim

Finding a scholarship

Djamila Ibrahim frequently heard one of her neighbours being abused by her husband. That experience motivated her to help women suffering from injustice, but she didn’t have the means to pursue her education beyond high school. After a friend introduced her to Neema and Maman Shujaa, Djamila – like many women at the centre seeking further education – used Search to find a scholarship to help her attend law school.

Djamila Ibrahim frequently heard one of her neighbours being abused by her husband, which motivated her to help women suffering from injustice. After a friend introduced her to Neema and Maman Shujaa, Djamila used Search to find a scholarship to help her attend law school.

Djamila taking notes in class. Ibrahim hopes that a scholarship, along with the research that she does at the centre, will help her defend the rights of the most vulnerable.
Djamila speaks with another woman at a market in Bukavu.
In addition to continuing her studies, Ibrahim also found creative outlets at Maman Shujaa. She sings and even collaborates with Badherhekuguma on film projects. In addition to continuing her studies, Ibrahim also found creative outlets at Maman Shujaa. She sings and even collaborates with Badherhekuguma on film projects.

Djamila talking with other students at Maman Shujaa.
When I saw that women, girls and children are so often humiliated and unfairly treated, that’s when I decided to study law. Initially, nobody encouraged me to look for information about how to become a lawyer. But I was inspired by Neema.

Djamila Ibrahim

Namadamu’s vision is to open more centres around the DRC, so that even more women have access to knowledge and the opportunities that it brings. Women like Neema, Princesse, Clementine, Djamila and Riziki come together at Maman Shujaa to create a community passionate about learning, working towards their goals and supporting one another.

Women, we are really mother of this nation, of this planet. You share all you have. You share your love, you share your knowledge, you share your opportunities, you share your challenge. When you share you bring change in every human being alive.

Neema Namadamu

Photography by Diana Zeyneb Alhindawi

When women come to the centre, they sit down at a computer in front of them and travel the world without leaving their seat. The Internet has opened up a world that they didn’t know existed. With the touch of their fingers they bring near that which is beyond their reach in this life.

Neema Namadu II Coordinator

Here’s how you can help

Support Neema Namadamu and the women of Maman Shujaa as they work to expand digital access and build communities for women across the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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