Founder of Ibutwa, Cleophace Mukeba, presents to students at the University of Vermont
My country is a place of beautiful mountains, rivers, lakes, fertile agricultural land, and our rainforest is the second largest in the world. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is vast; it is the second largest country in Africa. It has immense economic and environmental resources. Tragically, until recently, the DR Congo has been at the center of what some call "Africa's world war", with widespread civilian suffering and death. I was forced to flee my home when the war began in 1996. That war has claimed more than six million lives, either as a direct result of fighting or because of the disease, malnutrition, and discord that were caused by the conflict. The war had an economic as well as a political side. Fighting was fueled by the country's vast mineral wealth, with all sides taking advantage of the anarchy to plunder natural resources. Today, some militia fight on in the east, where a big United Nations force is still trying to keep the peace. I am from the South Kivu region of eastern DR Congo where people are still suffering greatly from the loss of life and the loss of opportunity for the country to progress during the last twenty years. When the war broke out, my wife and I were not together as she was visiting with some friends in the neighboring country of Burundi. The war separated us when we fled the outbreak of violence in 1996. We searched for each other for many years, finally reuniting in 2002 in Zambia. We came to Vermont through the U.S. State Departments Refugee Resettlement Program in 2005. We are grateful to be here but will always miss our home country. In the last 12 years, I have completed a bachelor and masters’ degree, my wife has become an LNA, we are now the proud parents of 4 children; Bernadette, King, Amani, and Nyota; and we are U.S. citizens.
We left behind family and friends that we love dearly... and many neighbors, men, women, and children, from our villages who have suffered greatly. In 2011, I decided that there would never be the right time to help my brothers and sisters in the DR Congo. So the time to help them was now. I met with friends in Vermont and we began doing more than imagining what was needed in South Kivu. We began to make plans.
In 2011, I began to meet regularly with leaders from this congregation, Saint Michael’s College, Champlain College, UVM and CCV as well as my brother Jules and others from the Vermont Congolese community.
What could we do to help the villages in South?
We were hearing desperate stories from the civil war that continued to unfold. Women who had been raped – children born to mothers who were rejected by their communities – children with no access to education – and the ongoing devastation of poverty.
We discussed possible projects, partners to collaborate with, fundraising strategies, and our passion to make a difference in the lives of the most vulnerable women and children.
We wrote a mission statement, organized as a Vermont non-profit, and named ourselves, the Vermont Ibutwa Initiative.
“Ibutwa” means renaissance in Lega - my native language… and that was our mission – opportunity and education for the transformation of lives for the better.
With the support of the Sisters of Mercy and a very generous donor – and many friends - we began plans for me to travel to South Kivu DR Congo for a month in the summer of 2012. We planned an extensive itinerary that included meetings with religious and organizational leaders. We also planned visits to five villages in South Kivu to talk to women and children to orphans to the people we knew had suffered much.
A month before my trip, we were fairly certain that our goal was to build a school to give more children the opportunity for education. At the same time, our group was committed to the idea that our final mission project in the DRC should not be determined until I had met, and listened to, the women in the villages of South Kivu who had suffered so very much as they had been victimized by wars and rape.
My fact-finding visit to determine the central mission of the Vermont Ibutwa Initiative began in mid-June, 2012.
More than 60 women shared their stories with me. They had much to say about their lives and how we could help them. Universally they talked about the need to access health care. Some of them needed specific surgeries and treatments – and they were clear that other women would need this help too.
“We can’t work until we are well” -, “I can’t do more for my children until I am well.” --They said.
When I returned to Vermont in the middle of July, I met with the other Ibutwa organizers and we began anew to plan a program for South Kivu that reflected what the women had told me.
In January of 2013, we had raised enough money to start a program in Kamanyola to help women in need of health care, get the treatment that they needed. We chose to only work with the most vulnerable women, those who had been raped.
We hired a thoughtful, caring healthcare worker In Uvira, who will be working with women in Kamanyola, who brought women to medical appointments and followed up with their treatment, unfortunately, she passed away in April 2015. We worked with eight women and then eventually with twenty-four women in Uvira.
In Vermont, we continued to educate community groups about life in the DR Congo and about our mission. We received a $10,000 grant from the student government at Saint Michael’s College and gradually started to increase support from the community.
In 2014, we raised enough money to enroll more than 70 children in school and purchase uniforms, shoes and school supplies.
In the summer of 2015 with the support of the Sisters of Mercy, individual donors, and several faith communities, I had the opportunity to return to visit our Vermont Ibutwa Initiative participants in Uvira and Kamanyola.
I arrived with financial support to assist 30 Vermont Ibutwa participants in starting sustainable livelihood projects.
Our field staff in the DRC had worked with the women for a year before my return trip, piloting projects that could help the women raise funds for their families.
The women had worked to plan their small business projects. From raising animals such as pigs and goats – to starting a small bakery – to vending business selling used clothing – sewing new clothing - to street food vending businesses – the women were full of ideas and plans when I arrived.
We added a part-time staff member to help train and support the women with their sustainable livelihood projects. She has continued for nearly two years, encouraging the women and helping them when problems come up.
We are so thrilled that now, two years later, twenty-six of the women have viable sustainable livelihood projects that are producing income for the women to support their children.
In 2015 – 2016 and again in 2016 -17 ... more than 70 children of our Ibutwa participants were enrolled in school with Ibutwa paying their tuition. In 2017-18, 6 children are in grade twelve and they will pass the National Exam (State Exam).
Five of these youth now have high school diplomas – two of these young people are now in college-level programs.
In the fall of 2015, we purchased two acres of land that I had a chance to visit while in the DRC. Our women are now working together to work this land to produce crops for their families and to sell in their communities.
We have hopes and dreams for the future of the Vermont Ibutwa Initiative. Some women are making progress and others aren’t due to reb of health issues, robbery, men presented themselves as opportunists etc
We hope that you will be interested in supporting the mission of the Vermont Ibutwa Initiative – as we work with and empower women who have been oppressed by war, violence, a chaotic society and are now experiencing a taste of hope for their future.
Some of what Ibutwa would like to accomplish in the future....
We would like to double the number of women participating in our programs – health care access, schooling for their children and support in sustainable livelihood projects.
We would like to purchase an additional four acres of land for the women to farm.
As the program grows, we would like to enroll more children and youth in school.
We would like to start additional sustainable livelihood projects and training programs – for example, we would like more women to be trained in using sewing machines.
Our hope is that the women that we have been working with, will be able to move on without our support, making enough money to keep their children in school.
We hope to grow support in Vermont and the U.S. for Ibutwa – so that we can continue to support a hopeful future for the women and children in South Kivu DRC.
We are committed to working closely with our participants so that their voices are key in determining our goals and vision for the future.
We also - most earnestly - invite your support of the work of the Vermont Ibutwa Initiative that is bringing hope to the women of the Congo who have indeed been oppressed for many years.
Please consider volunteering with us as we build a strong future for the Ibutwa mission.
Founder & Executive Director of the Vermont Ibutwa Initiative, Inc
South Kivu has an area of 65,070 sq km (25,120 sq mi), nearly three times the size of Vermont, with Bukavu as its capital city. The province borders Kivu Lake to the northeast, Lake Tanganyika to the southeast, North Kivu to the North, Maniema to the west, and Katanga to the south. It shares its borders with the countries of Burundi, Rwanda, and Tanzania. It is composed of seven territories: Fizi, Kabare, Kalehe, Mwenga, Shabunda, Uvira and Walungu.
Our Mission | Ibutwa
Saving lives is not just to feed or treat people.
That makes them breathe, but they might not feel alive.
Ibutwa means “renaissance” in Lega, the language of the Lega tribe of the Mwenga District, South Kivu. We seek to contribute to the rebirth of the people of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) through raising awareness, medical treatment, and empowerment efforts. Our mission is to help victims of sexual and gender-based violence to rebuild their lives by addressing their physical, psychological, social, and economic needs. Ibutwa practices an inclusive and holistic approach to care.
Ibutwa’s awareness-raising efforts are rooted in our fundamental belief that we, as informed people, have a responsibility to educate those in the United States about the negative impacts of war and social disorder on the people of the DR Congo. These efforts largely take form of presentations given at places of worship, college and university campuses, and other communal gatherings. The goal of these efforts is to create a will for committed action and advocacy.
Tin, tungsten, gold, and tantalum four main minerals connected to conflict such as war, gender and sexual based violence, abuse, robbery, and assault.
Explore our programs and how we support women in the Congo, from health and psychosocial support to education and sustainable livelihoods!
The organization will act as a funding, facilitating, and organizing body. Ibutwa firmly believes in a culturally grounded approach, building on local resources and drawing on local meanings and phenomenology. When the community and participants take ownership, the program is indigenous, and thus sustainable.
Board of Directors & Project Management Committee (PMC)
VIBI Founder & Executive Director
Kyendamina Cleophace Mukeba is originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). When war started in 1996, he was forced to flee Congo and move into an extended, uncertain time in refugee status. Before residing in Zambia, he traveled through Tanzania, Mozambique and Malawi. He spent 9 years in Zambia as refugee before being resettled with his family in the U.S. in 2005.
In 2011, Cleophace created the Vermont Ibutwa Initiative. In 2012 he graduated from Saint Michael's College with a BA Cum Laude in Political Science. In 2015, he received an Environmental and Policy Law Degree from Vermont Law School. He is married with 4 beautiful children. He is also part of the PMC.
Want to know more about what the Executive Director of Ibutwa does? Click here to find out more
Professor Laurie Gagne
Laurie is Director of the Edmundite Center for Peace and Justice at St. Michael’s College, where she teaches core courses in the Peace and Justice Minor. In 2010, she founded the Dear Hillary Campaign for the Congo which has since become SMC for DRC, a student club which raises awareness and advocates for an end to the ongoing violence in Congo and the exploitation of the Congolese people. A favorite part of her job is bringing “heroes of the struggle for justice” to campus to inform and inspire the SMC community to greater social activism. Laurie also enjoys writing, running, and visiting her far-flung children.
Lucy is the Director of Outreach Ministries at the First Congregational Church of Burlington, Vermont, where she also serves as Co-Director of High School Youth Ministries. Previously, Lucy was Co-Director of Residential Life and Director of Student Activities at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Indiana. She also served as Adjunct Business Professor at Champlain College and was Field Director with the Vermont Girl Scout Council. She holds Bachelor's degrees in Human Services and Family Studies, and in Elementary Education, and has a Masters in Administration from Saint Michael’s College.
Amy Mellencamp recently retired after serving as the long-time Principal of Burlington High School and C.P. Smith Elementary School. Formerly the Director of Curriculum for the Burlington and Addison Northeast School Districts, she taught as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, coordinated Cambodian refugee educational programs in Thailand and California, served as a Lecturer and Research Associate in the College of Education and Social Services at UVM, and has been involved in a variety of non-profit programs over the last 25 years, including the Howard Center, ECHO, the United Way, the YMCA, and the Vermont Ibutwa Initiative,inc
Project Management Committee (PMC)
Distinct from the Board of Directors (though with representation from it), the PMC does not have final authority over financial or governance decisions. Rather, it is an advisory group, drawing on the collective interest of its members, who are mainly faculty and staff of Saint Michael’s College, the alma mater of founding Executive Director Kyendamina Cleophace Mukeba. We meet twice a month to examine reports and requests from the field, make policy recommendations to the Board regarding problems or conflicts that may surface, and generally help to ensure that this little organization with a very big mission is able to effectively serve our clients.
Laurence Clerfeuille, PhD
Assistant Professor of French
Laurence joined the PMC in 2014. She teaches French in the department of Modern Languages and Literature at Saint Michael’s College, where she offers language, literature and culture courses on the Francophone world. Her research concerns contemporary Haitian literature. Laurence is a member of the Board of Directors at the local Alliance Française of the Lake Champlain Region. She also loves traveling to Senegal and volunteering at Waranka, a non-profit on the outskirts of Dakar.
Patricia Siplon, PhD
Professor of Political Science
Patricia is Chair of the Department of Political Science at Saint Michael’s College. She has served twice as a Fulbright Research and Teaching scholar in developing countries: first in Tanzania in 2005, and again in Jordan in 2011-12. She works extensively with students to advocate for a more socially just society, here in Vermont and around the world. In her spare time she enjoys figure skating, rock climbing, hiking and exploring the outdoors with her partner, Jon Williamson.
Katherine Kirby, PhD
Associate Professor of Philosophy and Global Studies
Katherine is a professor at Saint Michael's College in Colchester, Vermont. She is a proponent of service-learning courses, wherein there is practical engagement with the community that breathes a certain life into the texts used and discussed in class. "I find that service-learning opportunities set the stage for a close philosophical (phenomenological) exploration of our lived experiences, especially in courses that challenge students to think about ethical or moral responsibility and engagement."
Jessica is a social worker at Community Health Centers of Burlington, where she helps newly-arrived refugee families to access health care and to adjust to life in the United States. In this position, Jessica has been particularly moved by the experiences shared with her by the people of Congo-- by their strength, their warmth, the closeness of Congolese families, and by their continuing joy in life. It's for this reason that she wanted to become involved with the Ibutwa Initiative.
Before returning to social work in 2017, Jessica stayed home full-time for 16 years to raise her two children. Jessica grew up in Maine, and now lives in Burlington with her daughter (her son is studying at UVM) and her two dogs. She spends her free time walking the dogs, singing in a local community chorus, and getting out into the woods as much as possible.
Life Skills Coach & Community Outreach Coordinator for Mansfield Hall- Eugene, OR
Since learning about the powerful work that Ibutwa does at Champlain College as an environmental policy major in 2015, she has organized many events that bring people together to learn more and get involved with the cause. She hosted fundraisers in Burlington, VT, Auckland, NZ & soon enough, in Eugene, OR where has been relocated during the summer of 2020. She is excited to bring the awareness of Ibutwa across the country and looks forward to collaborating with new groups to continue supporting the mission from a far.
Roles and Activities Plan for Ibutwa Field Staff in Uvira
VIBI staff on the ground are each required to fulfill his/her duties to avoid problems. We must have a conscious awareness to do well for the advancement of our organization, and especially to leave a good history for those who will come after us.
I will take care to raise awareness and accompany our participants by holding meetings to confront their morals as well as to organize a welcome center within Ibutwa’s conferences in order to highlight the traits of our beneficiaries through different developments in order to help them to become autonomous.
Hold the general meetings of our participants and certain authorities of the territory under the form of a workshop devoted to exchange and debate with the goal of creating interest in our participants and to promote their advocacy to the authorities who are more military than civil, happening 2 to 3 times a year.
Support the activities of the workshop through marketing efforts, so that it can take charge of itself and also to urgent activities of the office in case there is a need.
Set up resources that can enable the population of Uvira specifically within our range; By producing [mini] projects that require ways that will allow IBUTWA to work better.
Seek out partnerships opening space within areas of intervention like ours, to further partnership by way of the creation of a project that can be individual or a collaboration.