When Dawn McMullan visited Africa in 2007, she never dreamed it would change her life in so many ways — or change the lives of others.
“I went to Rwanda on a trip with my church and saw things I didn’t know existed,” says Dawn, a freelance writer and editor in Dallas, Texas. The country had been ravaged by civil war in the mid-90s; more than 1 million people died in Rwanda and 6 million were killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo. “I’d seen deep poverty [on other mission trips], but I hadn’t seen a lack of infrastructure where basic human needs were just unreachable.”
That experience was still fresh in her mind when she met Gorethy Nabushosi less than a year later. Gorethy, a refugee who had fled the Congo in 1997 and raised her six children in Dallas, had visited her home country to see how she could help. A decade after the genocide, she saw a system that was completely broken.
“She went to a village and basically found a lot of orphans and took in all 30 kids,” Dawn says. “Then she called her husband and said, ‘I need $1,000 to figure out what to do with these kids. I can’t leave them.’ And that’s how it began.”
Unsure of where to turn, Gorethy returned to Dallas and reached out to a Methodist church for help. The church connected her with Dawn, who immediately jumped on board.
“When Gorethy came into my life, I was already somewhat familiar with the situation and had this great, inexplicable passion for it,” Dawn says. “From there, we started what became Congo Restoration.”
Changing Africa One Woman at a Time
The first order of business was to secure a home with caretakers for the 30 orphans Gorethy had taken in. Then, they focused on empowering women through education. In 2010, they started a sewing school that provided girls with a skill and a six-month education. In the Congo, girls and women are usually sent to work in the fields; Gorethy knew that offering them an education would be life changing.
“Not only does that give them a way to make money that they didn’t have before, but it also raises them up in society,” Dawn explains. “They’re no longer the lowest ranks of society; they are respected women, because they have a business. They can send their kids to school. They’re in charge of their financial destiny. And that is not a thing in the Democratic Republic of Congo that a woman would usually be in charge of.”
Initially, it was a hard sell to convince parents to take their daughters away from working in the fields to teach them a skill because it meant the girl wouldn’t be bringing home money during that time. Sometimes, Dawn says, they had to offer the family things of value like soap or salt to seal the deal. But the sewing school has now graduated more than 800 women, supplying each one with a sewing machine and a sewing kit with everything they need to start their own business.
Creating a Brighter Future
“Now when we’re about to graduate a class, hundreds of women line up wanting to be in that next class,” Dawn says. “Their families cry when they get their diploma. It’s a shift in how the community sees these women.”
She also sees dramatic changes in the women who attend the school: “We teach them a lot of things in those six months. Sewing is one of them, but there are other things we teach them about how valuable they are. And by the time they graduate, you can see that in their eyes.”
Congo Restoration continues changing the lives of families in the Congo, but Dawn says she is the one who has gained so much from the work.
“When I go to Congo, when I’m doing things for the schools, I get so much thanks from the people there,” she says. “But they have no idea how much they’re changing me, how much they’re teaching me. I wish everyone could find the one thing they can do like that that lights them up.
“If everybody did something with a passion to do good in the world, there’s just no way the world’s not benefiting from all that good energy.”