Two inspiring women from the Democratic Republic of Congo are coming to this city on two consecutive weekends to sell their beautiful wares and share their amazing stories.
Argentine Iamnirakunda and Mapendo Ndongotsi have survived civil war, poverty, disease, personal tragedies and other hardships during their lives, not the least of which includes the long period of being refugees and immigrating to a foreign land. They didn’t just survive though. They are incredible artisans who have thrived and can’t wait to show St. Albert what beautiful goods they have to offer.
Now, they are about to celebrate their first anniversary in Alberta and they couldn’t be happier and more full of praise.
“We thank God,” they both said.
Through their business SHONA Congo (a joint venture with two others who still reside in that country), they are able to sell a selection of gorgeous aprons, wallets, purses and reversible totes, all made with colourful African prints. Iamnirakunda and Ndongotsi have since settled in Athabasca with their families and have established this business with its unique product line.
They say they couldn’t have gotten off to such a good start if it weren’t for the support of the people.
“We are so thankful for the support we have received from the local community,“ said their partner and frequent translator Dawn Hurley. “In the end it isn’t just about what Argentine and Mapendo have overcome. It is about the whole community that is making this possible.”
The two women were forced to flee their country and for two years they lived in refugee camps, leaving family behind even.
Argentine survived polio, poverty and civil war and now wears two substantial leg braces and still needs crutches to walk. Because of her affliction, she was never able to get a formal education. She did learn how to sew and became an accomplished seamstress while the fighting continued on around her.
Mapendo wasn’t even a teenager when she broke her leg badly in two places. Her family couldn’t get her to the hospital and so it went untreated. A centre for people with disabilities later helped her with surgery, though she still needed years of therapy in order to use it again. She, too, relied on her skills as a seamstress to help earn money and contribute back to her community.
Despite all they have had to endure, they are still two of the happiest, most thankful people around. Listening to them sing with their beautiful voices is as much of a gift as the purses and bags that they make, too.
There’s nothing quite like the vibrant fabrics they use, beautiful and eye-catching. What’s even better than all of that is that each artisan gets 100 per cent of all profits from the sales of their goods. Each piece comes with a tag that states, “By purchasing from SHONA you are supporting the work and dignity of an incredible group of people in one of the most war-torn regions of the world.” That makes these items even more special as Christmas presents or as gifts to yourself.
SHONA Congo will have a booth at the indoor St. Albert market at St. Albert Place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 24. A special open house event will also take place from 2 to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 1. People who are interested should RSVP by emailing [email protected] or by calling 780-689-6052. You can also send a direct message to organizers at www.facebook.com/shonacongo to get directions.
More information, including a virtual catalogue of their products and online sales, is available at www.shonacongo.com.