What is your current title and work place?
I am Founder and CEO of Totonga Bomoi. In the local Congolese language of Lingala, ‘Totonga Bomoi’ means ‘Build Our Future.’
How does your faith play into your role?
In Matthew 26, Christ tells us that “the poor will be with you always.” But the words of Christ also instruct us that poverty is not due to something that the poor lack, but that society itself has failed to provide for them. We are that society. We are all a global society, each acting in our individual manner for the common good. And what we do in part, together as a community, can and will end poverty.
Totonga Bomoi doesn’t aim to move dollars from one hand to the next. We aim to teach those hands to earn and build and provide for themselves. In doing so, the artisans transcend their lessons and become a community. This community, and coming together as a society to improve life and reduce poverty in the Congo is what is important. To me. To the women who are a part of Totonga Bomoi. And to our global community.
How has your work evolved over the past decade?
Our cooperative began with a simple request. While volunteering in Congo, my good friend Mama Aroyo asked for help generating income to build a home for her family. Recognizing her talents as a seamstress, I requested that she make 25 African handbags that I could sell to family and friends in the U.S. Soon after, other women in the village expressed interest in joining our project. We weren’t sure what our business model would look like, but what I did know is that my year spent as a volunteer in Africa changed my life. As I encountered suffering and tragedy, I also grew in fellowship with the local community. A day never goes by when I am not inspired by the creativity and resilience of our artisans.
In 2014, our story began with product design and development and the formation of an artisan’s cooperative. What followed were several years of back-to-back craft fairs, community events, and trade shows. While we were blessed with the many opportunities that come with a social enterprise, we needed to rewrite our structure to better meet the needs of families in the Congo. As you read above during the years of 2016 and 2017, the demand for education and entrepreneur empowerment, including start-up capital and micro-loans, demanded that our efforts shift. Our newly formed nonprofit welcomes a team of Board Members dedicated to building sustainable communities by providing small business education and start-up capital to entrepreneurs across the Congo.
“At Pius, I learned and experienced first-hand that faith in Christ always came first. All those long days of high school gave me something that someday I want to give my children and my grandchildren and that is a Catholic education.”Katie Hile
What initiatives or projects are you hoping to start or finish in the coming years?
In 2018, we expanded our programs and activities in the Congo, serving more families than ever before. We engaged more artisans in our sewing classes, with 45 women graduating, and earlier this year we delivered an interactive, hands-on business training to 25 aspiring entrepreneurs. Our participants live and work in five different villages across northeastern Congo, which means that our programs are reaching more corners and impacting more lives than ever before.
What memories do you have of Pius X High School?
The most memorable moments I have of Pius X High School are those that I continue to experience today. At Pius, I learned and experienced first-hand that faith in Christ always came first. All those long days of high school gave me something that someday I want to give my children and my grandchildren and that is a Catholic education.