Eastern Congo has known decades of civil unrest, including two wars since 1996 that killed 6 million people and displaced millions. Displaced people are continuing to settle in the areas bordering the oldest African national park, Virunga, adding to deforestation and social tensions in the rural communities.
All of these people are subsistence farmers who depend on agriculture for both their food and their income. Amidst the turmoil on the edge of Virunga Park, hundreds of women have taken local leadership to create an opportunity for women from the new cacao crop. The women have planted more than a quarter of a million cacao trees and approximately 40 thousand shade trees. These are the Femmes de Virunga.
Marceline is one of the Femmes de Virunga and a leader among them. She has 10 children. The chronical illness of her husband leaves her as only caretaker. It also leaves her free to handle affairs as she chooses. She has seen cacao “chase poverty from her home” as she puts it. She plans to expand acreage, buy landonly caretaker. It also leaves her free to handle affairs as she chooses. She has seen cacao “chase poverty from her home” as she puts it. She plans to expand acreage, buy land for her sons, build a new house and start a business selling soap and salt. “I want to get out of poverty”, she says, “I prefer to dress like any other woman in the city.”