This crumbly black substance is what makes our world go round here.
Living on land made up of lava rock, wood stoves are hardly an option.
So, to make our tea and coffee and cook our meals, it is essential that we stay stocked up on this stuff.

But like most things in life, there's a bigger story behind our daily charcoal trips.

Every day, the same women sit on the side of road with their charcoal heaps.
Much like the famed Cinderella, their perpetually sooty faces and hands have caused them to be seen as filthy and lower in society. They are often pushed aside and the last in line.
All women in Congo struggle for rights and these women represent some of the most marginalized of them all. Many of them have experienced great tragedies due to the war; Some have lost husbands, losing the men in their life who would help provide for and defend them. Some have buried their children, the ones they were meant to protect.

When we first met the charcoal women, they refused to look us in the eye. On top of  countless sorrows, they had been branded as outcasts, conditioned to keep their faces to the ground.
But after continually talking to them, learning their names, and getting to know them,  now we can't pass by without them calling our names and stopping to chat for a while.
Now their smiles are often broader than any of the other vendors in the market,
and their greetings are as warm as the fire that their goods provide.

These women have literally softened before our eyes as they began to feel
noticed, valued and invested in. Even in a place known for the harshest of realities,
kindness has the power to uplift and restore.