June 2, 2016
GOMA, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO — Lydie Sosole, 25, loves the hardened lava that litters the streets here.
Sitting in her small workshop made of wood and plastic sheeting, she sorts through small piles of lava rocks, looking for the perfect pieces she needs to make her jewelry.
Sosole says she’s been inspired by the city’s volcanic lava stones since Mount Nyiragongo erupted 14 years ago, when she was a girl.
“One morning, when I came out of bed and went outside, I was just fascinated by the beauty of the volcanic stones which were piling up in my neighborhood,” she says. “I noticed that there were some whose shape was magnificent but not heavy at the same time. From that time, I started thinking how I could invent something that was original from these volcanic stones.”
Two years ago, Sosole attended entrepreneurship training at Great Vision Business Academy, a local organization that aims to reduce underemployment and unemployment among youth. The program helps young entrepreneurs translate their ideas into tangible projects, Sosole says.
It was thanks to this training, Sosole says, that she was able to develop her passion for lava rock into a jewelry business.
Ley Uwera, GPJ DRC
And now, after two years in business, she’s ramping up the number of her employees, clients and investors.
Sosole employs a group of teenage boys to scan the streets of Goma, the capital of the North Kivu province, for volcanic stones. She says she pays them each $40 per month.
“The jewels that are made here are unique and beautiful,” she says, referring to the locally made adornments. “Even if the work is laborious and requires a lot of effort, it is worth the trouble since the result is quite satisfying.”
Sosole’s shop is called Solysoft ─ an English-sounding name so that the brand can be known worldwide.
“One day, I would like for the entire world to recognize me as a young woman who was able to transform the volcanic lava of the Nyiragongo volcano into a beautiful product,” she says.
Mount Nyiragongo, an active volcano, sits just above Goma. Past eruptions sent lava through the city, and its hardened remnants remain. Many people here lament the presence of the lava because it creates rugged streets, popped tires and general hassles, but Sosole has found a way to make a product that is growing in popularity among locals and tourists alike.
Nyiragongo and Nyamuragira, both in DRC’s Virunga National Park, just north of Goma, are among the most active volcanoes in the world. They are responsible for about two-fifths of Africa’s volcanic eruptions.
While the residents fear the active volcanoes, Sosole is giving people a new way to look at lava.
Patricia Amisi, a Goma resident and Solysoft client, says changing the way people view lava can change the image of the Goma area. Sosole’s art uses something most people see as an ugly nuisance, she says.
“Coming up with an idea of transforming lava into beautiful jewels is a brilliant innovation. We must encourage this kind of innovations, coming from our fellow countrymen and women,” Amisi says.
Joël Tembo, founder and general director of Great Vision Business Academy, where Sosole was trained, says he was so inspired by Solysoft that he became her business partner. He helps her find clients and investors.
The academy offers free mentoring to select businesses for three months, he says, then the entrepreneurs’ ideas are put into practice.
Sosole says her business is growing rapidly. She is actively pursuing partnerships with other artists who own shops where she hopes to display her work.
“It is important to have sales outlets everywhere in the city, so as to entice people to buy my products wherever they go,” she says.
Most notably, she is planning to collaborate with Kivu Nuru, a well-known exhibition space in Goma that helps artists raise their profile, especially among tourists.
Sosole also employs a small sales team to take her pieces door to door.
Alain Irenge, a high school student, moves throughout the city and the suburbs of Goma, from house to house, to entice girls and women to buy Solysoft jewelry. He says he has been working for Sosole for more than a year, and is paid when he sells a piece.
“Sometimes we meet clients from Rwanda and Burundi and we entice them to buy,” says Irenge, who works with two other teen boys.
Olive Neema, 28, a customer, says she had to have a piece when she first saw the jewelry.
“One boy found us in the beauty salon in town and interested us about the jewelry he was selling. I was immediately attracted by the beauty of the stones, and I immediately bought something,” Neema says.
Sosole says she is developing a new advertising plan and raising money for new materials and tools. She hopes to hire permanent employees to replace the temporary workers she relies on to find rocks and sell her product.
In recent months, she opened a second workshop at the base of Nyiragongo, 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) from the city center.
“I intend to extend my innovation beyond Goma; I would like my products to reach far beyond the Congolese borders so that I attain success at the international level,” she says. “I cherish these ambitions on a daily basis.”
Ndayaho Sylvestre, GPJ, translated this article from French.