Vanessa Jados, a 29-year-old entrepreneur from the war-ravaged city Goma in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, is a woman with rather unusual business ideas for her hometown, which has been the center of a decades-long, bloody civil war.
Jados developed a taste for fine baking when her parents sent her to Belgium to study when she was twelve. When she returned to her beloved hometown at the age of 23, she realized there were no mouthwatering pastries in Goma. In an attempt to solve this croissant crisis, she opened Goma's first boutique bakery, Au Bon Pain (no relation to the international franchise), in May 2014; she feels "Congolese people deserve good croissants too." She's currently working on her second business that one might not expect to see in a conflict zone: a spa and beauty center.Vanessa Jados, a 29-year-old entrepreneur from the war-ravaged city Goma in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, is a woman with rather unusual business ideas for her hometown, which has been the center of a decades-long, bloody civil war.
"It's absolutely stunning here. We have a beautiful lake, wonderful nature, and mountains. But all people talk about Goma is war," Jados said, sitting on a stylish bamboo chair in her bakery and sipping a cappuccino. Despite the occasional U.N. peacekeeping helicopters hovering in the sky and the aid delivery or army trucks passing in the street, inside, the chicly decorated café is a different world. The dark-orange walls contrast with brown furniture. Although Au Bon Pain isn't signposted, the unlikely smell of the freshly baked butter croissants gives away its location in Goma's city center easily.
"I want people to have good experiences about Goma, too," added Jados, who shines with joy and passion when talking about her hometown and country. "People might think it's a weird idea to open a spa and a beauty center, but I feel the opposite," she added. "We need it more than anyone. People, especially women here, have gone through a lot."
When Jados says her fellow residents have gone through a lot, she means it. The eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, a vast Central African country the size of Western Europe, has been in conflict since the early 1990s. Some have dubbed it World War III. The war has taken more than 5.4 million lives. Nearly 80 percent of the Congolese population live in extreme poverty, according to United Nations. The war and poverty also took their toll on women's rights, as the DRC consistently ranks as one of the worst places in the world to be a woman, with extremely high rates of maternal mortality and sexual violence.