Taking Action in Africa

Catherine Haight ’98 balances a thriving Hollywood career as a TV and film editor with a commitment to empowering women and children in Congo

Catherine Haight ’98 loves her day job. As a freelance film and TV editor in Los Angeles, she spent three seasons on the groundbreaking Amazon series “Transparent,” and her work as the sole editor of the show’s pilot earned her nominations for both an Emmy and an ACE Eddie. “The response to the show was beyond anything we had ever dreamed,” she says. “It was incredibly rewarding to feel like you’re working on something that you enjoy, that you think is good, and that was actually part of a bigger conversation starting to happen in this country.”

Eight years ago, Haight sought to make a bigger impact on society in a more direct way—a quest that would eventually lead her to Africa. She has long bonded over books with friend Rebecca Snavely, a writer and casting director, and in 2010 both were immersed in Half the Sky, a nonfiction collection about the human rights struggles faced by many women in developing nations.

Haight was particularly struck by the stories of women in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In the wake of the 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda, the Congolese experienced years of violence, corruption, and unrest, resulting in the loss of millions of lives in the country. “Rebecca and I really responded to that,” she says, “and we were both looking to contribute in some bigger way.”

Through a journalist friend, Kevin Sites, Haight was connected to activist and community-builder Amani Matabaro, who with his wife had established a nonprofit in Congo with the goal of empowering women through vocational training and education. Inspired by the couple’s grassroots efforts, later in 2010 Haight and Snavely co-founded Action Kivu, a U.S.-based charitable organization that partners with Matabaro to help raise money for its programs in Africa.

Action Kivu helps to enable community-based initiatives in Congo that promote equality for women and create a path toward peace and prosperity. Sewing and breadmaking workshops, agricultural training, and adult literacy workshops give women the skills to provide for themselves and their families. The literacy program has served over 300 women and girls previously denied a formal education, and more than 200 have graduated from the sewing workshop with the tools to launch their own businesses.

Action Kivu is committed to keeping the reins in African hands. “It’s really important to us that [the programs are] all Congolese-owned and operated,” says Haight, who raised more than $5,000 for the organization via Facebook for her birthday in April. “The Congolese people know what needs to happen to fix the problems there.”

While personifying Occidental’s ethos of global engagement, Haight has also forged a career she’s passionate about. Her latest film, Puzzle, premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival and was released in July by Sony Classics. Other film and TV credits include The Polka King (2017), Afternoon Delight (2013), “Mozart in the Jungle,” “New Girl,” and “Girls” (garnering her first ACE Eddie nomination for editing the show’s pilot).

A New Hampshire native, Haight enrolled at Occidental as an art major with an emphasis in film alongside her identical twin sister, Alissa ’98. “I definitely wanted to do something with film, but still wanted to get a liberal arts education,” Catherine says. Oxy “made me ready to be out in the real world and start working in a creative field.”

Snavely, who serves as Action Kivu’s executive director, considers Haight’s day job as complementary to advancing the charity’s mission. “Her trained eye for mining the depths of story continues to help us look at different takes on each challenge and situation that arises, seeing how they’ll fit into the larger story we’re telling,” she says.

“With editing, you pull from all your life experiences because you put your own emotions into everything,” Haight says. “You’re going to be a better editor if you know more about the world because you bring more to the table.”