How can we help Congo? Part two

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Adolphine Tshiama. Photo by Charles Buller

A few days ago I started writing about what, if anything, we can do for that troubled country I love so much, the Democratic Republic of Congo. I put off writing Part 2 for a few days to sit with my intentions and motivations. I am very particular about asking for money, especially for things related to my own work and my church community. But I have decided to go ahead because I can’t get Adolphine out of my mind. These requests are directly related to her story and what she represents.

I am suggesting two kinds of concrete financial help, one short-term and the other longer-term.

The short-term help needed is for supplies and material relief to the thousands of refugees in the Kasai region who have fled their homes and are hiding out in the bush. Since this region has a lot of Mennonite churches, and many of the refugees are Mennonites, a consortium of Mennonite agencies has established a fund and is organizing on-the-ground assistance.

Significantly, the relief effort was initiated, not by North Americans but by Congolese Mennonites in the capital of Kinshasa. The North American agencies quickly partnered with them. And I must say that Mennonite agencies are very good at on-the-ground help. Incidentally, Michael Sharp, the UN investigator who was murdered in the region last March, was a former Mennonite Central Committee worker in Eastern Congo (quite a different set of problems and conflicts).

After her brother’s family was killed, Adolphine, the “Mama Présidente” of many of these women who are hiding out with their families, or what is left of them, asked for this kind of help from her friends in North America.

You can contribute to this fund here.

The longer-term need is at the heart of why Adolphine and I have become close friends in the past year. It has to do with Congolese finding their own solutions and taking initiative.

I have written before about the Women’s Literacy Project. Adolphine and two other women leaders have launched this project aimed eventually at placing at least one adult literacy teacher in every Mennonite congregation in the country. I have worked with the women to plan the project and find funding for it. The time we four spent together in Burkina Faso during the planning stage and in Kinshasa, for the first teacher-training workshop, has made us sisters of the heart.

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Adolphine and co-“Mama Présidentes” Hélène José Mbombo and Marie Fumana

What does this project have to do with abating violence?

First, it is aimed at empowering illiterate women to begin to take control of their lives and withstanding gender violence that pervades some tribal cultures.

Second, the women leaders and the first teachers-in-training are also concerned about the uneducated youths who are at the center of the country’s chaos–both in city street gangs and as recruits in the vicious militias roaming the countryside. Some of the new literacy teachers in Kinshasa began immediately to recruit students among these unschooled young men and women.

At the heart of the literacy curriculum is this message: “God loves you. You are capable. You are important.” Gaining the power to read, with the assistance of a loving teacher, is the acted-out proof of this message. The women believe this message and method have transformative power.

For the project’s first phase we had planned four initial workshops, each training 50-60 teachers, in four scattered locations in this large country–the capital and the three headquarters of the three branches of the Mennonite church.

We have enough money so far to cover two workshops. The second one will be held in August in Kikwit, a city that is relatively trouble-free. We will need to raise more money for the next two, in Mbuji-Mayi and Tshikapa. These have not yet been scheduled. It looks like Mbuji-Mayi will be next because conflict in that region has diminished.

Tshikapa, on the other hand, the Mennonite Church headquarters where Adolphine lives, is on the edge and sometimes in the center of the worst current violence. We will not hold a training there until things settle down, but we want to be ready.

Meanwhile, many of Adolphine’s constituents will be traveling to Kikwit for training, though not from the most troubled regions because any movement there is dangerous.

In short, we need to raise $30,000 for the teacher-training workshops in Mbuji-Mayi and Tshikapa–about $300 for each trainee.

Who are “we”? This is a project of the women of the three Mennonite communities of Congo (Mennonite Church, Mennonite Brethren, Evangelical Mennonite). The North American partner is Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission (AIMM), a branch of Mennonite Mission Network. Funding is directed through AIMM.

I have been working as a volunteer for AIMM to plan and launch the project and I hope to attend the second workshop in a few weeks and follow up with trainees of the first workshop. I will bring back stories!

The literacy teachers will also work as volunteers in their communities and churches. Contributed funds pay only for training and textbooks.

Consider contributing to this important project, which is close to the heart of Adolphine and her sister-leaders. They have been wanting to do something like this for so long and now it is happening. It is a ray of hope in dark times. Pray that the troubles will end and allow them to carry on with their vision.

You can send a (tax-deductible) check here, designated “Congo literacy.”

AIMM
1013 Division St.,
P.O. Box 744
Goshen IN 46527-0744
(p) 574.535.0077

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Adolphine and Marie-Jeanne Mujinga, who teaches tayloring, learn to teach reading

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