I am pretty sure I will be in DR Congo two weeks from today. My plans have been playing Upset the Fruit Basket (anyone remember that game?) for the last few weeks– canceled flights and more canceled flights, schedule changes there, new plans here. My right knee decided to test my resolve by freezing up ten days ago but then came back online a few days later.
But the uncertainties on my end are minor. For my colleagues in Congo, they are daunting, and if everything on my agenda actually happens anywhere near according to plan, it will be miraculous. In fact, miracles are already plentiful, and I bear witness to them.
It’s been a year since my last trip, during which I helped launch a project to train adult-literacy teachers. This time, among other things, I will participate in graduation ceremonies for the first new readers/writers who have completed the course taught by teachers who were trained a year ago in Kinshasa.
So this is what has happened so far: in a country in chaos, newly trained teachers, many without other means of support, were commissioned to set up classes where they could in their churches or neighborhoods, gather illiterate adults, and teach them to read and write in one of the major local languages. The program I’m involved with paid only for training and initial textbooks and equipment so they were to do this on their own, as volunteers, or find ways to support their efforts.
Some of them teamed up and began working together. Within six months, these new teachers had set up 20 literacy classes across Kinshasa, enrolling more than 400 pupils.
The chaos is no small obstacle. The training last year was interrupted by a series of general strikes, preventing trainees from gathering. The instructor and trainees exhibited great flexibility, compressing the program and extending the schedule. Even on the best of days, everyday life in Congo is difficult. One day during the workshop the instructor didn’t make it to class at all because the roads in his neighborhoods were washed out. Most of the newly trained instructors and their pupils need transportation to classes they’ve set up. This means hours on rutted streets, costing time and money they don’t have. Illness also interrupts the learning schedule for both teachers and students
Nevertheless, in two of the new literacy centers, 20 students have completed all 55 lessons. They’re delaying the closing ceremonies so that my colleague in the supporting organization, Africa Inter Mennonite Mission, and I can attend and help celebrate. It will happen on March 30. This is a big miracle, made possible by many other miracles.
I won’t attend all the graduations in months to come, of course. But this one coincides with my main reason for going to Congo, which is to attend the third teacher-training workshop, in the city of Mbuji-Mayi. It is in a region that has experienced conflict in the past year, and disruptions may make it difficult for potential trainees from outside the city to get to the workshop. It will be a miracle if they do. I go to encourage, bear witness, and help in any way possible.
I also hope to follow up with the program in the cities of the two previous trainings, Kinshasa and Kikwit. The Kikwit training took place last August. I wasn’t there. Reports are that it went well but we haven’t heard much since. Many of the Kikwit trainees came from remote areas in Bandundu province and I don’t know what we’ll be able to learn about how they are doing, even by traveling to the area. But we need to offer encouragement in any way we can.
On my end I am reducing uncertainties as much as possible without counting on anything. I’ll keep checking on those flights that I think are now scheduled. And maybe go carryon-only to avoid lost luggage. I think I can pull it off, even carrying the usual cargo for friends. Will anyone notice if I wear the same thing many days (laundered by hand)? Congolese fashion standards are high but I may not comply.