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A letter from Ruth Brown in Congo

June 2011

Here’s to the brave and hardworking women in Congo!

It is encouraging to see the Church in the United States and the Church in Congo supporting development programs for women in Congo and to see the Congolese women taking action for their sisters.

Two women standing by a table with cloths, in a sewing class.

Mme. Susana, CPK  sewing instructor for 111 women

One example of support to Congolese women from the PC(USA) and from the Presbyterian Women in Congo is the sewing program of the Presbyterian Community of Kinshasa (CPK)'s Department of Women and Families, which enrolls “at-risk” women, teens and young adults, referred by local churches.  The program provides a seven-month training plus two additional months of practice.  When I visited the program this April there were 111 young women enrolled. Half this number attended classes from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and the other half attended from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m.  Madame Susana, the skilled teacher, implements a detailed program of training exercises.  Her training book holds examples of every type of seam and stitch imaginable, and creating patterns for dress and shirt designs are also included in the curricula.  During the two “practice” months the young women make six different outfits to demonstrate the variety of stitches and patterns, with the plan that they may keep all these outfits upon graduation.   Also every year at graduation the three top graduates receive a sewing machine.  A dream of Madame Charlotte Nusamba, CPK’s director of the Department of Women and Families, is to establish ongoing funding for this program to enable every graduate to receive a sewing machine. 

A group of women in a sewing class.

Women were present in the sewing class on the day we visited Kinshasa (April 24, 2011).

The CPK’s Department of Women and Families (DWF) also supports children’s feeding programs twice a week outside the sewing center in Kinshasa and at nine other locations in Kinshasa.  One of the infants attending the feeding program was a 2-year-old who was found to be sick with both typhoid and malaria. DWF funds provided for her medical care. 

The Presbyterian Church of Congo (CPC) also has special programs to assist women.  One example in Kananga is an after-school project of English language and computer instruction for female secondary school students that is scheduled to begin this coming fall.  It is hoped that such education will open up more employment opportunities for the young women.  This special two-year project of education assistance for girls is being developed by the CPC, and it is funded through a Thank Offering grant from Presbyterian Women.  The program will provide 1.5 hours a day of after-school instruction, Monday through Friday, during the regular school year.  Forty (40) young women will be enrolled in the first year, and 40 different students will enroll in the second year—a total of 80 young women being assisted during the two-year program, with each of these students receiving 135 hours of education in English and 135 hours of education in computers by the time she finishes the program.  For more information about this program, contact Gwenda Fletcher, the mission co-worker working with education programs of the CPC.

A women cloth on paper, sitting on a table with other cloths.

A group from CPK is teaching during a seven-month training and a two-month practicum.

Mama Yohali, the president of the Women of the Church of Lemba Presbyterian Church in Kinshasa, said during my visit with her: “Even if other people come and help us, we as women must act.  We must do for ourselves.”  And on a weekly trip from Tshikaji to Kananga this past Wednesday I came face to face with action by local women:  At least 50 women were walking close together up the side of the road, three abreast.  Each of these women was clutching a large wooden mallet in her right hand.  All the mallets had long handles (they look a lot like clubs!), and they are used for pounding manioc roots and greens in preparation of daily food. (Pounding manioc or pounding any type of food is strictly "women's work" here.  No man is ever seen pounding food.)  These women were on their way to demonstrate against injustice.

Even though (regrettably!) I have not yet learned the particular reason for this demonstration, I find the sight of these women taking this symbol of womanhood in hand and acting together for justice is encouraging!  While in a car riding slowly past the women, my traveling companion, Gwenda Fletcher, quietly explained to me, “If the women have their shirts off, that indicates they REALLY mean business!”

A woman holding a tolder in a room.

Presbyterian Women's program of Kinshasa paid to assist a two-year-old who had both typoid and malaria.

The June 2011 edition of the American Public Health Journal reveals a recent study of rape in Congo.  As news of this study is brought to our kitchen tables by the morning paper and as we think about the women pounding out their daily meals and living out their daily lives, the question becomes almost audible:  How are we to stand together, lift our voices, take our shirts off, and raise our right arms for justice in this world?   While some of us are likely to keep our shirts on for a few more weeks, it’s a certainty that the time for action is now.  And it is a certainty that our figuring out how to stand with these women in their demand for justice has to be the will of God.

“Rise Up, [People] of God!
The Church for you doth wait,
Her strength unequal to her task;
Rise up, and make her great!”

Words by William Pierson Merrill, 1911 [the word “People” substituted by Luta Disanka, 2011]

“…Our love must not be just words and talk,

    it must be true love which shows itself in action.”

1 John 3:18

With love and thanks to you all!

Ruth Charles Brown

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The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 61

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