A letter from Ruth Brown serving in the Democratic Republic of Congo
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Annual Ministry Update for 2014
from Ruth Brown, Specialist for Sustainable Agriculture & Community Development
Kananga, West Kasai, Democratic Republic of Congo
The year 2014 brings to mind images of children: street children in the Kasai, children working in the mines, and the hundreds of malnourished children in Kananga, the capital city of West Kasai.
A favorite memory is of 23 children sitting in the seats of honor at the opening ceremony for the Ditekemena (“Hope”) Program, the Presbyterian Church of Congo’s program to re-establish street children with their families. Five of the children had disabilities, four boys being lame and one girl nearly completely deaf. At this opening ceremony prayers filled the pavilion, prayers led by both church and civic leaders, working together to improve the lives of these children. This program was initiated with a grant award from Presbyterian Women’s 2013 Thank Offering.
I remember first meeting these at-risk children. It was at a meal together when several of the boys and girls told me about their experiences in the marketplace, where they slept beneath the market tables by night and by day tried to earn enough money for food. They would pick up tiny dried fish that had dropped to the ground from merchants’ tables. The children hoped to sell these fish to people hunting food for their pigs. These girls and boys, each under 12 years old, showed me the scars on their forearms where adults had slashed at them with knives to keep them away from the fish beneath the market tables.
The Presbyterian Church of Congo (CPC) recognizes the needs of at-risk children and works in partnership with the PC(USA) to reunite them with their families and to support them with education, nutrition and health promotion. Programs to assist at-risk children are coordinated by the CPC’s Community Development Program (CPDC).
In 2014, 8 girls and 15 boys in West Kasai and 16 additional girls in East Kasai received shelter, nutritious food, and Christian nurturing. In the East Kasai 12 children were reunited with their families. A total of 38 regularly attended school or remedial education classes. Many of these were children who had never picked up a pencil but now have filled notebooks with sentences and are learning math and to read and write French.
Supporting the children and their families is difficult in Congo, where government assistance often seems completely nonexistent. Only grades one through five are free for children, and sometimes even the families of these youngest children must pay for school when the government fails to send teachers’ salaries. In West Kasai 33 percent of eligible children are not enrolled in primary school (WHO, 2010).
In 2014 the coordinator of the CPC’s Community Development Program helped gather surveys in a study of children in the mines in West Kasai. The results of this study showed that the majority of children were from Kananga and had left their families because of poverty and hunger. In the Kasai one in four children is malnourished, with the majority receiving only one meal daily that consists of cassava, cooked leaves, and a little oil. Protein deficiency is prevalent.
2014 marked the beginning year that three community development programs worked together to assist the same target group: the families of malnourished children under 6 years old. Through a grant from PC(USA)’s Presbyterian Hunger Program, these partners worked on the critical global initiative of addressing the root causes of poverty, particularly as they affect women and children.
It is encouraging to see this partnership in Christ uniting the PC(USA) with three development programs affiliated with the Presbyterian Church of Congo (CPC): PRODEK (Program for Development in Kasai, an effective 30-year-old agricultural program), ASADECO (a Community Health Evangelism [CHE] program), and CPC’s Community Development Program. In 2014 this team identified over 420 children under 6 years of age to be at risk of malnutrition by brachial arm circumferences under 14 cm. And they began to implement an educational program with the children’s parents, stressing nutrition, potable water, sanitation, and family planning. The CHE volunteers worked in each of the five neighborhoods of Kananga to refer these children to their community health centers for nutritional assessment and care. Additionally the agricultural program, PRODEK, trained the CHE workers in supporting these families with planting Moringa trees and other protein-rich plants near their home. Our ultimate aim with this Bana Basanka (Happy Children) program is to form sustainable community associations to be supported by PRODEK for collective farming.
To you, the members of the PC(USA), and to other supporting friends, thank you very much for all your prayers, your words of encouragement, all the help you have given by sending program support information, helpful websites, microscopes, and lesson plans. Thank you for special funding for water projects, PRODEK, CHE, and Ditekemena. Thank you for your personal support to me through handwritten letters, phone calls, family and church photos, CDs of music, and DVDs of special services and events. Thank you for your donations to my sending and support and your contributions to the programs described here. In 2014 both small and large churches have given incredibly generous support to my work here and have pledged to continue this support. I would not be here without all this support.
Unfortunately, our collective work faces an uncertain future. Either the funding provided by the U.S. church must dramatically increase, or the work we are able to sustain around the world will be significantly reduced and changed over the next few years. An explanation of this concern for ongoing support of PC(USA) world missions may be found online at http://www.pcusa.org/news/2015/4/15/presbyterian-world-mission-faces-potential-funding/. Please keep PC(USA) World Mission in your prayers, spread the word, and make a gift if at all possible.
I give prayers of thanks for your personal messages of support to me here in Congo and for your gifts of support for this community development work being done in Christ’s name.
The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 147
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