Microcredit organizing has already boosted the income of many Disciples households and some congregations and
provides further evidence that the “social economy” can help drive economic development in Congo. “Mobilising microfinance is critical to the success of social enterprises including through savings and credit cooperative organizations” observed the recent U.N. Environment Program “Post Conflict Environmental Assessment Synthesis for Policy Makers”. The UN report touts microfinance as a means to generate employment and allow Congolese to “deal pragmatically with their own development priorities”.
But as is typical of Congo culture, microcredit Congo style is often different from the pattern followed in other countries and often varies from group to group. While some groups begin with seed funding, the Microcredit Union of women in Mbandaka’s Besenge parish began with no funding other than what was brought by members of the group. Twenty five women divided into two groups and met twice a month, each member bringing at least 1000 Congolese Francs (about $1.20) to the meeting. One group of women is invited to take a loan on the 10th of the month, according to group leader Mama Micheline Mwami, and the other on the 25th of the month. The next month the women return the amount taken out plus 10 per cent interest. Some women bring more than the minimum contribution from month to month to enable larger loans and larger profits for the group. Within a year, the Besenge group distributed among the 25 women, proportionate to their “investments”, savings and profits of just under $1900.
In the urban setting, many of the women participating in a Disciples organized Microcredit Union begin small businesses with their loans. By contrast, in the rural setting of Bonsombo (Lofoy is its “mission post”), ten families decided to pool their funds and buy seed and tools to cultivate ten hectares of land, agriculture being the primary source of cash in their experience. In the cash economy of Equateur Province’s capital of Mbandaka, the potential for larger investments and earnings is much greater.
Aided by $1400 in seed funding, the Mbandaka pastors’ wives group enabled group leader Mama Lombe to receive a total of $100 the first three months from her Union’s fund pool. She set up a table on a downtown Mbandaka street and began selling children’s underwear, soap, tomatoes and biscuits and returned $105, 5 % interest being the group profit on the loan. After the “Emmanuela” group’s first six months, $2417 was distributed among the members. More recently, after two years of the growth of the group and of the participants’ small business ventures, $12,000 in savings and earnings was shared by group members.
With no banks now providing credit to the 750,000 persons of the city of Mbandaka or anywhere else in Equateur province, the Microcredit Unions have rekindled the “social economy”, the UNEP report’s term, and
entrepreneurship in urban areas where groups have been organized. Enthusiasm among Disciples for the Microcredit organizing has led to Pauline Ngoy presenting for students at the Bolenge Protestant University of the Equateur a lecture on “Microcredit and Evangelism”.
You can contribute to the Microcredit Union organizing by the Disciples in Congo by sending a check designated for “Microcredit in Congo” to Global Ministries, P.O.B. 1986, Indianapolis, IN 46206-1986. You can also make a gift online by going to:
A contribution of $150 will enable purchase of a group’s “kit” – a wooden box with calculator, notebooks for each group’s three “accountants”, pens and pencils. The more contributions received by Global Ministries, the more groups will be started with some “seed” funding as well as the “kit”.
Follow new developments in the Microcredit organizing on Nathan Weteto’s blog; English translation can be accessed at:
More than 1000 women are now receiving credit and saving their earnings by participating in one of the Microcredit Unions organized by the Disciples Community of the Church of Christ of Congo. More than thirty groups have been formed throughout the Equateur Province with members spreading the news of the benefits they enjoy. One of the first Microcredit Union groups, organized by the Disciples pastors’ wives in Mbandaka, recently distributed six months of profits and savings amounting to over $12,000.
One of the pastors’ wives group members, Mme. Ingesu Likomba, recounted her progress in generating new income for her household
thanks to the credit extended. With her first loan, Mme. Likomba bought an old kerosene refrigerator and began selling cool bottled water. More recently, with another loan, she bought a small generator which will enable her to sell chilled flavored drinks along with the water. She and her husband, pastor of the Disciples’ New City parish in Mbandaka, are now better able to help with the fees and expenses of four children in college.
The master trainer and initiator of the Microcredit Union groups is none other than M. Nathan Weteto, Director of Communications of the Disciples and fellow blogger. In addition to conducting trainings in rural and urban Disciples settings, M. Weteto has trained Baptist microcredit group leaders in war stricken North Kivu province and CADELU church members in Equateur. With many Disciples group members now testifying that they can better feed their families and pay children’s school fees, Revde. Christiane Ikete, who heads the Disciples Department of Women and Familes, plans an expansion of the program.
In a recent meeting in which Disciples President Bonanga and Vice President Mputu participated, the creation of the Women’s Association for Savings and Credit, a new division of the Women’s Department, was announced. The Association’s first step will be the preparation by M. Weteto of at least ten trainers for deployment to organize five to ten new Microcredit Unions on their own.
The potential of this income generating strategy to increase household and parish revenues is best seen in one of the poorest Disciples parishes in the city of Mbandaka. Mme. Micheline Mwani , the pastor’s wife in the Besenge parish, tookthe lead in bringing together 2 groups of 25 women total. In a conversation in July, 2010, Mme. Mwani reported that the only material aid her groups received initially was a “kit” comprising calculators, accounting notebooks and pens. These two groups after a six month period distributed a sum of $1,889 among the members,
representing the six month interest payments and savings of the women participating. Other Besenge Disciples women, and, members of the nearby Catholic church are clarmoring to join.
With the aim of sharing the microcredit concept and benefits with the most vulnerable members of the Congolese population, M. Weteto also trained two HIV positive groups of men and women last December. Forty six persons were organized and trained in two groups, with each group given “kits” and $250 each for an intital fund to be added to by the members. For more on the micro credit process Congolese style, read my next blog coming soon.
“And the leaves were for the healing of the nations…..” (Rv 22:2) Ten years ago Church World Service’s West Africa Director Lowell Fuglie began promoting the growth and use of the moringa leaf to combat malnuturition. Today the tree is widely know across Africa as a drought resistant, fast growing tree used for treating a variety of ailments, including malnutrition. A recent article on the properties of moringa observes, “It is commonly said that Moringa leaves contain more Vitamin A than carrots, more calcium than milk, more iron than spinach, more Vitamin C than oranges, and more potassium than bananas, and that the protein quality of Moringa leaves rivals that of milk and eggs.”
The bark, seeds and pods of the moringa are also used with the seeds providing a low cost water purification technique. According to the same article, “ The journal Current Protocols in Microbiology published a step by step extraction and treatment procedure to produce “90.00% to 99.99%” bacterial reduction. The seeds are also considered an excellent source for making biodiesel.”
Two or three years ago someone brought some moringa seeds with them on a visit to the Disciples farm at Ikengo. The
resulting moringa grove caught the eye of Equateur Province’s Governor who exclaimed that he uses the moringa leaf for his diabetes. And the Provincial health ministry is now interested in obtaining leaf powder for treating malnourished infants.
A Mbandaka native son now Professor of Biology at the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris was fascinated by moringa’s water purifying capacity. Wanting to see the trees, M. BOETSA accompanied me on my return to the Ikengo farm this past summer. More about the reason for his return to Mbandaka in the next posting. For now, those interested in more on the amazing moringa tree can go to the Wikipedia article at:
Our thoughts and prayers accompany the 8 Indiana Disciples who on Sunday begin their journey to Mbandaka for a two week visit. With the aim of strengthening the partnership ties of the Indiana and Mbandaka Regions of the Disciples, the group is led by Susan McNeely and the Partnership Chair Rev. Bob Shaw. Follow Susan’s report and commentary on the trip at her blog
While in Mbandaka they will likely be among the first visitors to dine at the new
Restaurant Maman Entombodji next to Disciples headquarters. Running along the south wall of the Secretariat building, this is an income generating, training project of the Disciples’ Department of Women and Families.
Head of the Women’s Department, Rev. Christiane Ikete Engelete, envisions the Restaurant generating revenues for the Department’s programs of literacy education, micro-credit and agricultural cooperatives. Built with the help of funding from the Disciples/U.C.C. Global Ministries and the German United Evangelical Mission, the building comprises the main dining hall, kitchen, office, pantry and interior and exterior rest rooms.
Restaurant Entombodji was dedicated May 12, forty years after Rev. Christiane’s father participated in the dedication of the dormitory at the Disciples’ CAP (Centre Agro-Pastorale) farm in the village of Ikengo. A dedicated Disciples layman at the time, Joseph IKETE served as volunteer Protocol Chief for the occasion. Now in his 70’s Joseph continues to serve the Disciples as Chief Administrative Assistant in President Bonanga’s office.
In closing, a heart felt “Bon Voyage/Kende Malamu” to the Indiana Disciples as they prepare for their long journey beginning Sunday 5/22. They go with our gratitude for helping strengthen the partnership of U.S. and Congo Christians and our trust that their visit will also strengthen the mission witness of churches in both countries.
The Equator Province is the greenest swath on the map of the Congo. The Province does not have the diamonds, gold, copper, cobalt and other rare metals of the eastern, central and southern provinces. It is the poorest and least developed of the Congo’s provinces. It is the Congo’s Mississiippi.
Dense tropical rain forest covers much of the Province. One flying into Mbandaka for the first time might wonder if anyone lives along the great river pilots follow on their way to Mbandaka, the provincial capital. Congo’s rain forest of the Equator Province was described unforgettably by Joseph Conrad in The Heart of Darkness after his Congo travels in 1890:
“Going up that river was like travelling back in the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings.” (The Heart of Darkness and The Congo Diary, Penguin edition, p.59)
After his own travel up the Congo River in 1925, French writer Andre Gide wrote, “I am rereading The Heart of Darkness for the fourth time. It is only after having seen the country that I realize how good it is.” (Travels in the Congo University of California Press, 1962, pp. 292-293) Forty years into Belgian rule in Congo, Gide was concerned about the effects of deforestation in Equator Province. “I am inclined to think that this continual deforestation, whether it be systematic and deliberate or accidental, may bring about a complete modification of the rain system.” (p. 58)
The following gallery of photos were taken in the rainforest of Equator Province during my Congo visit last summer.
Yesterday, December 9, 2010, the Community of Disciples of Christ in Congo completed the launch of the micro – credit for people living with HIV (PVV). Planned for 40 people, the project welcomed the first 44 and
then 2 more were added making a total of 46 beneficiaries.
In fact, the CDCC, with the support of the United Evangelical Mission (MEU) has turned to a new category of persons as part of its program of micro – credit. After women in general and the wives of pastors, it’s the
turn of PVV
The MEU has provided funding for making two kits for the administration of micro – credit as well as U.S. $ 800 as seed money for PVV..
After 3 days of training on the administration of a group of micro -credit, 2 groups of 23 persons each were formed and the beneficiaries have saved, before receiving aid, a sum of 285,000 FC, slightly more than
U.S. $ 300. The cycle thus started will end in June, 2011. We hope that everything will go well, and to the great satisfaction of the beneficiaries.
This was written in mid July after planting rice with the Pygmy young men and children at Ikengo. It’s an attempt to describe and account for the feeling of being so closely observed by one of the Pygmy youngsters while I filled the hole with dirt after planting the rice seed.
Just a pinch of seed/
You take and leave/
In the bed; the earth/
Crumbles beneath your touch./
This earth, a mix rich and strange,/
Teeming and foreboding,/
We handle microbes and nutrients,/
Imaging green shoots from doom./
Joints and muscles sigh/
Moving to rhythms of grace/
In the field to be,/
Now a grid of holes./
A rice harvest in the making/
In foreign fields and laboratory,/
The strain now here well studied,/
A product of microscope and cerebellum,/
From that other realm which yields/
Products but not the secrets/
Of its enthralling power;/
Behold, here now an acolyte./
He plants with us with such care,/
Laborious in filling the earth;/
His industry fascinates;/
It is not our way./
We are sprites from the forest,/
Kin to the fireflies dancing/
Before they lay a constellation/
Of stars in the grass./
To laugh is our industry,/
Our calling to live/
In the darkest, deepest places/
With, but why claim this?, our own secrets./
This one has come to plant with us/
A field of rice, and we stare/
In wonder for he plants differently/
And we all may eat this rice together./
Thursday, August 5, 2010
When I hear of breakdown and regression in Congo spoken of from now on I will think of the banking system in Mbandaka. There is a large, well maintained building housing the Banque Centrale in downtown. But it apparently serves only as a clearing house for the export overseas of earnings by the largest companies and businesses operating in the Province. Smaller businesses, including most of the storeowners in the capital, as well as the general public are left to their own devices.
Those devices are many and varied I am sure but none seem to be attracting as much attention these days as the “caisse et epargne” (credit and savings) groups organized by the Disciples. Both clergy and lay leaders of other faith traditions have been requesting training in this system of micro credit lending and banking.
The principles and process are simple. With two contributions to the group’s fund per month, you as a member earn the right to one monthly credit withdrawal. The following month you are to pay the loan back with a five or ten per cent, depending on the group, rate of interest. Training for the original 25 members of a group includes discussion and critique of each individual’s plan of action. Few to no women have failed to repay the loans in the five or so groups organized to date.
The biggest impact of the credit system comes every six months with the emptying of the cash fund and distribution of the interest earnings plus principal among the members. The “Disciple Mamas’ Cooperative of Credit and Savings” in the poorest quarter in town distributed $1,888 June 30 this year. A pastor’s wife in another group is helping pay the costs of their four children attending university with her earnings and profits. Her sidewalk convenience store offers a host of items purchased with the loans from her “caisse et epargne” group.
The financial insecurity of most Congolese is most apparent among the older adults. Even those fortunate to have a job must delay retirement as long as possible as the expected pension is either small or non existent. “Papa Jean” is now saving to put metal roofing on his house; even at his age of 64, saving for retirement will have to wait.
The four workers, including “Papa Jean”, at the “maison des missionaires” have set up their own savings bank informally known as a “likelemba”. Each of the workers contribute a third to around half their monthly salary to the group fund which is held by the Disciples headquarters’ finance office. Once every four months each of the participants receives their “likelemba” amounting to the total of the contributions received that month. Debts are paid, long deferred projects undertaken and school expenses especially are paid the month of the “likelemba” good fortune.
Contrast this banking among friends with the scrounging of the poor by the “Banques Lambert”, the private money lenders charging fifty to one hundred per cent interest to the unfortunates resorting to this ready source of cash. No one seems to know the origin of the term “Banque Lambert” but a Belgian banker in colonial days no doubt earned a reputation for lending at such exorbitant rates of interest.
I can’t complete this report on Mbandaka’s financial services without mention of where you change your dollars for Congolese francs. Small tables with “Change” painted roughly in the vicinity mark the spot. At first sight, I was astonished to see a two foot high pile of cash on a table in front of Disciple headquarters. There didn’t seem to be anyone near the table but I was assured that even in poverty- stricken Mbandaka it was not “our way” to steal so openly.
News Flash as I complete this posting:
Workers at Disciple headquarters will have to wait until next week to be paid. Funds expected from Kinshasa did not arrive on today’s plane from the capital. The “carrier” who had been enlisted, a Catholic sister, reneged when she learned the amount of cash she would be delivering. The five per cent charged by the two money wiring services is an unacceptably large expense for the Church to bear.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
After tea was served, the second meeting of the Committee for the Advancement of the Pygmy People was convened on my porch at 7:45 one morning this week. Present along with myself were Rio Bosala, Director of the Disciples CAP at Ikengo, and Sandra Ngoy, daughter of the Regional Minister of the Bolenge Region. Pygmy rerpresentatives were a watchman for the Mbandaka power company, a primary school teacher and John Benani, the co founder and now Director of REPEQ, a non profit supported by UNICEF which promotes Pygmy civil rights.
John Benani has emerged as a national spokesperson for Pygmy civil rights and as UNICEF’s primary contact with this minority population which makes up one fourth the population of Equator Province. Our conversations have educated me on the very slight progress of his people from their traditional status as an inferior, even sub human caste, exploited by their Bantu neighbors.
With my encouragment, the Ikengo CAP director Rio has spoken more openly of his history of support and affinity for Pygmy friends. It is becoming more widely accepted now that this minority must be educated and integrated into the Bantu-dominated society for the Equator Province, with the largest pygmy population in Congo, to develop economically.
That statistics for completion of primary school in Equator Province remain abysmal, some say as low as ten per cent of the children finish sixth grade, is due in part to the incapacity of Pygmy parents to pay their children’s school fees. An unfortunate irony of the Mobutu years of corruption and self indulgence is the fact that the policy of free education of Pygmy children ended with the fall of the dictator’s regime. That gesture of support for the minority did little to relieve the exclusion of Pygmies by the Bantu population.
As an example of the traditional segregation of Bantu and Pygmy, it was only recently that an integrated spring water source was established at a large village 30 kms. from Mbandaka. Where two springs had in the past provided water separately for Bantu and for the Pygmy inhabitants of Bongonde, UNICEF funded the cementing and piping of a new source providing clean water for all in the village. One of the participants in our meeting Tuesday morning teaches in the local primary school. He informed me that 721 men and women enrolled last year in the village’s adult school to gain basic reading, writing and math skills.
My curiosity here about the Pygmy population’s motives in settling in greater numbers in the Bantu villages and even cities of Congo comes in part from the reading of the great book by the anthropologist Colin Turnbull, The Forest People. As the author’s account of being captivated by the life and culture of the pygmies of the Ituri rain forest in eastern Congo, the book deserves its reputation as one of the most widely read books on Africa. Turnbull’s recordings of Pygmy songs on Folkways Records also enthrall, and in the book he notes that the words of their songs are few but often profound. The following words are sung only after the death of a fellow Pygmy clan member:
“There is darkness all around us; but if darkness is and the darkness is of the forest, then the darkness must be good.”
For a Congo traveler these days, Turnbull’s book provides a fine contrast to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness as the work of a man who took pains to get to know very well one of the cultures here. Turnbull casts light on the life of the rainforest which for Conrad remained a place of inscrutable mystery and foreboding.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
About thirty minutes into the worship service in the Ikengo parish church, the sermon came to me. I had the scripture passage, Jesus referring to a child as the greatest among them, but as the service began I still felt stymied to find words for the grand paradox of the message. Gradually, the setting, the singing, the heat under the tin roof freed me and I simply decided to try to describe the sources of my joy in worshipping with them that morning. It was the first time in my life I had discarded my notes for a sermon and I exulted as I scribbled “A Season for Joy” above three points on a page of my notebook.
I began with thanks and praise for the vision of Rev Paul Elonda in the founding of the Centre Agro Pastorale (CAP) in 1969. The village’s two primary schools, secondary school and health center were cited as among the fruit produced by the vision of a church leading the way in rural development. Most recently, the visit of the Equator Province’s Governor to the CAP had brought about the construction of a new school building by a British non profit. Having heard the villagers’ testimonies regarding CAP’s aid in improving their crop yields and quality I moved on to a more personal testimony.
Whites have been coming to the Congo for over five hundred years either in search of riches among the incomparable natural resources of the country or they have come seeking to give of themselves. It is another grand paradox that those who have come to give return with the greater riches. We who come to help strengthen the Church in Congo find ourselves strengthened as those who came in the past to evangelize were themselves evangelized by the Congolese. What a joy to discover spiritual resources within the people here richer than the coltan and the cobalt prized by the powerful.
But the greatest joy, I declared, comes with having discovered that God liberates peoples and persons from enslavement and from the exploitation suffered by the Congolese in these days. In the biblical accounts, the liberation of a people does not result from foreign intervention or initiative. Liberation comes in the biblical record when the captive people find the way to free themselves at hand within themselves. Some day the Congolese people will take up, like David, their five smooth stones or be led from their wilderness by a stuttering Moses and an Aaron.
Just as South Africans freed themselves from white rule under apartheid so will Congolese free themselves from the foreign plunder of their resources and the resulting deprivation and impoverishment. Nothing brings greater joy than this knowledge of the source of the people’s power and liberation. It was I proclaimed this knowledge that caused Jesus to “quiver with joy” (in the French translation of Lk 10:21) for God had hidden such things from the powerful and revealed them to the simple and the common people.
Among the medley of hymns preparing us for the “sainte scene” of communion, we sang “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”. I leaned over and shared with the Ikengo pastor Luka Is’olenge that it had been Gandhi’s favorite. Its meditation on Jesus’ call to draw on the best within ourselves described for the lifelong Hindu why he considered himself a follower of Jesus as well.
On the return to Mbandaka Sunday afternoon, I rode on the back of a motor bike piled with my gear. We fairly flew by children and adults, some of them waving and calling “mondele” (white man), and I couldn’t keep from smiling. It had been a great day.