Tradition and Growth in the "Social Action Program"of Kimbondo
On July 13, the Minister for Social Affairs of the Democratic Republic of the Congo presided over the presentation of a program of rural development for women in Kimbondo, a district adjacent to Kinshasa. The new program seeks to train
a large group of women as rural
advisors so that they can contribute to improving the living standards of the other people in the area. This initiative is part of a broader project known as the Programme d’Action Sociale, which began in 1995.
Many of the participants in the new program are students of the Lycée Professionel Kimbondo, officially inaugurated in 1998 by the Minister of National Education.
Those living in Kimbondo are mostly people from rural areas who have been displaced to the capital in search of economic opportunities or means to educate their children. Unfortunately the situation they encounter in the city is not as bright as they had imagined. The grave economic and social problems provoked by the instability of the past decade have been aggravated by the recent war.
“We are especially moved by the situation of women in Kimbondo,” explains Nelly Tshela, a young Congolese lawyer who has worked in the Programme d’Action Sociale from its beginnings. “There’s an urgent need to help these women, living in such precarious conditions, and ruled by ancestral customs which put them in a position of inferiority. We have to do something to improve living conditions for the 12,000 people in the district.”
The women of Kimbondo are accustomed to spending their lives in the fields, and therefore at first often don’t see the need to learn new things and to spend time and effort in improving their skills. Most of them have never gone to school, and at best have received only the most rudimentary formation.
“We have very little in the way of means,” continued Tshela, “but we feel that we do have some ‘humanity,’ and what ‘humanity’ perhaps means is to apply a little common sense, so debased by all sorts of beliefs. Thus the transmission of a Christian vision of life, optimistic and enriching whatever is truly human, forms the backdrop of our project.”
Once the first group of students attending the courses of nutrition, hygiene, and French saw the importance of educating themselves, “they began to appreciate the idea of a higher quality of life,” says Nelly Tshela. “There are 6,000 women in the district. From the beginning our objective was to continually reach more and more of them. Since my first days at the university when I was becoming familiar with the writings of the Founder of Opus Dei, I became interested in learning more about the characteristics of women. Women need to be daring and dream of doing great things. ‘More’ is also an adverb frequently used by Blessed Josemaría.”
The initial group who began this activity was made up of only a few women. From the beginning they had the help of university students and others interested in taking part in this work, regardless of age or social class. “We tried to get them to understand,” explains the young lawyer, “that by helping people living in poverty, they would also enrich their own lives.”
“Our method?” Nelly Tshela asks rhetorically. “Waking up the women, one at a time. Only in this way, through dialogue, through learning to converse (to read and to write), do they learn to work, and horizons open up. Development in Kimbondo is possible, but it is necessary for the women to wake up. This has been our aim from the beginning. Development is not a matter of studying how to improve conditions but of doing, of giving oneself. At least this is how we see it. This optimistic “sporting spirit” is also something we owe to Blessed Josemaría. We try to teach these women to work, to work hard and well, with a Christian vision.”
“Today,” she concludes, “we can’t measure the impact that this social action is having. More than 100 women are taking part in the serious search for solutions. But I am sure that this searching is a sign that things are already improving.”