General Board of Global Ministries, The United Methodist Church
For almost two decades, the former Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo has ceased to function as a state. Many of the social and educational institutions have collapsed, because of mismanagement, corruption and armed conflicts. Today most social services and formal education are being provided by non government and church organizations, including the United Methodist Church.
Economic hardships in the country, have caused some Congolese women to resort to prostitution. They expose themselves to sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS in order to make a living.
Congolese tradition requires a man to marry the woman whom he gets pregnant. To escape economic hardships at home, some young girls become pregnant almost by design. "These girls wrongly assume that whomever got them pregnant will marry them. This usually backfires, because the man usually runs away," says Jean Pierre Kalonda, an administrator at a vocational school for unwed mothers, operated by the United Methodist Church in Kinshasa.
A large number of the young unwed mothers want to return to school after they have had their babies, often their parents refuse to pay for their education, because they are seen as having brought shame to their families.
Three years ago, the Congo Central Conference of the United Methodist Church started a program at Emmaus United Methodist High School in Kinshasa to help women who have children out of wedlock. Through the program, they learn to sew, knit, crochet and acquire additional skills in nutrition and computer literacy. Those enrolled in the program are mostly high school dropouts. Their age ranges from 17 to 25 years old.
According to some of the training officials, the programs are designed to empower the women taking part in the programs. "I had developed a low of self esteem after I had my baby, but since I started studying here, I feel good about myself, because I know that after graduating next year, I can make enough to take care of my daughter and I," said Ms. Kela, a 17-year-old girl from Kinshasa specializing in sewing. Her comments were echoed by other women attending a similar training at Maman Katembo United Methodist Center for Women in Lubumbashi.
The United Methodist Church in Congo also operates educational institutions, clinics, hospitals and income generating projects. The church is also providing needed assistance to internally displaced people.
There are several schools, including primary and secondary school, colleges and universities owned by the church in Congo. In government owned schools, classes are often interrupted by strikes, because teachers are seldom paid. There are no strikes in UMC operated high schools, mainly because teachers are paid on a regular basis. "Since we wanted to avoid the repeat of 1991, we enrolled our two daughters at Emmaus High School," said a parent who did not want to be identified, referring to the 1991 teachers' strike that kept government schools closed for almost two years.
United Methodist Schools in Congo follow the national curriculum required by the government. They also teach high school students job skills. By the time many of the students at Emmaus High School in Kinshasa or Mavuno United Methodist High School complete their education, they would have acquired enough skills to get employment.
Some of the higher learning United Methodist institutions, include a seminary at Mulungwishi, ISP Musumba and Patrice Lumumba University in Wembo Nyama. According to Bishop Katembo Kainda of the South Congo Annual Conference, the church also has plans to build a university similar to Zimbabwe's Africa University.
In Lubumbashi, Wembo Nyama and across the country, the church operates several medical facilities. This includes maternity clinics, which provide pre-natal and post-natal care to women.
According to humanitarian organizations, fighting between Congolese government soldiers against Rwandan and Ugandan-backed Congolese rebels has caused many people to flee their homes. Since the beginning of hostilities, the United Methodist Church has set up camps for internally displaced people. The church provides food, medicine and clothes to the people in the camps.