The last several years trying to set up the Mitendi Center have been full of new challenges. Usually these have been huge and discouraging hurdles: things like political and economic problems, military coups, bureaucratic corruption, and legal battles. Sometimes, though, we're blessed with new and exciting ways to serve.
When I got back from our last trip to the States and went to visit the Mitendi center, I was surprised to find it full of children from the neighborhood. Mitendi is an area on the very Western outskirts of Kinshasa. In the last several years, a few Congolese military and government officials have been building huge, beautiful homes for themselves in the area, but most of Mitendi is as poor and about as developed as any village in the interior. There is little running water or electricity, and aside from the main highway, no paved roads. In spite of some of the difficulties of living out there, it has been a wonderful place for the women our center helps—the view of the African grassland and the open spaces are a huge contrast to the mud-filled slums the women come from in the city.
However, another resource that the area lacks—one that is even more crucial for development than electricity or water—is education. While the women of CBCO were working hard to create a center that would protect and retrain women who have been the victims of poverty, they were watching all the children of the area around the center grow up into the same problems the center is trying to solve. A combination of a population explosion and the poverty of the area means that there are literally hundreds of children who aren't in school.
So when I walked in that day, I found that in addition to the courses for young women, the CBCO women had opened an elementary school! As Mama Pauline explained to me, "We realized that we could wait until these children are already gangsters and prostitutes, or we could do something to start helping them now. These children are the future of Congo.” We're very excited about having a program that impacts so many vulnerable families in the area. The school started with over three hundred school children and just eight volunteer teachers and staff. The students sat on the floor, sat on plastic chairs, and had no space to write—but they are happy to be there, happy to be learning, because thanks to the Mitendi Womens' Center and by the Grace of God, they now have a future.
For months, we were forced to use our center's plastic chairs for classroom seating, but the kids were so close together that they were easily distracted and left without a good workspace for writing or studying. However, thanks to the generosity of Olive Drive Church in Bakersfield, we've been able to provide these young students with beautiful new wooden desks!
I can't tell you how exciting it was the day the truck arrived with them. The director of the school had all the boys of the sixth grade class ready to help unload and move the desks into the classrooms. They were so excited to try them out that they kept setting them down right in the road and piling in! Thankfully, one of the blessings of Congo is that the only materials available for carpentry are African hardwoods—not just beautiful, but extremely durable!
As we stood admiring them, Mr. Bienvenue was emotional as he explained to the boys that there was no school in Mitendi with desks anywhere close to the quality of ours, and how long they will serve generations of students studying at those desks.
Now the Mitendi children are thrilled to start the day's classes. They sit three or four to a desk, but they have the space to write, take notes and concentrate on the day's lessons. Children like these all over Congo are the future of Africa—and by God's grace these children starting to have a future they can believe in.