Don’t know much about the DRC

What have you heard about the Democratic Republic of Congo? Maybe you know that it’s one of the places where the Spirit in Action Small Business Fund gives families the opportunity to expand their livelihood. Or maybe you’ve heard about the many women there who are raped in the ongoing conflict over minerals. Did you read that actor Ben Affleck is calling for a US envoy to eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)? Perhaps you know the country as Zaire, as it was called 1971-1997.

Rather than falling into the trap of lumping all of “Africa” together in my mind or only relying on stories of violence and hopelessness in the news, this week I set out to find out more about DRC.

Searching Wikipedia and the CIA World Factbook, I found that DRC spans the equator in the heart of the sub-Sahara and is about 1/4th the size of the US. It’s the 12th largest country in the world by size and the fourth most populous country in Africa. French is the official language but there are 242 other languages that people speak in DRC, including Swahili. About 90% of the population is Christian.

Those are just some quick facts, what about stories of the people? “From Congo with Love” is a beautiful photo slideshow, put together by photographer Rankin and Oxfam, of ordinary people in DRC. (Click here to for 2-minute slideshow.)

In addition to taking his own photos, Rankin also gave out disposable cameras and taught them how to take photos. Through their photos of what they love  – families, people working, women walking – you can really see people from DRC through the eyes of their loved-ones.

The Spirit in Action partners that coordinate the SIA Small Business Fund (SBF) in DRC live in the eastern part of DRC, near the city of Bukavu and the border with Rwanda. Francois Hamuli, a SIA SBF Coordinator, lives on an island in Lake Kivu in the “Great Lakes” region. They have their mail sent to Rwanda because that is more reliable than the DRC international mail.

DRC veterans repair shoesAs “From Congo with Love” mentions, many people host non-family members in their homes and care for those who have been displaced because of the violence. Many returning refugees (like the men pictured to the left) seek SIA Small Business Fund grants eager to learn a new skill and find stability in their lives. They find hope through these new businesses.

I hope you enjoyed this brief look into the Democratic Republic of Congo. There is so much more to learn about DRC and the rest of the countries where SIA works!

Stay tuned, I’ll do another country profile soon!

Related posts:

SIA SBF Coordinators in the DRC

Small Business Fund Coordinators in the DRC. L to R: Jacob Lipandasi, Benoit Malenge, Francois Hamuli

Seeing Clearly

Last year, Jacky Buhoro of the Democratic Republic of Congo told me, “As Christians, we are called to change by doing.” Where does this responsibility come from? I’m far from being a Bible scholar and so I love it when someone can make the stories come to life and inspire me to action. Recently, this inspiration came through Will Brown, a graduating student at Yale Divinity School, in a sermon about Jeremiah answering God’s call to serve others. In 6th grade, Will got his first pair of glasses. A small change and yet, to his great amazement, little Will could now see everything clearly: the leaves on the trees, and the chalkboard in the classroom!

But with the new ability to see clearly he also saw the rough spots, the stain on the floor. These are the places where the reality of what we see doesn’t match God’s reality for the world. As we begin to see how people in our neighborhood and overseas struggle to pay for education and to get a job to support themselves, we become responsible for reacting to make this different.

We know that God’s reality is not want and despair but rather prosperity and hope. Our world’s dark corners need our attention to bring them into God’s perfect peace and potential for the world. Spirit in Action was created to address those needs with compassion, love and action.

A Model of Compassion

One great model of compassion is Jacky Buhoro, who says, “It is my duty to help unable persons.” In her village near the DR Congo-Rwanda border, Jacky works with war widows to grow food in a community garden that was started with a SIA grant in 2007. “The community garden project for women helps us a lot to feed orphans. It serves as a demonstration site to help children understand the importance of gardens and the role of working together.”

Jacky sees the world with God’s clear vision – she sees both the vulnerable women and children without land and without access to education AND the opportunity to encourage each of them through action and compassion in the garden. With people like Jacky who are so hopeful for the “vulnerable people created in the image of God,” the least I can do is support her as she actively seeks God’s reality of peace here and now. I can see that much clearly!

Related Posts:

Interview with Jacky Buhoro: A Mother to Orphans in DRC

From Del’s Journal: There Must be a Sharp Focus on Compassion

People Helping People – about the book The Poor Philanthropist

Old Laptops Gain New Life in DRC

DRC Coordinators using laptopLast year, just before Christmas, Jacob Lipandasi, the SIA Small Business Fund (SBF) Coordinator in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) received a gift in the mail – a laptop computer. Since then, Jacob has used the laptop, which was donated to SIA, to greatly benefit his community and SIA.

As a SIA SBF Coordinator, Jacob receives a small stipend to cover office expenses associated with sending reports and keeping in touch with the SIA office, however, this amount is rarely enough to cover all costs. Before the gift of the laptop, Jacob had to travel a great distance and pay $1-3 USD/hour to use a computer at an internet cafe. As a result, his emails were brief and often a long time passed between our letters.

The laptop greatly improved his experience. Now Jacob can write his reports and letters to SIA at home on the laptop. He can take his time to write thoughtful responses and take time to figure out the English phrases he may not know (they speak French in the DRC). Then he puts the letters on a flash drive and brings that to the Internet cafe, which means he only has to pay for as much time as it takes to get online and send out his letters. I’ve been impressed by how much more thorough his reports are now that he can compose letters on his own time without having to pay for every second on the computer.

Not wanting to keep this great gift all for himself, Jacob Lipandasi gets together with his wife Jacky Buhoro and SIA SBF Coordinators Benoit Malenge (DRC) and Francois Hamuli (Rwanda) once a month to “Share the Gift” by giving them computer training lessons. Above they are pictured meeting to discuss their work with SIA, practice their English, learn to use Word and Excel, and pray together.

When Ric Shafer contacted us offering to donate his old laptop he warned that it worked fine but was slow. However, Jacob reports that the “laptop is doing miracles in our life”!

We never know how we are able to help someone else, or how much good a small gesture can do, until we do it – that’s Spirit in action!

School is back in session in DRC

Last April I shared with you my interview with Jacky Buhoro about her work with children in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We had recently received a grant from the Charles Wentz Carter Memorial Foundation, which enabled SIA to pay school tuition for eight orphans and other vulnerable children in Jacky’s community last year. The children all passed their classes and are now eligible to continue on to the next level!

Lydia shows off her good grades

Lydia shows off her good grades


Nono Kulemba (5 years old)
Esther Akuzibwe (6 years)
Lydia Neema (10 years)
Rosette Kujirabwinja (12 years)


Mtumishi Mutesa (5 years)
Shukuru Mutesa (7 years)
Meshake Mwihangane (8 years)
Obedi Mutumishi (8 years)

When students are able to pay up front tuition for the whole year of school, it helps ensure their success. This provides a level of security so that they will be able to finish the year without having to drop out for lack of funds. Jacky reports, “They talk with joy to parents and Jacob Lipandasi. They have received the beautiful lesson in the classroom without fear because they were involved from beginning to the end of the course!”

Esther was able to attend school last year

Esther is one of the girls who was able to attend school last year

Educating children helps to raise the general level of education in the community and also gives the students the skills needed to work and thrive, developing a positive future for the community. Education is important, Jacky says, “to fight against rural depopulation and against children being forced into army groups in the east of DRC. Education helps us to fight against those using street children for drug trafficking.”

In addition to helping the students, this grant also benefits the teachers who often work without wages since they are not paid by the Congolese government. This grant has helped to improve the teachers’ small salaries.

As the new school year started last month, Jacky is desperate to help these children return to school again. She dreams of a project of raising dairy cows to pay for school fees, increase the salary of teachers, and therefore raise the quality of education available in rural DR Congo.

Obedi's hard work will allow him to advance to the 3rd grade next year.

Obedi's hard work will allow him to advance to the 3rd grade next year.

The Power of Music

My new house is right across the Yale Divinity School and today I joined the community for their daily worship service. The moment the music started I began to get teary-eyed and I remained that way for the whole 30-minute prayer and praise service. I felt so surrounded by power and goodness and I realized how often those feelings come along with music for me.

Mark Miller and the Marquand Gospel Choir sang an amazing service filled with joy, gratitude, relinquishment, and even laughter! The reading for the day, the “parable of the prodigal” (Luke 15:11-24), was adapted to be a sort of musical with pop songs. What joy and merriment this brought into the chapel. And yet, there were also moments of pure heaven as the voices sang, “Justice! Kindness! Walk humbly with you God!”

Glenn Clark recognized the potential for song to being harmony and unity to a group and music is now an integral part of CFOI camps. Marsha Johnson recently recalled to me being at the CFO International camp in Nairobi, Kenya listening to the amazing music from people of the African CFO camps. She described being surrounded by the beautiful sound and I could hear that the power of that music was still a tangible experience for her, even five years later. Also, many of our Spirit in Action coordinators use song as a way to bring people together at the beginning of SIA Small Business Training workshops.

Pygmy (indigenous) man in the Buziralo Jungle of DR Congo plays the drum as a call to worship.

Pygmy (indigenous) man in the Buziralo Jungle of DR Congo plays the drum as a call to worship. Photo by Jacob Lipandasi

Indeed this harmony in music, uniting people of many cultures, is one of the central principles of Taizé, an international, ecumenical community in France. I visited with my family in the summer of 2006, along with 4,500 youth and 500 adults from all over the world. Three times each day, the whole group came together for services, which included simple chant-like songs and periods of silence for individual meditation, reflection and communion with God. The peace created by 5,000 people from countless different backgrounds singing and praying in many languages was so real for me. The amazing energy from such a group makes peace of earth feel within reach. That possibility for goodness was the same feeling I felt this morning and which stays with me now.

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