KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission/Mennonite Mission Network) — In the two years since women leaders initiated the Congo Mennonite Literacy Project, 200 educators have been trained in workshops held in major Mennonite centers and in Kinshasa, the capital city. They have helped more than 3,000 adults learn to read. Word-of-mouth publicity stirred such demand that the project is now training trainers. In July, 15 of these teachers were certified to train more teachers in their regions, especially in those areas devasted by violence in recent years.
Mennonite Mission Network supports the project through its partner, Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission.
When Aimerance Kabebe, a trauma healer and Mennonite Brethren leader from Uvira in the eastern province of South Kivu, heard about the literacy project, she immediately knew it was something she needed to do. Kabebe is a facilitator in the "Healing, Rebuilding Our Community" trauma-healing project directed by Mennonite Central Committee-Congo.
In October 2018, Kabebe's work took her to the city of Tshikapa, administrative center for the largest Mennonite denomination in Congo. There, she conducted a workshop for Mennonites who were relating to the refugees with trauma brought on by the waves of violence in 2016-2017. She also encountered the project known in Congo as "Evangelization through Literacy."
"[The project] interested me a lot because the needs are enormous in Uvira," Kabebe said. "There are too many people who can't read."
She explained that Uvira is the headquarters of rebels who have been active in eastern Congo since the 1990s.
"Most of the families have been afraid to send their children to school regularly because the schools are targets for the rebels," Kabebe said. "They attack the schools to capture the children and take them into the bush to train them as rebels. Thus, there is a very high illiteracy rate in Uvira and the surrounding villages."
Literacy project leaders agreed that it was important to extend the project to the eastern part of the country. To prepare Kabebe for the "train the trainers" workshop, the project organizers brought her to Kinshasa for a month to shadow several experienced literacy teachers.
"My training was in two stages: two weeks of apprenticeship and two weeks of visiting the classes of other teachers," Kabebe said. "I am very proud of having mastered my lessons."
Kabebe is now certified not only to teach literacy classes but also to train other teachers. She plans to organize her own literacy classes in the Emmaus Mennonite Brethren congregation, which she and her husband, Ernest Kishaku, founded a year ago. By next year she hopes to train more teachers because, as she says, "the territory is vast."
In addition to helping lead the congregation of 67 members, Kabebe, a mother of four, runs a pharmacy. She sees the literacy project as an integral part of her healing ministry. She described how young girls and boys are recruited to become rebels. Many girls are forced to marry the fighters.
"They are separated from their families too young, without learning to be useful either to their families or society," Kabebe said.
She believes her literacy centers will offer alternatives to the rebels' way of life.
"May God bless the initiators of this project," Kabebe said.
Charlie Malembe is a Mennonite journalist in Kinshasa.
Nancy Myers of South Bend, Indiana, volunteers as liaison to the Congo Mennonite Literacy Project for Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission.