Congo: We gained their trust

The dance of joy

A group of women is singing and dancing in the middle of the dirt road. We stop the car and get out. “Welcome to Mongata, Mama Margret!” Around ten women are there to welcome us, cheering and dancing to constantly changing rhymes and upbeat rhythms. “Welcome! You help us with our work. We plant corn, and the men don’t do anything. We sell the corn in Kinshasa. Thank you, Mama Margret!” they sang.

The women ask us to join them in dancing; we hold each other’s hands: “Together we stand, divided we fall. No one will be left behind.’’ They begin the game with a song. We are invited to sow a row of corn in the field in front of us. 5 hectares of land are spread out before us, cleared with a tractor to prepare it for sowing. Over the course of the next few weeks, the women will sow it completely by hand. The Mongata Women’s Cooperative is one of the first groups that the farm started to work with. Most of the women are alone: either their husbands left them or vice versa, and they are single mothers. The women came together with the intention of securing their livelihoods. They have 5 hectares of land they can use at the Mongata Farm. They can plant whatever they need here. Surplus crops can be sold through the farm in Kinshasa, which allows them to earn money.

However, something that is especially interesting for the women is the school that is being built on the farm: It is a wonderful opportunity for their children. The children can go to the new elementary school while the women are working in the fields. Some of the women have also expressed interest in learning to read and write, as well.

The education of a lifetime

We were truly surprised by the women’s warm welcome. We walked the rest of the way to the farm through the rainforest, and we reached the farm’s building complex. The main building now has an additional kitchen. A large storage room for the harvest and a cold room were built recently. The number of buildings on the farm is growing. What makes us even happier is the group of children who, together with their teacher Judith, have come to greet us. These are the same scenes that you would see in Austria when guests of honor pay a visit: The children sing a welcome song, the teacher struggles to keep them in tune and all of the children shout for joy. The brightest students recite poems in French. We are given flowers, and the children wave green branches. And yet, at the same time, it is very different here. When we look at the children and the adults, we can tell right away that they are very grateful for the opportunity to go to school.

We follow the children to where the school is being built. The walls have already been erected. The workers are more than happy to stop and have a visit with the colorful group of future students and the guests from Austria. The construction workers are from the next village. They make everything directly onsite: the bricks, and they shape the iron for the lintels. “The materials have arrived, and the school will be ready by December.”

Everyone is waiting for school to start. Ghislain is negotiating with the government and would like to have the state pay the teachers. The village is involved in the negotiation process: the chiefs, local leaders and the children’s parents. There are even requests for adult education classes. The lessons should not be centered around knowledge students learn by heart. Instead, they should learn skills necessary for their survival: How do I plant a garden? How do I cook a healthy meal? Hygiene and health care. Ideally, the school’s classrooms will also be used for courses about agriculture. Ducks frolic around the school, and there is a hutch with rabbits nearby.

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