By Stan Friedman
KARAWA, DR CONGO (February 25, 2013) – The widow laughed as she leaned backwards to keep from getting smacked by the flapping wings of the not-so-happy chicken she had hoisted upside down. The several dozen other widows who had gathered together laughed too.
The widow is one of three to have been gifted with birds that day. The chickens are extremely valuable in this place where food is scarce. Raising her own flock that can provide eggs as well as meat will make a big difference in the life of the woman and her children.
“I didn’t have a chicken. Now I have a chicken!” she exclaims.
The widows group meets every week behind the home of former Evangelical Covenant Church missionaries Bob and Jan Thornbloom, who continue to support ministry here through their Congo Technical Assistance (CTA) nonprofit. (The Thornblooms no longer live here, but have kept the home built by Bob’s father, one of the original Covenant missionaries to Congo.)
The group began following the brutal civil war that claimed millions of lives. A young widow and several others met together to initially share their pain, study the Bible and pray.
Now, in this country that is considered among the poorest in the world, the widows support each other through prayer, but also by providing micro-enterprise “loans,” such as the birds, and pooling money for basic “health insurance.”
The three women who received chickens that day were given the birds by women who previously received the same gift and had subsequently raised their own flocks.
As part of a ceremony, the recipients came forward to sign a book promising to pass on the gift when their flocks have developed sufficiently.
The widows have not been content to care just for one another. On their own initiative, they began to take in orphans. They provide food and clothing and help them to get into school, which also costs money. To assist in this, the group puts aside funds from their projects to assist whenever aid is needed.
In similar fashion, the women pool some of their financial resources to provide a source of money to help with basic health expenses that might be incurred by one of their members.
As widows in other villages have learned of the Karawa gathering, they have formed their own support groups. Covenant Technical Assistance – which is supported in large part by North Park Covenant Church in Chicago as well as other donors in the United States and Canada – has helped the groups get started and supplements the women’s offerings.
The women asked if CTA would provide them with machetes as a loan – they would repay at minimal cost with the money earned after their harvest. The funds were then turned around to purchase more machetes to be given to other widows.
Congo Technical Assistance also has provided sacks of salt the women sell by the spoonful at the local market to earn cash. The women have started other businesses using donations from CTA that have included sewing machines and material, as well as ingredients to make soap.
The ministry also has fostered cattle projects, small village repair shops, carpentry centers, river transport projects, bike project loans, continuing education for some students, and bridge rehabilitation.