From Emily Mullen, SNDden Kisantu, Democratic Republic of Congo 2022
The population of the Diocese of Kisantu is largely rural, with the majority of the population of approximately 1 000 000 persons relying on subsistence agriculture. It is also a very young population: more than 60% of the population is under 20 years of age. As Coordinator of the Diocesan Office for Health and Rural Development, we are particularly focused on helping women and adolescents to develop the entrepreneurial skills, particularly in the area of agriculture, that will enable them to provide for the basic needs (nutrition, health, education) for themselves and their families.
8 years ago, we purchased 25 acres of farm land situated not far from Kisantu in order to provide a suitable environment for our educational program. Over the past years, and with the help of our partners, we have been able to build classrooms and residential spaces which allow us to offer on-site training in ecologically friendly agricultural techniques and management skills. The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur provided funding for solar panels, shelters for the animals and agricultural tools.
The land provides space for a variety of activities: animal husbandry (goats, chickens, ducks, rabbits, …), honey production, fish ponds, and of course, agriculture. We experiment with a variety of crops and techniques including cassava, corn, peanuts, rice, ginger, pumpkins and fruit trees.
About 50 adolescent school dropouts are enrolled in a 3-year program developing competence in agricultural entrepreneurship. At the end of the program, they work in 5-person teams developing their own farms and putting into practice the techniques they have learned. The center staff supported in their efforts by providing on-going accompaniment and advice.
Women from the local villages receive training in transformation techniques in order to increase the value of their agricultural production: preparing juice from local fruits, making ginger chips for ginger root, growing and drying mushrooms, just to name a few. They are also taught how to work collaboratively to develop and implement a viable business plan. Working together in groups of about 10, they are eligible to receive a micro-credit which will enable them to begin their own small businesses to provide additional income for their families.
As the center continues to grow, we are able to expand the learning opportunities. University students from local agricultural colleges come for internships lasting from one to three months. They receive mentoring from the staff in action/research activities, for example, testing the efficacy of a variety of locally produced “green” fertilizers.
At present, we are looking for funding for a well which will provide a constant supply of clean water, able to meet the needs of the residents at the center, but also of the neighboring village. Water may also be used for crop irrigation.
As we look to the future, it is our hope that the center will continue to be a source of encouragement to the local population, providing the experience and technical know-how to confront the challenges they face.