It’s hard to imagine there’s actual good news in a country that’s suffered a 20-year civil war; with 5.4 million dead from fighting, disease and malnutrition; and 50 percent of children under five suffering from stunting, lifelong cognitive development problems caused by chronic undernutrition. Yet, in the provinces of South Kivu and Katanga in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), farmland is being developed, nutrition is being dramatically improved, and the status of women is being advanced. By integrating women into agricultural and nutrition programs, family health is improving and gender-based violence is diminishing.
That’s the result of cooperation between our faith-based organization, Food for the Hungry, the U.S. government and local communities.
As an experienced implementer in some of the most impoverished areas of eastern DRC, Food for the Hungry, working with the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Food for Peace Program, has converted 914 hectares of non-arable valley into productive farmland. That’s an area over seven times the size of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. where crops are being sustainably produced to increase household nutrition for over 13,000 households. And this is just one example of the wider project. Nearly 32 miles of canals, drains, dykes and collecting ponds now crisscross another community in impoverished eastern Congo.
Among the women leaders in a Food for the Hungry Women’s Care Group project is Kyala Bangwe Ernata, a mother of five. Kyala received health and nutrition education and a chicken in March 2014, and in less than a year, she became a trusted leader in her community. She was able to breed, and distribute chickens to nine other women and educate them about health and nutrition. Not only are the nutritional needs of children being better met, these moms can now pay school fees, in a country where school is not free, by selling chickens and eggs. Kyala now has 16 chickens of her own and she’s been able to distribute more to her neighbors. Food for the Hungry’s volunteer mothers have become some of the most dynamic and motivated development leaders in their communities.
Many doubted that a volunteer-based model would work in the Eastern DRC. But women Care Group volunteers, like Kyala, have a strong commitment to strengthening both their families and their communities with improved dietary diversity, stronger networks between women and girls, and better economic opportunities. With such dramatic, positive change, Food for the Hungry is building on the capacity and social standing of women in their communities, and expanding this model to reach over 50,000 mothers with children under age two. Eventually, 90,000 individuals will benefit through this volunteer cascade model.
We are working toward the day when families here—and in other regions of the DRC—will be able to meet their food needs. Just as these women depend upon influential leadership and collaboration of their communities, so, too, do we and our non-governmental partners depend upon the leadership and collaboration of the U.S. government, which has unique global influence like no other.
Yet, U.S. foreign assistance is less than one percent of the federal budget. Members of Congress are currently considering how to allocate the federal budget for the rest of fiscal year 2016. If a cascade of hope can start with one volunteer mother leading a care group and distributing chickens, think how much more farmland, nutrition, education and hope can cascade from a modest increase in support for foreign assistance funding that moves lives from hardship to security. As it says in Psalm 126, “those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.” The hope we sow together is a beautiful reminder of this truth.
Edmonds is president/CEO of Food for the Hungry, a Christian organization founded in 1971, inspired by Psalm 146:7, “He upholds the care of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry.” Food for the Hungry is headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona.