THE WOMEN'S CENTER
WHERE IS IT?
Kinshasa, a city of over 10 million, is one of the largest French-speaking metropolitan areas in the world. It is one of the most expensive cities for ex-patriots to live in, but many international businesses have bought up property so land prices are very high. In better-off neighborhoods, houses may be several stories with nice gardens. In most of Kinshasa, buildings are one-story, set directly on the street behind their protective walls, crowded together. This is where FEBA has created its Women’s Center, right in the heart of need, in the large, poor quarter where many of its members live. It is not far from Maman Monique’s home where FEBA has had its headquarters since its 2nd beginning in 2010.
BUYING THE PROPERTY
The property was purchased in July 2014; it is 226.3 sq. meters (270.65 sq. yds); it is 33.8 feet wide at the street x 72.17 feet deep. The pictures show the street, the ground plan, and front of the property, between walls of neighboring compounds.
SETTING THE PLAN
The Women’s Center was planned as a 2-story building covering the entire property. On the right and at the rear, the building’s walls come to the edge of the property. At the front, below the 2nd floor balcony, on the ground floor there is a narrow space between the wall and the new concrete “fence.” The 4th side with the entry and stairs to the second level has a courtyard about 10 (in places 12) feet x 50 feet, which has now been roofed to protect it from the severe storms.
The architect’s idealized drawing omits the crowded surrounding neighborhood. The ground floor houses classrooms, the FEBA office, sewing workroom, and storage areas, with several “public” toilets for non-residents. The upper level has 2 “salons” for meeting or dining, kitchen & storage, 5 bedrooms (3 dorms, 1 for staff, 1 for guests or for private counseling), & toilet-shower facilities for residents.
BEGINNING TO BUILD
Building began seriously after the winter rainy season (fall 2014). A very strong foundation had to be prepared because this would be a two-story structure, much higher than most houses. Once the ground was fortified and a drainage system was installed, actual building could begin with heavy concrete blocks. The office and sewing workroom (rear ground floor) were first. The challenges for the workmen in Congo are significant: tools are limited, conditions very simple.
BUILDING MOVES FORWARD TO THE UPPER LEVEL
When a structure has two levels, it is common to build an outdoor stairwell. Adding the second level raises the Women’s Center above the neighboring houses, which can be seen from the upper floor windows.
The rough walls are covered with cement plaster for painting; windows and doors are fitted; more interior work is done. All external openings are barred for safety. Ventilation spaces near the top of the wall admit air but prevent breaking and entering from neighboring compounds.
The structure is completed! The walls are heavy cement blocks. The roof of sturdy galvanized iron is raised high to allow ventilation.
GROUND FLOOR READY FOR OCCUPANCY
Now for exterior finishing and painting: the courtyard (before and after). Interior finishing of classrooms was next. When painted, the surface requires repainting every two or three years, so FEBA chose to use the more expensive wallpaper which will last up to ten years or more. This is classroom 2 (before and after).
In July 2018 the sewing school moved into its new quarters, and in August FEBA began to hold its monthly meetings (2nd Thursday) in the courtyard!