WOMEN'S CENTER ACTIVITIES
The Women's Center, a two-story building built with funds provided by WCoA in a poor neighborhood in Kinshasa, was originally envisioned as a multi-purpose center that would include the sewing school as well as residential space. However, it has evolved into the beating heart driving of all of FEBA's Kinshasa initiatives. It serves as a gathering space for FEBA membership and the community groups, classroom space not only for the sewing school but also for gender equality and human rights education and commercial skills training, a place where women bring their meager savings to participate in micosavings and microloan programs, and distribution center for food from the FEBA farm. The residential areas provide housing for those who need it, and there is office space for FEBA leadership.
Because the problems of crippling poverty and violence against women are complex and far-reaching, FEBA's approach is multifaceted and growing, but the central role of the Women's Center remains a constant.
Counseling and Refuge
Survivors of rape and forced prostitution find regular counseling and support. Usually there are at least ten persons a week who come needing counsel, consolation and spiritual assistance, and sometimes physical refuge. FEBA has a trained staff person who is completing her master’s degree in pastoral counseling, but Maman Monique and her older colleagues have long experience with tragic and harsh realities of life. Someone – often several – make the time to sit and listen, sympathize and pray, for as long as is needed. Some women and girls need a safe place; they may stay with President Monique or other members of FEBA.
FEBA assists rape survivors in obtaining medical care. Some women have contracted HIV/AIDS from unfaithful spouses or from time spent in forced prostitution. The staff encourages testing, provides funding for medical treatments and follow-up appointments, and assists with the regular nourishing meals which are necessary for HIV/AIDS medication to be effective. They also work to educate about the disease. Many other illnesses are common, especially those owed to malnutrition. FEBA provides assistance with prescriptions and medical treatment to the extent of its resources.
Below, Maman Mianda and Maman Henriette distributes calcium donated by WCoA at a monthy meeting.
Malnutrition and semi-constant food insecurity are common in the socio-economic conditions of FEBA members. FEBA regularly supplies food to elderly widows who have no other recourse. During the six-month COVID lock-down FEBA also fed 200 families. At the monthly FEBA meetings the leadership works to feed those present or provide them with a small amount of money to buy food for their families.
Literacy and Human Rights
Many women and girls who come to FEBA are illiterate; most have at best the equivalent of a sixth-grade education. FEBA provides these women with further education. Particularly these women gain new perspectives on their human rights in their context and realize that they have choices in dealing with domestic violence, forced early marriage, harmful sexual practices, and other challenges.
Community Fellowship and Support Activities
Monthly gatherings give women and girls the opportunity to share their stories, worship, and boldly envision an altered future for themselves and their communities. There are a variety of occasional workshops, depending on particular needs. Some of these include financial literacy training, or practical advice on specific projects such as hygiene or reproductive health or care for their environment to prevent disease and promote sustainability.
Supporting Education for Children and Youth
Education is not free in Congo. In 2020, primary school became free, but there are still significant expenses, since children may not attend without uniforms and supplies. Many orphans and children of widowed mothers lack the means. FEBA helps the children of members as far as its limited funds allow, usually only two per family in order to spread the assistance. Secondary school is expensive, especially the final year with the state exams; because there is no standardization for schools, the only recognized measure of an educated person is success in the state exams. FEBA works to support a dozen youth every year so that they can graduate with their diplomas. When funding for a second literacy teacher is found, FEBA hopes to begin remedial classes for children who have been forced to drop out of school for years, to enable them to return to school at their appropriate grade level.
Vocational Training: The Sewing School
When a woman has the means to support herself and her family, she not only has the dignity of a secure place in her community, she also has the means to educate her children. When she can save for a rainy day, she is not at the mercy of disaster. Women in the community asked Maman Monique to start a sewing school – which was located in her home for seven years, until the new Women’s Center was built. There students learn a marketable trade and are able to pay their opportunity forward to their children. Approximately 100 women have graduated from FEBA's sewing school, and graduates routinely achieve high marks on the exams required for national certification. In fact, FEBA's sewing school has garnered such a high reputation that government examiners have encouraged them to establish more vocational disciplines. Among those being considered are cooking, cosmetology, and computer skills.
For more information on the sewing school, click here.
Microloans, Microsavings, Marketing and Commercial Skills
Most women never have a bank account, but they can bring their little earnings ($1-$5) to the monthly gatherings of FEBA where each member can have her own micro-savings book. Small groups of women also benefit from a micro-loan program when funds are available. The six-month COVID lock-down in 2020 destroyed the small businesses of many FEBA members, so a concerted effort was made to provide microloans for these women. Before each received her money, she participated in a one-day financial literacy workshop as a refresher. The brave women have been faithfully reimbursing their little loans to the best of their ability, but the inflation which has followed the pandemic has swallowed up their miniscule profits and revealed that microloans will need to be larger to be effective.
Above and right: Microsavings are recorded in "blue books". Each woman brings her blue book to the monthly gathering to have her meager savings for the month recorded by Maman Monique.