Transformational Development

A Hero in the Democratic Republic of Congo

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The Democratic Republic of Congo. It is the second largest country in Africa, home to more than 70 million people and over 250 tribes and languages. It shares a border with eight countries, playing an essential role in the economic and social development across the continent. Its unique rainforest and river ecosystems, fertile grounds and high concentration of valuable raw minerals give it nearly unlimited potential. The Democratic Republic of Congo is also home to the largest conflict since World War II. Since 1996, over five million Congolese have died as a result. Others are vulnerable to rebel group activity, extreme poverty, prevalent diseases including malaria and HIV/AIDS, a high infant mortality rate and sexual violence against women and girls ages two to 60.

Where is God in a war-torn country like the DR Congo, where eight out of every ten women is a victim of rape? Psalm 72:14 gives us a promise of his faithfulness in regions like the DR Congo when it says, “He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight” (NIV).

Rutshuru is a town located in the North Kivu province of eastern DRC. Pastor Fabian is from the Pentecostal Church in Kelengera, Rutshuru territory. At 58 years old, he is the father of 7 children and a true hero in his community. He refused to flee when M23 soldiers advanced. He said he could not leave his congregation behind.

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(Image: Sean Sheridan)

On July 21, 2013, Fabian was taken by rebel soldiers from his home into the bush, without shoes, proper clothes or the ability to notify his wife. His feet were wounded on lava stone as he followed soldiers into the forest. After walking the entire night, he was brought before the Chief rebel and accused of espionage: he had hosted some Tutsi women who were passing into Rwanda, an act punishable by death according to rebel soldiers.

Fabian explained his role as a Pastor and a follower of Christ meant he had a commitment to all God’s children, regardless of their tribe. Fabian only asked that the soldiers not use machetes but a bullet to kill him, explaining that he was ready to be received in Heaven.

The soldiers held Fabian captive for ten days. Without a shirt, he suffered from the cold and insect bites that caused blood to cover his body. He was given two pieces of uncooked root to eat every day. He was repeatedly interrogated. Child soldiers guarded him by night, informing him that they were eagerly awaiting the command to shoot him. Fabian prayed aloud day and night, refusing to let rebels call his community for a ransom.

On July 31, a rebel leader told Fabian he could be free if he left his possessions, including his money. With only a cell phone and an ID card, Fabian was led blindfolded by child soldiers through the night. Fabian awoke the next morning weak, wounded and traumatized, but he was home. His family, community and church celebrated that God had delivered “Papa Fabien” from the “den of lions.”

Those with hope in Jesus Christ know how the battle ends, for Colossians 1:20 explains that through Jesus Christ all things shall be reconciled to God through the peace established for mankind on the cross. World Relief has been present in the DR Congo since 2002, responding to its Biblical mandate to empower the local Church to bring peace and restoration to torn communities through village peace committees.

In reality, World Relief has stepped into God’s pre-existing, ongoing restorative plan for the most vulnerable. And what an honor it is.

Empower a Hero like Pastor Fabian today.

World Relief in Burundi: Maternal & Child Health

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In Burundi, approximately 58 percent of children under the age of 5 suffer from chronic malnutrition. Malnutrition is associated with serious medical issues later in life as well as lower education attainment, lower earnings and more prevalent violence. It is a result of poor nutritional practices, limited access to food, minimal dietary diversity and chronic illness. Because 80 percent of Burundians live on less than $1.25 per day and have limited access to the most basic financial services, poverty compounds these vulnerabilities and contributes to a cycle of malnutrition in households. World Relief is empowering the local church to serve the most vulnerable in Burundi and meet the holistic physical, spiritual and relational needs that exist. World Relief provides long-term training and supervision of staff and government officials, who in turn train Health Workers and mothers to promote better health practices in the community through behavioral transformation. Concurrently, World Relief works with the Ministry of Agriculture to train Community Health Workers on the operation and development of small gardens for women to grow food and improve household nutrition and dietary diversity. World Relief also works in partnership with church network Dutabarane to provide crucial financial instruments to the poor through Village Savings and Loans Associations.

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Marasmus is a form of severe malnutrition caused by a deficiency in calories and energy.Félicité Havyarimana, a young woman from the central province of Gitega, had witnessed the effects of the disease in the life of her son, Alfred, ever since he was one year old. She said, “I was sad and desperate, not knowing what to do. In my despair, I turned to traditional healers, convinced that someone had cast a curse on my child.”

When a volunteer from World Relief’s Child Survival Program visited Félicité and examined her son, she explained that Alfred was suffering from malnutrition and that it could be cured. “I didn’t believe her, of course,” said Félicité. “Nevertheless, since nothing had worked so far, I started to follow her advice on health and nutrition, even if I wasn’t really convinced”.

A month later, Alfred began gaining weight and his health began improving. Encouraged, Félicité began participating in World Relief’s cooking workshops, where she learned about the components and preparation of well-balanced meals. “The lessons were really helpful to my children, especially to Alfred who was totally cured and went back to his normal weight,” said Félicité.

Almost three years old, Alfred is now a healthy child who, like many of his peers in the province, has benefited from World Relief’s Maternal & Child Health program. Félicité said that the program opened her eyes to the mistakes she did not know she was making when it came to the nutrition and health of her children. “Now,” she said, “I try as much as possible to keep them on a healthy and well-balanced diet, and I take them to the hospital to see a doctor at the first sign of illness, instead of seeking advice from traditional healers.”

At the root of the program is the long-term goal of Integral transformation of not only behavior, but beliefs, values and attitudes that bring Burundians to a place where they can experience the kind of life Jesus came to bring – life to the full (John 10:10).

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Savings for Life™ - Empowering the Poor in Rwanda

Rwanda is a small country with one of the highest population densities in Africa (USAID, 2013). It is also one of the poorest countries, but it has made significant progress since the 1994 genocide that killed nearly 800,000 people (USAID, 2013). Poverty has dropped from 56.7 percent in 2006 to 44.9 percent in 2011, a developmental trend worth celebrating (USAID, 2013). Still, Rwanda’s poorest are often excluded from formal financial institutions and basic financial services because of fees and geographic barriers. Less than half of the population is formally banked. Lack of access to savings makes these people more vulnerable to economic shocks and it prevents personal investment for future development. Local churches in Rwanda are well-positioned to address poverty in their communities. They typically respond by providing food and money to the poor, a well-meaning effort that fails to address root causes of poverty. Often, these churches lack the skills and tools to be agents of transformational development, a holistic approach to poverty that involves sustainable changes in attitudes and behaviors. World Relief is responding by empowering the local church to deliver basic financial services and education to Rwanda’s poorest through the Savings for Life™ program, which makes access to savings and loans possible for the most poor and vulnerable. World Relief trains church volunteers who, in turn, train savings and credit groups in the communities. Special emphasis is placed on savings mobilization methods, Biblical stewardship, financial integrity, overcoming poverty, effective asset use and group government and management.

The impact of Savings for Life™ extends beyond economic empowerment as Savings Group members discover that they already have the resources necessary to advance their lives and those of their children. The community becomes more resilient as members help each other set aside money for emergencies. When World Relief concludes its work, these self-sustaining groups continue to meet and holistically transform the lives of members. Groups provide an opportunity for people to work together for a common financial goal and serve as a safe place of social support. World Relief has been implementing Savings for Life in Rwanda since 2010. There are currently 682 groups and 14,535 members across four districts.

Courtney O’Connell is World Relief’s Senior Technical Advisor for the Savings for Life program. She will be speaking at the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey Institute of Sustainable Microenterprise Development Program in a class titled “Savings Groups Post-Project: Evolution, Sustainability, Enrichment” Nov. 18-22, 2013 in Arusha, Tanzania. The following interview was conducted on Oct. 28, 2013.

Courtney, what is your history with transformational development, World Relief, and as Senior Technical Advisor for the Savings for Life program?

C: I joined World Relief in 2011 after having already lived in Africa for three years.  My earliest work in Africa heightened my understanding of the need for transformational development to be truly holistic.  I believe that just focusing on one area of life, physical, for example, ignores so many other areas of a person that need to be addressed:  spiritual, social, emotional, financial.  Joining World Relief’s Savings for Life team, then was a perfect fit for me as we try to address communities in a holistic way,

In which countries is this program currently being implemented?

C: We started our Savings for Life (SFL) program in Burundi in 2008, then expanded to Kenya and Rwanda in 2008 then to Malawi (2011), Congo (2012) and South Sudan (2013).

To date, do you know the total amount of Savings Groups and members?

C: Currently we have 104,857 members across all 6 countries.

Why does Savings for Life and the Savings Group model work so well? In other words, what about this model is different from other existing financial services and institutions offered either by countries or other NGOs?

C: The essence of the SFL program is this:  groups of 10-25 community members come together and save their own money, use that common pool to make loans to each other charging an agreed upon interest rate.  Then, after about 9 months, the members get back all the money they saved plus their share of the interest, or profit, the group made. This money that they’ve accumulated, generally $75-140, is usually the most amount of money these community members have ever had in their hands.  And, it’s all theirs! The empowerment they take from this method is remarkable. Members are able to put children in school, buy health insurance for the very first time, invest in a business, or make tangible improvements on their homes.  It’s such a huge change in a relatively short time.

Our approach is different from most other NGOs who do savings programs. First, we strive to deliver a high quality, technically sound savings program. It improves upon the indigenous forms of savings that have been present in rural communities for generations and generations. Most importantly, however, World Relief is working in and through the local church. Our desire is to see the church own this program and, towards that end, have volunteers from the church that help to form and train new savings groups.  Groups pray with each other and support each other in times of need.  We also have a Bible Study the groups can do to supplement their savings activities.  In all these ways we’re trying to address the spiritual and the financial lives of the members.

Can you share a recent story from the Savings for Life program in Rwanda?

C: In the Nayamasheke district, Savings for Life empowered the Tuzamurane Savings Group (below) with the ability to address other areas of need in their lives.  The members identified that each one needed a mattress at their house, as some were still sleeping on dirt floors. So they took turns buying mattresses from their collective savings until everyone had one.  They were so proud of what they did, they bought matching ‘uniforms’ so that the entire community would know that they were empowered and could do fantastic things!

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