In October 2006 the Association for the Development of Rural Communities of the Congo was launched by a small group of individuals sharing a common interest in helping rural people of Congo to take charge of themselves and create hope for future. The idea was born from the report that Professor Jean-Marie Nkongolo-Bakenda made at the end of his research trip to Congo. According to Mr Nkongolo-Bakenda, his research allowed him to being an eyewitness of grave socio-economical deprivations in three rural communities located far from urban centers in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC, Africa).
First, in 1989, he had seen in Twabinga near Lubutu in Maniema province (East of DRC), a community with high agricultural potential, but having serious logistical difficulties to selling the products. Due to these logistical difficulties, the rural population was buying manufactured goods at prices sometimes twice higher than those in urban centers. Moreover, without decent income, many parents were unable to pay school fees for their children.
Second, in 2006, he was in Kisantu in the province of Kongo Central (West of DRC), where he observed the communities in a state of dispossession and deprivation similar to that observed several years earlier in Lubutu. This had been confirmed by the traditional chief of Lemvu, a rural community located within 100 kilometers of Kisantu. According to the tribal chief, his community had a great potential for farming, but derisory farm equipment and logistical problems in transporting goods to urban centers have forced farmers to produce only for subsistence at the expense of family surplus production for the market. Again, children whose parents could not afford the fees had dropped out of school.
The third eyewitness account of Jean-Marie Nkongolo-Bakenda took place in 2006 in the community of Bena Mpiana, near the town of Ngandajika, 60-80 km from the city of Mbuji-Mayi, in Kasai Oriental province (toward the center of the DRC). Men in this community were so desperate that they drown their anxieties in alcohol, tended to reduce the quantity of agricultural production, and took little care of fruit trees and palm groves in the region. Women used to spend every day, depending on the family size, at least four hours to bring on their heads twenty liters of water from a river located seven kilometers from their homes. Several children had dropped out of school for lack of financial resources to pay tuition. Those who remained devoted to school, in addition to paying school fees, two days per week working in the fields of teachers as a substitute for unpaid wages by the government. Nevertheless, they should follow the same curriculum as students who were elsewhere and enjoyed six days of class per week.
After this testimony, the members praised the ideals, courage and perseverance of the community despite the problems, dropouts, and the privations they had suffered for years. They felt challenged by the cries received here and there, by the demands from children whose dream was related just to having soccer balls for their entertainment, to studying in decent schools and having sufficient funds for school fees for their education. They have been affected by parent requests for better equipment for farming and safe housing for their flourishing families. They felt powerless to tears of women who demanded a system of waterworks in order to free themselves from the daily chore of finding water in order to devote their time to other domestic activities, and particularly to the education of children.
Aware that the problems and similar difficulties are experienced in other remote rural areas throughout the Congo, and that each community had its potential physical and human resources on which it could rely for its resilience, they decided to form, with all who share the same ideal for this cause, an organization to help the impoverished and remote rural community of Congo to take deliberate measures to increase personal and collective capacity of its citizens and institutions to respond to and influence the course of social and economic change within it. After discussion and consultation with specialized services at Industry Canada, Revenue Canada and other friends, they finally decided that ADERC should be a charitable organization that helps poor rural communities to sustainably alleviate their poverty and improve the level of education and health of their children, women and other adults in need.
Four goals were identified for the task: i) strengthening the capacities of women and girls to support themselves by increasing their literacy skills, developing new skills, and reducing their chores ii) provision of humanitarian aid to improve access to potable water and sanitary and hygienic conditions thereby making poor rural communities likely to succeed in productive activities, iii) improving conditions in classrooms, distributing basic student personal needs, and provision of furniture and teaching materials to schools to help needy children receive their education in a safe physical environment and prepare their future self-sufficiency in society iv) the involvement of rural poor communities to address issues critical to the success of their agricultural activities and create a sustainable way of living conducting to a family income sufficient for their present and future needs. .
To achieve these objectives, it was decided to start with a pilot project in one village. Members chose to act in the rural community of Bena Mpiana in the center of the DRC because, by itself, this community included the major characteristics of rural communities. In addition, members of this community had already been sensitized in 2006 to identify their essential needs and were invited to make a commitment to participate in finding solutions. With expressed needs in mind, the members of the team of the ADERC project have visited equipment auction sales, and stores in Canada and the United States to buy basic equipment. They considered the community as a collective farm and bought the equipment listed as indispensable to the survival of a farm. So they bought the farm equipment, carpentry equipment, transportation equipment, welding equipment, generators, air equipment, and some basic furniture for children at the elementary level. The 40 foot container with such equipment had also brought more than 300 books for the local university and toys for children.
The arrival of this equipment in the village had aroused the joy not only in the selected village, but also throughout the surrounding region. The agricultural equipment has allowed farmers to work on areas four times higher than what they had before. Children in school got adequate blackboards, and women were grinding corn at the mill.
However, the ADERC was facing multiple problems. The funds available were not enough as some costs had far exceeded expectations. For example, the transportation of the container from Canada to the village cost 3 times the forecasted amount. Some equipments purchased were not suitable for a land where mechanized farming had not previously been performed. To meet these challenges, Jean-Marie had to put into the project more of his own family resources, using even his credit card and the credit line of his family home. Aaron used his credit card to pay some necessary supplies. Despite these financial problems, the team bought a second batch of equipment that was sent in 2009. The best news at the time was the recognition of the ADERC as a charity by the Canadian government.
Some people deserve being mentioned for their dedication to the project. In addition to Jean-Marie Nkongolo-Bakenda, we must mention Professor Aaron-Luntala Nsakanda who spent time and energy to put in place the structures and legal texts of the ADERC. Mr. Garry Engler and his wife Connie have been very instrumental not only because they kept for months on their yard the International 560 tractor, but also because they have invested many hours to repair and prepare all materials for container and have generously supported financially and morally the project. Late Keith Seed, despite his health already tottering, had also taken an active part in preparing the equipment for shipment. Al-Alwan Robia repaired the electrical system of the tractor. Nathalie Bay and Judith Tshimbu have contributed with ideas and support for the success of the ADERC in this period of his early development stage. Finally, the University of Regina, through its external relations services, has helped the Association to make it known to the media and the general public. All media in Regina welcomed the project and ADERC has benefited from their positive comments and encouragements.