Families forced to flee their homes during the war are being cared for by The Salvation Army
Canoes are used for income-generation and evangelism
Displaced people show their gratitude for the help they receive from The Salvation Army
An officer with twin boys who were orphaned during the war and are being cared for by The Salvation Army
Women play the nsakalas, a percussion instrument similar to the maracas. Nsakalas brigades are found in many corps
Captain Cécile Loukoula donates chickens to a family as part of an animal husbandry project
Helpers and recipients at a street children’s project
Séraphin Edy Kanda Bonazebi is Projects Coordinator in The Salvation Army’s Congo (Brazzaville) Territory
Congo Brazzaville: A Time for Peace
by Séraphin Edy Kanda Bonazebi
As the people of Congo Brazzaville try to bring peace to their troubled country, The Salvation Army has a vital role to play, reports Séraphin Edy Kanda Bonazebi
THE country of Congo Brazzaville – officially République du Congo – has had a very troubled recent past. The country gained independence from France on 15 August 1960. After elections, a government was put in place, headed by a president. Three years later, an uprising led to the overthrow of the institution by Marxists, who then ruled the country until 1993, when elections were organised and a new president put into office.
Soon after, conflicting interests threw the country into unrest, culminating in a bloody civil war in 1997 which, although lasting only five months, caused problems for years.
In 2002 a final peace accord was signed by the government and the rebels, and the country is slowly reverting to its once-enviable reputation of a safe haven.
In these less-than-ideal circumstances, The Salvation Army has flourished and its numbers – and influence – continue to grow.
The then Captain and Mrs Henri Becquet pioneered the work of the Army in Congo Brazzaville in 1937. It has developed steadily and the Army has spread through the whole of Congo. Today there are almost 25,000 people who consider themselves to be Salvationists.
The Salvation Army is now the third largest church in Congo Brazzaville, after the Roman Catholic Church and the Evangelical Church of the Congo. It is held in high regard by political authorities and the other churches.
One obvious sign that The Salvation Army is having great successes in Congo Brazzaville is seen through the large halls that have been or are being built there.
Over the past five years, notwithstanding the hardships of social unrest, the growing numbers of Salvationists have not only kept the faith but have either extended their halls or started building sizeable new ones because of the desire to evangelise. The opening of new church centres is quite common.
One area where the Congolese Salvation Army appears to be succeeding where much of the rest of the Salvation Army world struggles is that people seem to understand that it is a church as well as a social caregiver. The blend of no-nonsense Christianity and well-organised, professional care sets it apart and has endeared the Movement to the people of the country.
For more than 50 years Salvation Army clinics have saved many lives.
In some areas the only existing health centres have been those of the Army. There are six clinics in the territory, equipped for the general care of patients. Where further treatment is needed, patients are referred to a public hospital.
One of the clinics has an ophthalmic department where eyes are tested, glasses given out and – once a year – a doctor from neighbouring Congo Kinshasa visits to perform eye surgery.
The territory is hoping to add to its medical work by setting up a maternity unit at two of the clinics. A dentistry unit is also planned.
The Army in Congo Brazzaville is also looking to extend its work in preventative medicine, a fact demonstrated by the vaccination programme against typhoid that was carried out in 2002 and 2003. It is thought that many lives were saved through the programme.
The practical work of the Army goes way beyond health care, though, and it is constantly looking at ways to improve quality of life through social care and education. Adult literacy projects, for instance, aim to reduce the high illiteracy rate in the population, particularly among women.
A well construction programme is saving lives by providing clean water for communities as well as raising the profile of The Salvation Army. Income-generating projects allow people to help themselves rather than rely on handouts.
The Institute for the Blind in Brazzaville (INAC) is the only institution of this kind in the country. Sadly, because of limited resources, the institute has a very small number of students and the vast majority of cases cannot be accommodated. Integration is seen as important and, with this in mind, some of the students are able to go to ordinary schools with the aid of a teacher to supervise. Most of the children at INAC do the same exams as sighted children.
Some of the INAC pupils live in Yéngué, originally a home for elderly people. When the funding stopped after the war the premises were transformed into a hostel for the children.
A vocational training programme for the older children is under way so that, when they have finished their schooling, they will have a trade of some kind.
It is not easy for any young people, let alone those who are blind, to get a job as the unemployment rate is very high. There are many people in great need and the war has meant there is a high proportion of orphans.
The John Swinfen Primary School caters for children who would not otherwise have the opportunity to enjoy an education. Such opportunities are vital to enable young people to escape the poverty they were born into.
As Congo Brazzaville enters what its people hope will be a peaceful future, The Salvation Army there is still at war, but its battle is against the evils of poverty and despair – and the Congolese Salvationists know they are on the winning side.