Chickens and conversation help women unite in divided DRC community

A group of women from Goma in DRC lived in a divided community. They suffered from poverty and marginalisation, and there was a climate of mistrust in their community which hosted a military camp. In particular, there were serious misunderstandings and a deep suspicion between local women and the military wives. These existed because of a lack of relationship

A gathering of women from both community groups outside a church in Goma, DRC; Pascal is in the centre of the back row and Diane Holt, the author and then Development Facilitator for the Inspired Individuals Programme in Africa, is on the far left.

On a mission

Fortunately for them, Pascal Mugaruka has become something of a relationship specialist. Through Africa Reconciled, which he runs with his wife, Ruphine, he uses peacebuilding and Church and Community Transformation (CCT) techniques to transform individuals and the wider community. His mission is to provide young people and African women with the resources to develop their knowledge and reach their full potential.  

Pascal is a recent graduate of Tearfund’s Inspired Individuals programme, which identifies, develops and connects Christian leaders from around the world who are incredible changemakers in their communities. He started out as an activist mobilising young people and training them in non-violent responses. This has developed into a network of clubs promoting peacebuilding in groups of 25 to 30 young people across several regions. Pascal is also working through churches in a holistic way to reach more individuals and community groups than he had before.

Restoring trust

The situation in Goma was a challenging one. ‘According to civilian wives, a woman who has agreed to marry a Congolese soldier is no different from that soldier. They are considered people without hope, without a future, without social stability, without the ability to take care of a family,’ says Pascal. ‘These two groups of women had very different lives and outlooks. Our goal was to restore trust between them.’  

In order to do this, Pascal and Ruphine facilitated meetings between women from both groups. This enabled the women to get to know each other and initiate moderated conversations about how they viewed each other. 

‘We brought the civilian wives and the soldiers’ wives together in mixed groups and we allowed them access to the same privileges,’ says Pascal. ‘They completed a self-assessment of their strengths and weaknesses, and we led them to see the future positively through their individual and community dreams.’

Watch a video about how Pascal is inspiring young people and women to live in a more hopeful Congo.

Choosing chickens

Pascal managed to access small grants for the women to start a community business and the women formed themselves into a cooperative to maximise the potential of their funds. They used their initial 50 USD grant per woman to start a savings and loans group. Now each member pays about 1 USD per week into the group and the women take turns to borrow a larger sum.

The women considered several projects, including fish farming, sewing, production and sale of tomatoes and sunflower oil. In the end they decided to start a chicken business. They chose to breed broilers because there is strong demand for them in the city hotels and restaurants and there are few suppliers. 

They described how some of them had failed in the past when they had tried to start a chicken business alone. In the past, they didn’t have enough knowledge of keeping chickens and the chicks were more expensive to buy in small numbers. This time they were able to get an excellent price for a large number of chicks and together they could afford to rent a safe environment in which to keep them.

‘Some of the women failed in the past when they tried to start a chicken business alone.’

The co-operative chose chickens as there is a demand for them in city hotels and restaurants. Photo: Diane Holt

Stronger together

‘The two groups of women, who have become one, have discovered that they have much more in common than they imagined,’ says Pascal. ‘The impact has gone beyond income generation. It has healed relationships in the group and community and impacted on their sense of self-worth.’  

A pastor’s wife had been elected as leader of the group. Through the confidence she has gained, she has gone on to become a pastor in her own right. 

Thanks to the unity they have found, the women have spoken about the positive effect it has had on their home lives. One of the military wives has talked about how her husband now takes her opinion into account in making decisions about the family and house. Others have shared about how their husbands make sure they always have the money to put into the cooperative on a weekly basis. The women have also shared openly about how they had misunderstood each other and how they now find they have so much in common. 

‘To help someone make a positive impact, you must first help them to discover their potential,’ says Pascal. ‘Then you have to develop this potential and, finally, deploy it for their good and the wellbeing of the community.’

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Diane Holt
Diane Holt was the Development Facilitator for the Inspired Individuals programme in Africa. She now runs Thrive Ireland which facilitates CCT, leadership support and peacebuilding in Northern Ireland with learning from Africa.