KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of the Congo — The sun rises in the Congolese village of Ditalala, and the aroma of freshly brewed coffee fills the air. For generations, the people of this village have been drinking coffee, which they grow themselves, before heading out to work on their farms.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, wars and conflicts have claimed millions of lives and uprooted even more. But throughout the country, there are communities that are learning to transcend the traditional barriers that divide people. Listen to stories that offer a glimpse into some Congolese communities where people are working together and drawing on Baha’i teachings to transform their collective life.
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Over the past few years, this morning tradition has come to take on a deeper significance. Many families in the village have been inviting their neighbors to join them for coffee and prayers before starting the day.
“They’ve transformed that simple act of having a cup of coffee in the morning,” says a recent visitor to Ditalala, reflecting on her experience. “It was truly a community-building activity. Friends from the neighboring houses would gather while the coffee was being made, say prayers together, then share the coffee while laughing and discussing the issues of the community. There was a sense of true unity.”
The central African nation of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has experienced, for over a century, a series of violent struggles. The most recent war from 1998–2002 is estimated to have claimed over 5.4 million lives, making it the world’s deadliest crisis since World War II. For the last two years, it has been the country with the highest number of people displaced by conflict—according to the United Nations, approximately 1.7 million Congolese fled their homes due to insecurity in the first six months of 2017 alone.
Yet, there are communities throughout the country that are learning to transcend the traditional barriers that divide people. Inspired by Baha’u’llah’s teachings, they are striving for progress both material and spiritual in nature. They are concerned with the practical dimensions of life, as well as with the qualities of a flourishing community like justice, connectedness, unity, and access to knowledge.
“What we are learning is that when there are spaces to come together and discuss the teachings of Baha’u’llah in relation to the challenges facing their community, people will come and consult about what we can do together to find solutions to our problems,” reflects Izzat Mionda Abumba, who has been working for many years with educational programs for children and youth.
“When everyone is given access to these spaces, there is nothing that separates us—it’s no longer about who are Baha’is and who are not Baha’is. We are all reading these writings and in discussing them we find the paths to the solutions for whatever we are doing. Inspiration comes from these writings and directives,” he says.
The story of this country is a remarkable one. The process which is unfolding seeks to foster collaboration and build capacity within all people—regardless of religious background, ethnicity, race, gender, or social status—to arise and contribute to the advancement of civilization. Among the confusion, distrust, and obscurity present in the world today, these burgeoning communities in the DRC are hopeful examples of humanity’s capacity to bring about profound social transformation.
In Ditalala, villagers prepare for the day by gathering for prayers.
A path to collective prosperity
The village of Walungu is in South Kivu, a province on the eastern side of the country, bordering Rwanda and Burundi. In recent years, a spirit of unity and collaboration has become widespread among the people of Walungu. They pray together in different settings, bringing neighbor together with neighbor, irrespective of religious affiliation. This growing devotional character has been complemented by a deep commitment to serving the common good.
At the heart of Walungu’s transformation has been the dedication of the village to the intellectual and spiritual development of the children.
Walungu is a remote area of the country. Years ago, the community was not satisfied with the state of formal education available for their children. In response, a group of parents and teachers established a school in the village with the assistance of a Baha’i-inspired organization that provides teacher training and promotes the establishment of community-based schools.
Distinct from traditional educational institutions, community schools, such as the one in Walungu