Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is a city of nearly 15 million people, estimated to reach nearly 35 million by 2050. Each one of these people has a backstory of how they ended up where they are. One common story is that of “street kids.” These children are but a small sector of those impacted by the five nightmares of most major African cities: 1) a large influx of unskilled workers; 2) poorly run but expensive educational options; 3) an import mentality that caters to the comparatively rich; 4) a relatively non-existent middle class and blue-collar jobs; 5) a self-serving government. Across the city, children are “thrown away” or aborted for fear of a predictable future.
Though people move to the cities to look for a better life, they are confronted with hopelessness. Young girls provide for themselves by making a game out of prostitution. The more one has sex, the more valuable they become. The greater the value they attain, the more they can ask for a trick. All the guys prefer the girls with a higher-value. This is how many tens of thousands of girls around the city buy clothing and food, have a place to stay, and sometimes even afford schooling. According to NGOs, about one-third of these “street children” are girls, and around 80 percent of those make a living from sex. Girls who live on the streets are not the only ones selling themselves by any means.
In other cases, the young women may not be overtly selling their bodies, but instead they might have a string of “boyfriends” who will provide for them financially. Or they might get married to someone they barely know, just for the security.
The Tabitha Center gives young women in DRC a way out of selling themselves or engaging in illegal activities for their livelihood. Teen-aged girls gather under the direction of women from their local church to discuss life's realities and to understand the Bible's answers to questions about life that are often left unanswered by parents. In this safe context, girls are taught skills like sewing, cooking, hair dressing, cosmetics and others that offer them an alternative to the assumption that they must sell themselves or rush into a relationship with a man in order to find financial security. The vision is to see the Tabitha ministry continue to expand to provide healthy alternatives for young women throughout the city of Kinshasa.
The vision of the ministry is to develop and equip Tabitha Centers throughout Kinshasa. The first Tabitha Center was launched in 2013, as an experiment to see what it would take to open more. As of November 2020, over 200 centers have been installed in various parts of Kinshasa, largely associated with and launched out of local churches. While churches and individuals from the U.S. commit to launching new centers, each center is expected to contribute financially to the overall ministry, in order to assure sustainability.
GLOBALFINGERPRINTS AND TABITHA CENTERS
Early on, Tabitha leadership came to the realization that many young women struggled to learn a trade because they had little to no schooling. It is estimated that nearly 1/3 of Tabitha students cannot read and write. Taking measurements, taking notes, and reading the Bible were practically impossible for this group. As people began to pray about this problem, God clearly brought the right team together and opened the doors to start a sponsorship and literacy program to respond to this need. The GlobalFingerprints Tabitha Centers allow for girls between ages 15 and 20 to be sponsored while they learn. For the first year or so, they learn basic literacy skills, using a biblically-based curriculum developed by a local pastor. After that, they are sponsored through training at a Tabitha Center in the skill they choose. After they finish, they remain in the program an additional year as they establish themselves and receive any needed additional training.
There are several levels of leadership for the Tabitha Centers. The primary directional team consists of four women who were chosen by the director (Claudine Selenga). Pastor Selenga, Claudine's husband and the Kinshasa City Team leader, also plays a big role as advisor to the Tabitha Center. They are in direct contact with ministry point-people/advisors in the U.S. to coordinate the logistics of working with partners in the U.S. They are the ones involved in engaging churches in the Tabitha ministry, helping choose and develop the curriculum that will be taught at each location, training those who work directly with the women, and ensuring that each center is following the vision for the Tabitha Centers.
In addition, the Centers are divided into “pools” which organize additional trainings and provide encouragement to one another. Each pool has a leader responsible for making sure reports and dues are turned in from those centers. In the coming years, these leaders will gradually take on more responsibility for their areas.
Tabitha Centers use a specific curriculum that assures those receiving training get what is needed to serve them well in their work environment. Every center provides Bible training and skills to help them succeed in their career. However, each center has an area of specialty, teaching sewing, cosmetics/hair dressing, computer skills, cooking, English and other relevant skills. After the students have had nine months of study in a center, they find a place to do an internship for three months. A full year after they begin their training, they go through testing to ensure that they have learned everything they should have in their curriculum. It is critical that Tabitha graduates are seen as professionals in their fields, therefore, women only graduate when and if they fulfill the requirements. Graduates find work in their communities either out of their homes or partnering with small businesses. Some graduates have come back to Tabitha Centers as teachers and leaders.
We challenge churches, women’s groups and individuals to provide $1,500 to help open each new Tabitha Center. This amount serves as a portion of the costs of beginning a center, including the cost of Bibles and the printing of training booklets to be used in each location. Ongoing operational costs of every center are met within that center. The sale of dresses, aprons, school uniforms, food, and the services of hair dressing and cosmetology all supplement and provide the resources necessary to grow and sustain each facility. In some cases, they local church hosting the center will take offerings to maintain the center as one of their ministries. The students are also expected to pay a low tuition. This helps them value the education received. A percentage of these profits and tuition are set aside as “dues” to help with ongoing expenses and launching of new Tabitha Centers. We are also working on producing products, such as aprons, to be sent the U.S. to sell to buyers who already have a market for such goods.
Additionally, we invite individuals and groups to sponsor a Tabitha student in the GlobalFingerprints program. For some of the most vulnerable people in Kinshasa, sponsorship can change their lives and give them hope.
We are always looking for women (individuals as well as groups) to go to Kinshasa to serve in our Tabitha Centers. But there are plenty of other ways you can partner with us too!