Water Project Changes Lives and Brings Smiles in Congo

CongoIt’s dry season, and a group of Congolese farmers huddles over a small opening in a tube that’s stretched across a field of arid, caked earth. They watch skeptically for water.

Their leeriness is understandable. Crops, starved of rain, are scarce this time of year in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And there’s no waterbed nearby. If this new drip irrigation system doesn’t work they’re going to have to look for another source of food for the coming months. Then, what seems to be a miracle happens. A bead of water drips from the opening, and then another, and another.

“I watched this wide, incredulous smile spread across the face of an agricultural worker after she dug her finger deeply into the soil at the site of one of the small holes in the irrigation hose,” says Ruth Brown, a Presbyterian mission coworker in Congo who helped with the project. “The water had only been flowing for 10 minutes, but already water seeping from one tiny hole had sunk several inches deep into the earth.”

The water followed days of training and installation organized by a partnership of Congolese communities, Presbyterian World Mission, and a farmer from Texas who heard a call from God. From beneath a large brimmed hat that farmer, Charles Johnson, spearheaded a project in June to empower four communities in the remote West Kasai area of the DRC to build a quicker and more efficient way to transport their water. The impact is still unclear. If successful, the new irrigation system will reduce labor and provide a larger crop yield. That, in turn, will reduce hunger and generate increased income.

In a country where almost half of the population, on a good day, has no access to portable water, 87.7 percent survive on less than $1.25 per day, and one in four children is underweight and malnourished, water is more than a commodity-it is a matter of life and death. Traditionally, to water crops during the dry season (June-Aug.) farmers walk to the nearest waterbed and transport needed water in buckets.

“All water is carried by women balancing large plastic tubs on their heads,” says Brown. “Sometimes women must walk miles up and down steep hills to the springs.”

An irrigation system changes all that. Or could, if it works. “Because of Congo’s economic crisis, there are people who don’t have room to take risks,” says Jeff Boyd, a mission coworker and Presbyterian World Mission’s regional liaison for Central Africa. “If something doesn’t work and they’ve invested considerably in it, they’ve lost everything. They just don’t have space to lose.”

A revolution in agriculture also doesn’t happen overnight. To read more on the Congo Mission Network, a group of Presbyterians in the U.S. and in Congo who meet annually to discuss Congo’s needs and ministries as well as God’s call on the Johnson’s life visit the Presbyterian News Service website.