Something from Nothing

There is garbage everywhere on the streets of Mont-Ngafula, an extremely poor neighbourhood in Kinshasa, the capital city of the DR Congo. Known for its high crime rate and impassable roads, the neighborhood has been in decline for decades. 

But something is changing in Mont-Ngafula.

Toss Mukwa is a Congolese development worker who believes that every community, no matter how poor, has something to offer, to make a positive difference for their own people. When he first looked at Mont-Ngafula, he wasn’t sure where the help would come from. He was aware that the government had given up on the community long ago, and that foreign aid would probably never reach its streets. 

When Toss entered Mont-Ngafula, he encountered a small group of mostly unemployed youth within the local church. As he got to know the youth, who were between the ages of 16 and 26, Toss was impressed with their social awareness. As he began to share with them the ideas of asset-based community-driven development, he found that these youth already had a vision for their community.

Stimulated by Toss’s ideas, the young people began with a humble plan to clean up the streets. As they picked up garbage, they stopped to educate households about waste disposal. Buoyed by their success, their contingent grew to about 60 young people.

Their next project in Mont-Ngafula was to map the community (including all 460 homes) and then to repair two of the streets that were damaged by erosion and had become unusable by vehicles. Using the map to outline their plan, they again went door-to-door, explaining their work to the residents. Soon, other community members offered to join them, or to contribute financially to their cause. 

Before long, the number of young people engaged in the project grew to more than 100. With that level of support, the group then decided to take on one of the most significant issues facing the poor of Mont-Ngafula – access to health care. They approached local health clinics with a number of creative ideas to provide care for the people. They set up credit systems and group medicine purchases, and even provided the clinics with professional services like cleaning, electrical, and plumbing, in exchange for credit toward medical treatments.

Eventually, with Toss as their guide, the group in Mont-Ngafula formed a community association, and even established a small office supported by their members. 

Today, the initiative in Mont-Ngafula continues to grow and impact the people of the neighbourhood. To date, the project has still received no outside funding and stands strong as an example of the potential of asset-based community-driven development. 

As the people of Mont-Ngafula continue to share their vision and their assets, whether material, spiritual, or financial, a kind of social capital is created within the community, which will become the foundation for long-term sustainable development. 

As 5N2 continues to invest in workers like Toss Mukwa and projects like the Mont-Ngafula youth initiative, there is so much potential for transformational impact in other poor communities throughout Congo. We look forward to casting the net wider through our training and partnerships.

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