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The recent $10,000 gift from First Free Rockford is helping Tabitha Centers to reopen across Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

During the COVID-19 pandemic’s first three months, all 92 Tabitha Centers closed in Kinshasa, DRC’s capital city of 14.6 million people. Created in partnership with ReachGlobal, the centers give young women a way out of human trafficking and other harmful livelihoods. In addition to vocational training in sewing, cooking, hairdressing and cosmetology, the women receive spiritual training and guidance from local Christian women.

COVID-19 safety protocols are part of the reopening process for Tabitha Centers.

Tabitha Centers began to reopen at the end of August. So far, about 40 have reopened, with more planned in the coming weeks. Director Claudine Selenga worked with a trusted doctor in DRC to develop the reopening plan. Training groups of fewer than 20 vocational teachers each spend several days discussing the Tabitha curriculum, sharing ideas how best to teach each topic. The training also includes lessons on COVID prevention and how to sew effective masks. On the final day, each reopening center receives a hand-washing station, soap, disinfectant and materials for sewing masks for the students to wear.

As the centers reopen, students also are learning to sew masks that the centers can sell locally. In August, they completed a contract for 25,000 masks. Now they’re working on a second contract for 15,000 more. For the participating seamstresses, these sales are helping provide basic needs for them and their families. For one mother it meant being able to pay for her child’s final state exam — which brings the equivalent of a high school diploma. Another seamstress was able to pay for her own exam.

“We are so grateful to First Free Rockford for your continued partnership with the Tabitha Centers and how many ways you have found to demonstrate it,” said Emily Hochstetler, communications director for Tabitha Centers. “Claudine sends her thanks for the funds you sent.  She asks for continued prayers as we arrange and plan to continue opening our centers.”

First Free Rockford’s Katrina McIntosh (left) and Jen Wahl (right) in 2019 with four Tabitha Center girls in Kinshasa.

Over the past several years, our First Free Rockford congregation has given money for several Tabitha projects, including:

  • Ultimately funding 104 Tabitha Centers to serve 2,600 girls and women ($156,362).
  • Sponsoring 122 girls at a cost of $153,720 for a three-year commitment through Global Fingerprints ($153,720).
  • Purchasing a vehicle for the Selengas to transport women and girls to and from Tabitha Centers ($22,529).
As of this week, the nation of 89.6 million people has reported a total of 11,051 COVID-19 cases and 303 deaths. Its death rate is among the lowest in Africa, which as a continent has fared better than the Americas or Europe. But DRC’s true numbers are likely higher, with testing and healthcare limited in much of the country.
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