Recently I was in Lubumbashi, Congo, visiting our office there. Two additional loan officer teams and several other staff have been added since my last visit, and we also recently moved into a new office there. I was impressed to see the positive energy and professionalism of the Lubumbashi team.
During the trip I visited a client, Mama Assis. She has been a baker for 22 years and runs a small bakery next to her house. We really enjoyed the step-by-step tour of her production (we watched bread being kneaded, rising, baking, as well as the finished product). Also, it was great to hear about what has happened in the business over the last year since Mama Assis became involved with HOPE.
She has gone from five to seven employees at her bakery. Each employee makes 12,000 francs per week, meaning about $84 in salary per month. While this may sound low, it’s more than double the current salary of police and soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) (anecdotally). We asked how she sets the salary and she said she bases it on production – each worker should make bread from one sack of flour in a week, and the salary for that quantity of bread is 12,000 francs.
Mama Assis then sells her bread to 30 vendors. At least 3 of those 30 vendors, as well as the man who provides the wood to keep the oven going, are HOPE clients! It’s always neat to hear how the businesses and lives of HOPE clients are connected. As in many Congolese small businesses, it’s a family affair: when Mama Assis’ 17-year-old son, Derrick, is on vacation from school, he is the manager of the bakery. He is one of her 11 children: her 3-week-old baby lay on the couch as we chatted.
During the interview I asked questions in French, which were translated into Swahili by Nina, a new HOPE loan officer, and Moise, her credit supervisor, who was also filming.
I also had a meeting with the “Spiritual Life Commission” in Lubumbashi. While we’re working on developing similar groups in each city to facilitate spiritual growth in staff and guide our activities within the community besides financial services, the Lubumbashi staff was ahead of things and had already put a group in place. The Commission consists of the finance officer, a cashier, and a loan officer. During our meeting on Friday, we discussed ways to build up staff and clients spiritually. “What is the most effective way to support loan officers spiritually?” and “What role should loan officers play in the lives of clients?” were a couple of the questions we discussed. I look forward to seeing the fruit that will come out of this group. It was an encouragement to hear about the informal prayer meetings that are taking place as staff members lift up their colleagues and clients to the Lord.
On the way back to Kinshasa, I went to the airport at 5:45am for an 8am flight. I was the first one at the airport! Other passengers started arriving after me. By about 7:30am the airline staff had shown up and we were finally checked in. 8am passed; 8:30 too, then 9am, with no announcement about the flight. I had heard of a colleague waiting until noon for the same flight one time, so I got up to ask if they had an ETD. I saw the plane and bags being loaded, which was a relief. Home by noon was still a possibility!
Boarding the plane, there was no line or system, it seemed. Once on the plane, the take-off was interesting. The Lubumbashi runway, perhaps one of the worst I’ve landed on/taken off from, causes planes to practically bounce along before takeoff. Apparently things hadn’t been closed up properly (or couldn’t be), so one flight attendant was holding the pilot’s door shut with one foot and was catching flying plastic silverware with one hand. I exchanged the mandatory “this is unbelievable” glance with my Indian neighbor. Just before the plane lifted off the same flight attendant visibly crossed his fingers with his free hand. Not exactly confidence inspiring! Once off the ground from Lubumbashi things were smooth. The Zimbabwean crew had English and a bit of French, and the passengers French with a bit of English, so most people managed to get something to eat and drink. My seatmate ran a private import/export firm. We traded information; about the importing he said, “The key is getting false documents about the actual weight/quantity of your imports. This will allow you to still pay some taxes and still have competitive prices in the market. If you want to do it by the letter of the law, you’ll never be able to compete.”
Off the plane in Kinshasa, the humid air was very welcome, and despite other colleagues’ warnings about their past experiences, I actually made it home before noon. I’m looking forward to my next visit to Lubumbashi.
Guest post by Nate Hulley, former Congo Country Director