A poor Parish for poor people: The case of Single Mothers in the Parish of St Rita Tokolote – Kindu

“Give them something to eat yourselves” (Mt 14, 16). Despite our poverty, we are invited to share the little we have with those poorer than we are. The single mothers of our Parish are part of these poor. Dear Friends, we know that anybody who needs the help of another is poor. Each one of us lives in a state of poverty in their own way. Some people are poor spiritually; others are poor materially, morally, mentally, economically, socially, intellectually or physically.

Poverty in an urban setting is a phenomenon that is well developed in big cities but also in small towns. Well-planned tarred roads and impressive office blocks often hide poor areas. The city of Kindu is no exception to these trends.

In Tokolote, many young girls abandon their education because of unwanted pregnancies or because of early marriage. For these reasons, not many girls have educational qualifications. There are many single mothers and very few girls get a state diploma before being married or having children.

These single mothers find motherhood difficult. They are considered as being badly educated, prostitutes, having no future, a burden on their families and sinners. They are excluded from different social groups. Their rights and dignity are ignored. Because of this, they are traumatised and discouraged. They feel oppressed, abandoned, humiliated and useless in society.

These single mothers of our parish experience poverty in the form of unemployment, a lessening of a sense of evil, the irresponsibility of some parents regarding their parental duties, the problem of early marriage, and a culture, which regards the dowry as more important than the person. Can we continue to blame them in the same way as 2,000 years ago?

The living conditions of these single mothers pushed us to do something for them. We wanted them to regain control of their own lives, to discover once again their dignity and respect in society and in the Church. However, this does not mean that we must stop taking into account the cultural decadence that does not promote the role of single mothers in society for other women.

We are aware that parents and pastoral agents have played and still play an important role in determining how these single mothers live their lives today. We should be humble and realistic and recognise that our way of treating them in families and in the Church has provoked the crises that we complain about today. We did not really take our commitment and our responsibilities as parents and pastoral agents. Many of these girls left school at the age of 13 or 14 years. They stayed at home with nothing to do. They do not go to school because their parents say they do not have the money to pay for school fees even if, at the same time, they pay for the boys. Pastoral agents do not organise any training for young people. We have not supported them spiritually or intellectually. A traditional Kiswahili maxim says, “Asiye funzwa na mamaye hufunzwa na ulimwengu” which literally means if one is not taught by one’s mother (parents) one will be taught by the world. Let us remember what John the Evangelist meant when he spoke about the World and the Heavens. Imagine what can happen to the young girls who do not go to school, do not work, and have no access to training facilities during their formative years. Let us show compassion at what they have to endure today.

The new Evangelisation pushes us to be creative, inventive and to find methods adapted to help people find God in their lives. In our parish, we bought sewing machines for our single mothers and three volunteers offered to teach them sewing. We also organised different training sessions for them. Presently, they have followed sessions on empowerment (self-management) and self-financing, on the rights of women, the dignity of women and the place of the women in society, the Social Teaching of the Church on the family and women.

We are aware that the weakening of the faith and religious practice in some families affects the single mothers and leaves them more alone with their problems. Often the single mothers feel abandoned because of the lack of direct involvement and modest attention afforded them by religious and civil institutions. However, we must be grateful to these single mothers even if we do not want to encourage them. They are ready to assume the responsibilities of motherhood after their pregnancy. In a certain way one could say that they have a sense of God, of life and especially the social teaching of the Church, which does not allow abortion.

Many children are born outside of wedlock today and they grow up with only one parent. This leads to sexual exploitation, which is one of the most scandalous realities of contemporary society. Our district of Tokolote is no stranger to these sorts of situations. By helping the women, we help the innocent child at the same time.

We should not judge or exclude. We should support. Verbal, physical, and sexual violence perpetrated on single mothers in some families is deplorable. Mother Church, which has a fundamental option for the poor that includes single mothers, cannot be silent in the face of what some of its members suffer. We are not qualified persons in these matters but with the help of different professionals in our parish, we hope to bring in good fruit. We believe that by working with local priests and religious, laypeople and anybody of good will we will succeed, especially in a parish, such as ours, where the problem of tribalism seems to have very deep roots.

Let us show compassion to these single mothers, who are poor, abandoned by their partners, badly treated, abused, used as sex slaves, discouraged and without hope. Regarding what has just been said, it seems to us that it is essential we draw up a development project to help these single mothers.

A poor parish for poor people is not just nice words. In this way, we wish to put into practice the love that the Church shows towards the poor who are our brothers and sisters especially during these training sessions for single mothers in the parish of Saint Rita of Tokolote.

Elias Peter Kapange

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