FACILITATOR: Charles Bisimwa
I was born in a village called Luvungi which is in the Uvira region of South Kivu in the DRC. It is a border community, only 18 kilometers from Rwanda and 8 kilometers from Burundi. I have been around agriculture my whole life because my father and all three of his wives farmed (he was polygamous). Their land was well watered and fertile so they never felt the need of any chemicals to enhance the yields. Each of my father’s wives had her own fields of cassava and a few people who assisted them in farming activities. My father had additional fields of rice, bananas, sorghum, coffee and cotton. He also had cattle and goats. By the time I was 18 years old I could drive and plough with a tractor.
My current job as a SocioTech facilitator is a dream come true, because I have always wanted to be involved with rural development. From my earliest days, my wish has been to work with communities, for communities and in communities. Years back, when the DRC was still called Zaire and I was still a child, there was something called Institut Superieur de Development Rural (ISDR). The ISDR used to send groups of local and international youth into villages to work on agro-pastoral, poverty alleviation initiatives. I was very inspired by these visitors and from then on, that was what I wanted to do with my life. When I was a boy I didn’t know how to make it happen but I have always had faith that, if I equipped myself with knowledge, God would find a way. It took quite a long time to get there, but at SocioTech that early dream has become a reality.
I have been in South Africa for almost 22 years now, but prior to leaving the DRC, I was a teacher and I had completed two years of a degree in rural development at the University of Bukavu. As you can see, I was working towards that dream. Then we had to leave and that was not easy – my wife, Colette and I hadn’t planned to be in South Africa and there were many challenges. The first challenge was to learn English. The next challenge was how to continue my studies. And, of course, there was the challenge of how to make a living. Back in 2000, Colette and I had two small children and we were starting from nothing in a new country.
"Through it all my dream of working in rural development never left me."
Learning English was achieved literally through the grace of God. We joined an English-speaking church and through reading the Bible, interacting with fellow worshipers and praying in English, we began to develop language skills.
When I arrived in South Africa, my intention was to continue my degree in rural development, but I discovered that UNISA didn’t offer a degree that was specifically focused on rural development. The course closest to my interests was a general undergraduate community development programme, so that is what I signed up for.
Over the years I have done many things to support my family and fund my studies. I taught French, worked as a driver and then a receptionist and finally a night auditor at a hotel. The first economic activity that Colette and I undertook in South Africa, was a small business on the street in the Pretoria CBD where we sold anything and everything; cigarettes, sweets, tackies, slippers, umbrellas, you name it, we sold it. Colette and I ran that business together - if I was buying stock, she was in the street spot selling our goods, and vice versa. Throughout it all, my dream of working in rural development never left me.
"I can encourage people with my own example. "
Those years selling on the street were tough, but I truly believe that God put me there so that I could understand the challenges that small businesses face. My ability to understand those we work with at SocioTech today, is greatly enhanced by that experience. My lived experience is also backed up by business and accounting management studies through UNISA, but I think that the combination of having been there and book knowledge is very helpful. It also means I can encourage people with my own example. I hope that the village businesses I work with find encouragement, both from my teaching and from my life story. I funded my university studies working on the streets, so I know it can be done. I tell people that they need a plan and a vision, and through God everything is possible. Be honest with yourself, sell for cash, save and it can be done.
I have been a facilitator at SocioTech for a little over two years now, and I love it. It is so wonderful to work in a God-fearing company that consistently tries to do what is right. Consistent is a central word for me. We don’t just train people and then leave them without support. We see participants through all the changes and challenges that life can bring. They keep in contact and we monitor, because follow-up is the most powerful weapon.
It is so satisfying to see lives changed for the better. I don’t just mean that I like seeing people make money. I also mean that it is wonderful to see that they are touched spiritually and socially by attending the BBL training. To change the dynamics in family relations so that they work together and form powerful units for positive change, that is a wonderful way to work. To take people from no skills to skills, and then to facilitate their learning how to manage a business and save money, so that tomorrow they can achieve their dreams.
I love that everyone can be incorporated into the SocioTech way of working.
A lot of people who have known only rejection go with us on this journey, and it is wonderful being able to take someone from growing something for the first time today, to a business, and on into financial liberation because of what we do.
When you go into a community to work you also become one with them. You learn so many things. You have to understand the way that they communicate. You need to know their pain. It can be a challenge, because there are a lot of hurt people out there.
People are angry and sad and sometimes they start the process by being cross with you, the facilitator. You can’t do this kind or work without praying and getting counselling from God.
I always pray: ‘God give me the wisdom to serve these people with skill.’ Serving and becoming one with communities is not the same as being overly attached. My hope for participants is always that they are independent in their success. I am always a phone call away and I will always assist where there are challenges, but the less they need me the happier I am.
If participants become overly attached and only work when you the facilitator arrive, they are missing the point. You don’t want them to be like wheelbarrows that you must always push. They must become the person that pushes their own wheelbarrow through life. It is such a good feeling when you see that happening.
Working for SocioTech has changed me. The more you learn, the more you can learn. I know that I have to live what I teach before I can implement it, so that is what I do in my family life. We practice the SocioTech core principles in our lives. My children know how to prepare and treat soil. They know how to work together and cooperate to achieve their goals. I feel blessed to be doing the work I do, because I also benefit from the teaching – engaging with the principles daily keeps me focused on the right way.
When I work, it is not teacher and pupil so much as a mutual sharing, encouraging process. We encourage each other, and together we will progress spiritually, emotionally, financially towards a better future.