From Canada to South Africa to the Democratic Republic of the Congo: Follow Todd and Katie, a Canadian couple who have been serving with Hands at Work for the last six months, here as they travel to support the Hands at Work Congo team.
Hello, my name is Todd.
In a few days my wife, Katie, and I will find ourselves aboard a plane bound for Lubumbashi, a city near the area in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where we will spend the majority of the next four months. Unfortunately, we must get off the plane halfway to our destination in Zambia where we will be meeting our Congolese comrades. If there is one thing we’ve learned since being in Africa, no plan should ever be assumed as final. So we had to make some adjustments. Before I get carried away with where we are going, I should talk about where we came from.
Katie and I had an interesting dating experience: I think if we counted the time we were in the same city, or even same country, our four years of dating could be consolidated into one. I spent time traveling playing music and she made three trips to Africa. I knew before I said, “I do” that I would one day, in the not-so-distant future, inevitably follow her here. We came to Hands at Work upon recommendation of a few friends who have spent time with the organisation.
When I searched the website, I noticed the list of countries that are involved. Congo stuck out to me immediately for a few reasons. The practical one being that their main language is “le Français”, a language I have been attempting to learn for years. I wouldn’t mind the kick in the proverbial pants that living in a country dominated by it offers. The less legitimate reason being simply that when I was a child I saw a documentary about gorillas that was filmed in the Congo. I’ve never forgotten it, and I’m sure it’s one of my earliest memories. That’s got to be significant, right?
Katie and I have been in Africa for almost six months. Most of our time has been spent in South Africa where the hustle and bustle of Hands at Work life is evident. We’ve been observing and learning at every opportunity although, through it all, the Congo has never left our thoughts. When we first arrived, it was in the back of our mind as possibly an option. Since then, the Congo scraped and clawed its way straight to the front.
Towards the end of last year, with only a few days notice, we took off to meet Erick (Hands at Work Congo coordinator) and his team at the service centre (a Hands at Work satellite office) in Likasi. Our two weeks in the Congo felt more like two months because everything slowed down. Deadlines suddenly had less importance than relationships.
We spent mornings in the small office greeted warmly by Angel, the service centre bookkeeper, as well as a breeze that brought with it the all-too-familiar smell of the 100 chickens living in the adjacent room. The team was raising them as a way of learning how to generate income and teach people they work with the skills to do the same. The plan was to sell them around Christmas, so we hopefully won’t have to deal with them when we arrive there this time around. The Hands at Work team in the Congo, Angel, Erick, George and Ruth, shared their dreams of ways to see their communities changed in 2011, as we planned trainings and calculated budgets accordingly.
In the afternoons Erick took us to spend time with care workers in Toyota community who are running a school and feeding point for 200 orphaned children, in Kambove where home visits are just beginning, and two other communities that have many people willing to start dealing with many needs but just need the right tools and training to do it. Katie and I both felt like we had stumbled into a vast situation that was at the same time exciting and overwhelming.
The vastness of the situation in the Congo was compounded for me as I read about the country’s history. The problems are not at once completely obvious, because they hide in 120 years of oppression. In 1890 King Leopold II of Belgium began tearing through the Congo seizing ivory, rubber and any other resources using the majestic Congo River as a highway to haul everything back to Europe. He killed millions of Congolese while he became one of the richest men in the world. Now, I realize something that happened over 100 years ago is sometimes hard to relate to, but as I read more and more about this country I was constantly waiting for a resolution to the story where everything suddenly turned around and good triumphed over evil. Unfortunately for the Congo, that time never came. Leader after leader they get taken advantage of. Even now, wars and illegal mining activity are taking away the massive potential of a country that has never had a chance to overcome the dictators that control it.
The only consolation is the promise of new life coming to the communities we saw. As Katie and I prepare to go back, we know we are only going for a short time. We think of faces and names of children that we met last time and know there are people meeting their needs and fighting for them in an environment that does not make life easy. We understand that those are the people that will change the future for the children in their communities and, while we can walk along side them assisting with day to day plans, financial reports, paper work, maybe a little hard labor in the equatorial sun and a healthy does of relationship and encouragement, at the end of the day we will go home. The only way we can do that is by trusting that the people we are working with will continue.