May, 26th 2011: In April and May Katie and I have had some Canadian visitors. Guiding them through town, to the community, and introducing them to the small life we have created for ourselves here brought us much pride. We spent a few weeks with them accomplishing a number of ambitious projects that we may not have had the courage to attempt without them alongside us.
We built some benches for the children in a community called Kikula. The wood was expensive so we strapped it to an old bike and pushed it across town to save the transport fee. It created more of a spectacle than we expected. For days we were approached on the street by people laughing and talking about le bois et le velo (the wood and the bike). We didn’t want the children to have to sit in the dirt while they are eating, six days a week, at their community feeding point which is provided with leadership by a lady called Maman Dada (this is the same lady who fetched us from the airport at 3am when our plane was delayed). She gives us a hard time about not being able to speak Swahili, but often flatters us with an abundance of compliments when introducing us to her friends. We can easily do the same for her!
We also started a garden in our backyard. Erick, who we live and work with, wants to start encouraging other people to begin gardens of their own to provide a sustainable and continuous source of food, but he finds telling people what to do without doing it yourself often develops into a disaster. With many different kinds of seeds and not a whole lot of experience, we began digging. With every shovel full of stones and half-decomposed garbage we became more and more skeptical of the possibility of success. Despite those fears, a couple weeks later we saw the beginnings of some very courageous and resilient veggies that are showing us that the Congolese people are not the only ones who can thrive in less than ideal environment.
We also took the opportunity to use the vocational skills of a few friends that are teachers back home in Canada. Technically they told the Congolese border that they were missionaries, not teachers, but we couldn’t resist. They made coloring sheets for the kids to learn numbers, the alphabet, and French words to correspond with each letter. We notice cultural differences even in these small activities, because when we gave them as many colors as they wanted to encourage creativity, their teacher thought they were being too messy so he gave them one crayon at a time and instructed them not to mix colors together. Shortly after this when my friend Carey and I were washing dishes we had an audience of nearly 100 children. Apparently they were shocked to see to men, especially white men, doing work they deemed the work of a lady.
We sincerely thank Carey, Alissa, Kristal, Willis, and Thom for their friendship, for the work they did with us, and for the encouragement it provided. We will treasure these shared experiences long after our time in Africa ends.
June, 15th 2011: I remember, before I left Canada over a year ago, thinking to myself that the only way I could possibly survive being away for this long would be for Todd and I to build meaningful community in Africa. And luckily that is exactly what has happened. The team here in the Congo and the community volunteers quickly adopted us in as family. One man in particular sticks out to me and his story is what I want to share with you.
His name is Papa Kabongo. We can always spot him in a crowd because he is always wearing the most brightly patterned shirts, the true Congo way. He moved with his family to Kambove a few years ago to take a job as a Primary School directeur or principal.
Kambove is a mining town that was thriving 20 years ago causing an influx of people, but due to political issues the industry has since plummeted leaving many families without any source of work. This has resulted in decaying infrastructure and extreme poverty. And in any situation of poverty it is always the children who are left most vulnerable.
As principal, Kabongo was confronted with the large number of orphans who were approaching him for assistance because they could not afford to go to school. As he became involved in their lives he started developing a heart for the orphaned children in his community and a dream began to grow to see them receiving care, support and education in order that their futures are filled with hope.
Partnered with Hands at Work, Kabongo and his group of volunteers started caring for the orphans in the poorest area of Kambove called Kiwewe. They have been reaching out to 50 orphaned and vulnerable children providing them with food, basic health care and education, and are expanding to care for 100 orphans next month.
Over our time here we have continually felt gravitated towards Kabongo because of his warm personality and big smile. Last week Todd and I had the opportunity of staying with him and his family. It was more fun than we could have ever imagined. Their kindness and hospitality was overwhelming. When we would play card games with his kids, he would always be asking “Champion?” wondering who was winning. At one point they all broke into singing the Congolese national anthem and Todd found the lyrics so he attempted to sing along too.
They made us delicious food and laughed when we ate bukari: the Congolese name for the African staple maize dish known as pap, ugali, nshima among other things. Whenever we would be walking in the community Kabongo would try and trick Todd by asking him where we were, for some reason he found this very amusing to see if we were oriented to where his school, house and so on were. It’s just some of these little simple interactions that brought has such joy and is leaving us with fond memories of our time there.
During the day we got to spend time doing home visits to the orphans' houses, many of whom we got to visit for the second time. We also visited the school where the orphan children are attending this year for the first time. It was truly an honour to be there.
As we were preparing to leave Todd told Kabongo that he is like our Congolese Father and it is so true. The wisdom he shows in how he lives and his heart to care for others has been such an example to us. One illustration of this was when he gave Todd the shirt of his back as a parting gift, as Todd had mentioned earlier that he liked it. Todd found this act so meaningful, a representation of the type of man Kabongo is. God has truly used him to make an impact in the lives of so many people in his community, and also in our lives too.