Tina and her siblings were struggling with their health when they were discovered by the local volunteer Care Workers from the Maisha Community Based Organisation (CBO). Initially, Tina couldn’t play, and rarely smiled. Her hair was falling out, her belly was protruding and her feet were swollen; all symptoms that she was severely malnourished.
Through serving with Hands at Work, I have learned what it means to forgive. A few years ago, I felt the Holy Spirit telling me to forgive my auntie and pray a prayer of forgiveness. I was able to talk with her and release the bitterness and bondage that I had in my heart. Afterwards I felt joy and a new sense of connection with her.
In February 2017, Emerance, a dedicated local volunteer Care Worker, from the Maisha Community Based Organisation (CBO) was passing by the fields and noticed four young children working in the field and Liu laying lifeless in her great-grandmother’s lap; helpless and severally malnourished. Emerance acted out of compassion and urgency and took the children directly to the Care Point, so they could receive a meal that day. She knew that if they did not eat, there was a possibility that they would not survive.
Care Workers are the key in bringing healing and transformation to the lives of our children. They are men and women from the local churches within our communities who recognize their Biblical mandate and answer their call to care for the most vulnerable children. They demonstrate what it means to give freely, love unconditionally, and sacrifice everything. Often, Care Workers face their own traumas and live in dire poverty, just as the children they care for do, but their determination to persevere and care despite their own circumstances challenges everyone they come into contact with. They are greatest in the Kingdom of God!
Just a few weeks ago, Blessings had the opportunity to return to the DRC and visit Praise again. He shares an update about him and says, “This year Praise turned three. Last year when I met him, he was very sick – at two years old he was not able to stand on his own. I had very little hope that he would make it in life. We surrounded him with prayer and interceded, but I still had little hope, and doubt overwhelmed my heart.
Praise’s grandmother Bertha began caring for him, but she was desperately poor and trying to survive. Praise was hungry - continually crying. People in the community said he would die and tried to put ritual charms around him but Bertha refused and knew God would provide. After her husband passed away many years ago, she said she learned to trust God throughout any hardship.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is infamously known as one of the poorest, most dysfunctional, and warn torn countries in the world. Erick Rukang, Hands at Work Leader in Likasi, DRC, reflects on the region around Goma:
Valentina* is only 7 years old, yet most of her life has been spent struggling to survive. When her father passed away, her mother was left with five children to care and provide for. In the extremely poor community of Kitabataba, finding income to buy food is almost impossible for the most vulnerable families.
At Hands at Work, our volunteers are called by God from all over the world. Each of us has a unique story of how we were transformed when we stepped out in faith and were obedient to His call. Erick says, “God was speaking to me and clearly showed me a vision of me working with vulnerable children in my country.”
Kasongo’s story could have ended with her wandering the streets of Kikula with her siblings, desperately trying to survive. With no means of supporting herself, Kasongo began to suffer physically from a lack of food. The trauma of her father dying and the rejection of her mother abandoning her have left deep scars in this young girl.
The vision of Hands at Work is to see the local Church in Africa effectively caring for the most vulnerable, and unified in this mission with the Church outside Africa. The second part is just as vital as the first. Outside of Africa, support comes from churches, volunteers, advocates, prayer warriors, businesses and more. When people give, and give sacrificially, to the most vulnerable children in Africa, there is transformation happening on both sides: the giver and the receiver. And when people understand that they are blessed to be a blessing, they give freely.
A Church Story
Daphne with a Care Worker in Oshoek, South AfricaIn Australia, Daphne has been a friend of Hands for over 10 years. She has supported our work and been a voice for the children of Africa in her community, even when she was often the sole voice. But her endurance has been honoured by God. Daphne came to Africa to serve with Hands on the Short Team Service Team in July 2013. When she returned to her church in Perth, and having invited George Snyman to speak to her congregation, they began to support a community. Heart City Church is now supporting 25 children in Welverdiend, South Africa, with the hope to increase this number even further in the future. Heart City Church joins the Sunbury group, also from Australia, who support a further 75 children in Welverdiend at Pfunani Community Based Organisation. Heart City Church is now hoping to send their first team in September 2014 to experience Africa as Daphne has. We praise God for her dedication and His work in the hearts of so many people in Australia.
A Business Story
We are often inspired by how one person’s story of Africa can create a ripple effect. In the US, Lauren Lee, who works as part of the Hands US International Office, shared her passion for the children of Africa with her friend Bill. Bill works for Microsoft and this company has a program where they will potentially match funding for charities. Lauren encouraged Bill to apply to this matching program and his application was successful! Bill contributed 5,000 USD and Microsoft matched this funding, allowing 10,000 USD to be donated to Hands at Work, specifically to the Malawi Service Centre! This support is an amazing example of how we can each use our influence and voice to advocate for the most vulnerable children.
An Advocate Story
Jacob Erick with new friends in AfricaIn September 2010, Todd and Katie Wells served in the Democratic Republic of Congo for 7 months, living with Pastor Erick, our Hands at Work Congolese leader. As they returned to Canada, they knew their hearts would never be the same. When they gave birth to their son, they named him Jacob Erick, after the pastor whose life had inspired them. They also decided to raise funds for the community of Kitabataba in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where children were receiving home visits from Care Workers, but had no food security, access to education, or basic health care. In the beginning it was quite difficult. People who had not been to Africa did not understand the level of urgency. But in His mighty faithfulness, God gave Todd and Katie the strength to persevere, and they secured support for 50 children. In September 2013, Todd and Katie returned to the Congo and visited Kitabataba where they witnessed the transformation that has happened over the past couple of years. They could see the part that their support had played, but what impacted them more deeply was seeing the servant hearts of the Care Workers who had become like parents to the 50 children of Nyota Community Based Organisation. They could see Erick’s influence everywhere as the Care Workers displayed his same compassion and love. Also, Erick had the opportunity to meet baby Jacob in Zambia for the first time! Todd and Katie and their friends and family are now increasing the number of children they support to 75 children. This commitment requires sacrifice, but it is a sacrifice that is building God’s kingdom.
As the lives of the children we give to are changed, our own hearts experience a deeper understanding of how God has given everything to us. He gave us His son. “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)
This Christmas, may we give thanks with a grateful heart.
Since the first invasion into the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), almost 2 decades ago, more than 5 million people have died in the deadliest conflict the world has seen since the Second World War. It’s an incomprehensible truth when one stops to consider the scale. Each one known to somebody. Each with a face and a name. Each with a story to tell of a life lived or yet to be lived. The Congo is a beautifully vast and mineral-rich landscape in central Africa but it also bears the scars of wars that have raged for many years and are continuing to terrorise its people. Half of Congo’s inhabitants are under 14 and have only ever known war.
Furaha was born in Goma, in Eastern Congo. At just 4 years old, Furaha’s entire existence has been characterised by instability. She is a refugee in her own country, running constantly from the threat of rebel invasion and oppression. The war killed her father. Furaha and her mother desperately sought shelter with other war widows and their children, but food was scare and access to even basic medical supplies was impossible. Desperation is written all over Furaha’s face and yet, Furaha could not be picked out of a crowd. There are millions of children just like her.
In Goma, tens of thousands of people are displaced and find themselves in over-run and unsafe refugee camps which offer little protection or provision for the traumatised and vulnerable. People are too scared to return to their destroyed villages and too damaged by the brutality and oppression they have suffered at the hands of rebels. Women, left traumatised by abuse and rape, bear deep emotional scars, and carry, too, the resultant children. Used as a cruel and barbaric instrument of war, rape will give birth to a new generation of children who will be born into brokenness and chaos.
In one of the refugee camps lives our own ‘Mother Theresa’. A lady whose compassion for the orphaned singled her out in her own village. In Luhonga , a village on the outskirts of Goma, she fought for the children the world does not know. The ones who have only ever known fear. She was there when these children gathered in a hut, all desperate and all terrorised, for their first ever plate of nutritious food. Women like this are named by Hands at Work as ‘Mother Theresa’ because their desire to bring hope and life stands in contradiction to their environment, to their own stories of brutal abuse and to the threat that constantly surrounds them. They are light and life to the most vulnerable. And yet, our Mother Theresa from Luhonga is not in her village caring for the children she has been called to serve. She is too afraid. She remains in the refugee camp and is terrified of returning to her home for fear of another invasion.
And yet, the world is unaware. A raging conflict, on a world-war scale, rages in the Congo. And the faces of those most affected are unknown to the world: The children kidnapped to become child soldiers, joining a military regime that killed their own parents, and thousands of women who fled their own homes after they were raped and abused, many of whom had witnessed their own husbands, sons and neighbours being slaughtered.
Hands at Work are 100% committed to reaching the poorest and most vulnerable people in Africa today. And these people include little girls like Furaha and our ‘Mother Theresa’s’ in the DRC. We will stand up for them and make their stories known. We will know their names. We will know their faces. And we will fight for them.
Will you join us?
In Goma, we are working in 2 villages, Luhonga and Buhimba, where poverty and the number of orphans is extremely high, and support services and levels of safety and protection is very low. The threat of rebel invasion and displacement is constant.
But you can join us by doing something amazing with your VOICE, your RESOURCES and your TIME to serve the most vulnerable people in the DRC and across Africa.
PRAY for children like Furaha and for peace to prevail across the DRC.
SPEAK UP for the men and women who are trying to care for the most vulnerable in their communities and tell others about what is happening in Goma.
To learn more about what it means to ‘speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves’ in countries across Africa, visit our Advocate page.
SUPPORT Hands at Work financially to ensure we can continue to travel into the DRC and to support the work in the poorest villages with the most vulnerable children.
To give towards our work in the DRC or to find out more, contact Hands at Work in Africa: firstname.lastname@example.org
Catherine Clarkson is a long-term volunteer with Hands at Work in Africa. In 2010 she chose to leave her comfortable life in the UK to come and serve and live with the Hands at Work community near White River, South Africa. After three years she continues to learn about what it is means to live a life of servanthood. This is her reflection.
There is an old African saying: ‘It takes a village to raise a child’. I can report the truth of this, at least in my limited experience. Our communities across Africa are over-burdened and overwhelmed by the sheer number of orphaned children and of their deep needs. I have come to realise that the answer for the most vulnerable children is not a sponsorship scheme or even the resources from external sources, but a locally-owned, locally-planned and locally-executed approach. Africa’s future lies with its people. For them to stand up and be counted, to raise their voices above the chaos and to make a difference will ensure the sustainability of this beautiful continent. Of course, I passionately believe that others are called to join in this story and to give a ‘helping hand’ to lift up our brothers and sisters, that is why I am here, doing this work, …and, of course, there are many organisations that exist to provide direct funding and services to children, doing a much needed work – but I no longer believe that this is the only answer.
I’d like to share with you a story that challenged me deeply. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, a group of local men (Care Workers) were showing our Hands at Work Coordinator, Erick, around their community and they came across a boy who was dying. Severely malnourished and suffering from acute malaria, the boy had perhaps hours left to live. Erick struggled hugely to see a precious child suffering in this way, and enquired about what could be done to save him. The local Care Workers looked at each other and drew a blank – they saw the situation, felt compassion, but had no idea of how to respond. As poor men themselves, they had no resources to get the child to a clinic and no medical experience either. Erick desperately wanted to do everything he could to immediately save the boy, but, for the sake of the future of the community and the boy’s future too, he chose not to. He spoke directly and strongly to the Care Workers: ‘If you don’t come up with a solution, this boy, your child, will die.’ Then he bit his lip, said a silent, desperate prayer and left.
When I first heard this story, I felt a whole mix of emotions: sadness about the situation that is more common than I wish it was, fear, frustration.
Faced with the imminent reality of losing a child, the Care Workers came together and formed a plan to get the child to the clinic. It involved a wheelbarrow, the physical strength of them all to push in relay and the combined resources of many people. The boy lived.
Reading this story over and over, I realised that beyond the obvious truth that the Care Workers needed to take ownership for the situation themselves, there was another truth. The scale of suffering in Africa is extraordinary. Every single day 6000 children lose their parents to HIV/AIDS—that’s 180,000 per month. Brutal abuse, rape, torture, kidnapping, child soldiers and poverty are all around and it’s tough to even comprehend that there might be a solution. The truth is that it makes me fearful to even hope that there might be an end to the suffering. But one thing is for sure: the answer, deep down, and long-term, does not stand with me or with any single organisation. The response and the hope for tomorrow lies with the people of Africa. We, as Hands at Work, are called to play a privileged role today in lifting the arms of our brothers and sisters. We can teach, build, capacitate, encourage, strengthen, guide, equip, challenge, correct, suggest and support the work that God has called us to today. But the answer still lies much more locally than I will ever have the privilege of living. It takes a village – in all its richness, complexity and diversity – to raise a child, not only capable of living tomorrow, but of thriving and of giving back to the next generation.
Our Hands at Work community has a saying of our own: ‘we are’ before ‘we do’. We hold on to the truth that it is not, first and foremost, about what we have to offer and what skills we bring, but it is about who we are, as Christ-filled, compassionate, humble and meek people, that really makes a difference. I will say it again just how honoured I am to be a part of Hands at Work and to be learning more about who I am and what my place is in the world today.
Read more on Catherine’s blog: www.catherineclarkson.com.
My name is Archange and I live in Kitabataba in the Democratic Republic of Congo. By the time I was five years old both of my parents had died. I was sent to live in many homes but no one wanted to take care of me. Everyone where I live is very poor and they do not have the money to feed another mouth. Eventually my grandparents said I could live with them. I was grateful they took me in but I was also really angry because for so many years no one wanted me. I was always just a burden, not someone’s son. Maybe my grandparents really loved me, but by this point I was so angry with everyone that I misbehaved a lot. They said I was very rebellious.
One day some adults came to my grandparents’ house. They were going through our community looking for children who needed help and they found me. When they heard that I was a naughty boy who had no parents they said they would take care of me. I would still live with my grandparents but they would come and visit me. And they do. They are Care Workers from Nyota Care Point, but to me they are my new mothers and fathers. When they visit we talk – we have talked about my behaviour and how I can grow up to be a nicer boy. They talk to me about God and how he loves me. I have been going to church and am on my church choir team.
Now I also get to eat with other children at the Care Point. We play together and I like getting to meet and know new friends. You would probably say I am a happy boy now, I smile a lot more. In this picture I am wearing my new school uniform! I am in grade 6 at Kitabataba Community School and I love school. I wish my parents were still alive but I thank God I have my grandparents and my new mothers and fathers. They really love me.
In the southern city of Likasi, Erick Rukang oversees Hands at Work’s local Service Centre operating in the DRC. His job, to form and facilitate care teams in the region’s most broken communities, demands a lot. It demands meeting with church leaders to help them discover their God-mandated responsibility to care for the orphaned and the vulnerable. It demands walking with care workers into the homes of abused and orphaned children to demonstrate building relationships that heal and transform.
The community of Toyota, 7km from the Service centre, is a place where such indispensable relationships are formed. Erick has helped mentor and train a team of local volunteer care workers who are touching and transforming lives in Toyota. The team operates a school and provides a hot, nutritious daily meal for the community’s most vulnerable children. They also visit each child in their homes.
One such child is 6-year-old Gracious who lives alone with his blind mother since his father passed away after suffering for a long time with tuberculosis, a disease closely related to HIV. Gracious’ widowed mother would have struggled to provide for even basic needs for a growing boy if not for Erick and the Toyota care worker team. But with their help, today he is a happy and healthy boy attending Grade 1 at the Toyota community school and receiving a nutritious meal 6 days per week.
What a way to arrive. Leaving the blue skies of Zambia behind us, our volunteer coordinator Dan and I stepped across the Congo border to the clapping of thunder and the sky black with rainclouds, like the weather itself was subject to border control. Having met the Hands DRC coordinator, Erick, we began the 4-hour journey through the rain and fog to the bustling city of Likasi. It was pretty precarious; at one point, we almost turned back after the car had a minor tantrum for being forced through an unexpectedly deep ‘puddle’. But we made it, largely in one piece, to Erick’s home. Our first week in DRC, we sought simply to immerse ourselves in the communities – to visit the homes of patients and orphans, to meet and encourage care workers, to join in anything and everything that God was up to around us.
Dan and I both had the honour of staying in the homes of two separate families; one in the urban community of Toyota on the outskirts of the city, and the other a rural village set deep in the Congo bush. They call it the ‘Lost Community’, because you can’t get there without getting lost somewhere along the way. It was there that I stayed with Vivian and her family. Vivian has suffered from leprosy for a long time, making her too weak to care adequately for her three children. Her two youngest children stand head and shoulders apart - one tall and healthy where the other appears stunted and thin. At a guess, I would say they were 12 and 7; it was only as I left that I discovered they were identical twins. They were so deeply embedded in poverty that they had not been able to be fed equally from the very day they were born, and for reasons I couldn’t imagine one had always received more than the other. I slept on the floor alongside the children, a chicken nestling at my feet, in a room so small that were I not there it would still have been cramped with just the 3 of them. For too long these children have lived robbed of the freedom to dream, to aspire, to look toward their future – they were far too busy simply dreaming of their next meal. Nothing so steals away dignity as when the rumblings of a hungry stomach drown out every other dream and desire. Yet hope is stirring.
Squeezed into their one-room hut, I lay squashed against a huge bag of mealy meal – their staple diet – donated from the hands of local care-workers who are, themselves, crippled by the poverty that stalks the village. With that gift, the children will not go hungry again for a long time. As the weeks went on in the DRC, I saw more and more glimmers of life breaking through the cracks. Groups of widows pooling together everything they had so that none of their children would go hungry; volunteers walking 12km to teach a class in the morning then 12km back to teach another class in the afternoon; men whom orphaned children ran to because they saw in them a father who cares.
Life is breaking through. As for me, I think I’m beginning to see what beats at the heart of Hands at Work in a way I haven’t seen before. Working in the office, walking in the community, supporting and serving in any way that I can or know how, all of it submerses you deeper into the DNA of what this family, and our purpose, is all about. It’s all about life. It’s about beautiful feet, about reclaiming the life and love for which every one of God’s kids was designed. Not one is forgotten, not one abandoned. There is not one whose fingerprint God didn’t labour over, whose hairs God didn’t count, whose future God doesn’t imagine, envision or dream about. Six weeks of orientation prepares you, teaches you, and challenges you. But it is when you step into what you were called to Africa for, whatever it might be, that you hear the heartbeat of the Father. All you have to do is throw yourself into it – strive every day to serve with fresh passion, learn from all those who have gone before you, run after what God has prepared. Don’t look to what you’ll do but to who you’ll become. Africa changes anyone who comes willing – it is for that that God called us here. And if we make a difference, if we leave a fingerprint on this amazing place, well then the privilege is ours! Of one thing I’m sure: God loves Africa.
Adam Bedford is originally from the UK and has been serving as a volunteer with Hands at Work in Africa for three months. While this concludes his journals about volunteer orientation for our newsroom, you can still follow Adam, his thoughts, and his heart for Africa on his personal blog.