Hope for the Forgotten Villages of Kisunka (DRC)

Walking 15 km to the nearest school in a neighboring city is considered a blessing for those who can afford to attend a school in the first place.  For many families living in Kisunka, where there has not been a school for the past twenty years, the cost of education is simply beyond their means.    

Kisunka, a cluster of remote villages in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is trapped in a cycle of hopelessness. It is so remote and difficult for non-profit organizations to enter that it has been all but completely forgotten. The five villages that make up Kisunka lack access to clean drinking water, education, health care, and sustainable work. These circumstances all contribute to an overall hopelessness shared among the approximately 5,000 villagers. Everyone is focused on oneself, not because the people are selfish but because each one is struggling to survive.  One old man summed up this sentiment this way, “No one notices when someone is busy dying; they only pay attention when someone dies.”

The cycle begins with the basic but unmet need for a reliable source of clean drinking water. Though the Kisunka community shares two wells, both are reduced to mud during the dry season. Because the wells are open, if anything such as a sick animal falls in, it poisons the well and spreads disease throughout the entire community. When people in the community do get sick there is no local clinic in which to receive care, and villagers must travel 15 km to the nearest health center.  This long distance means that villagers who need urgent health care often die on their way to the clinic, creating orphans of their children.

Kisunka survives on farming maize and cassava, but with the rising costs of farming materials combined with poor farming techniques, the harvests yield barely enough for villagers to survive.  Members of the community may take on other menial tasks or try to fish in Changalele, a large lake nearby that is well-known for its good fishing. At the same time, the good fishing also means that large numbers of seasonal workers travel to the area for fishing and other trade.  As is common in other areas of sub-Saharan Africa, this has led to the sexual exploitation of those who are most desperate for survival, such as orphaned young girls, contributing to the spread of HIV/AIDS.

The story of John is typical in Kisunka, where young children bear the burden of providing for their families, thus sacrificing their own education and future for day-to-day survival. John is a 13-year-old orphaned boy from a family of five in Kimboyi, a village in Kisunka. He lost his father to tuberculosis when he was 9 years old.  After this loss, John and his other siblings, together with their mother, were forced to go and stay with their granny, as the father’s relatives took all their possessions after his death. The boy’s mother was sickly but still remarried after 4 years.  Unfortunately this didn’t improve the situation for the family as her new husband wouldn’t allow her to bring her children to live with them. 

John only went to school up to grade 3, and has not attended since the death of his father due to the inability to pay school fees.  Instead, he is wandering in the field trying to help his granny with farming.  Sometimes when farming is not doing well, he will go to Lake Changalele at the edge of the village to try fishing in order to support his family.

Hands at Work is supporting local Christian leaders within the vulnerable community of Kisunka who are already demonstrating a passion to serve the poor and broken among their neighbors.  Hands at Work is helping these leaders to develop a locally-owned organization in their community and beginning a long-term relationship of service and partnership, where we continually work to increase the organization’s capacity to provide care in an effective and holistic manner.  Are you interested in partnering with Hands at Work by advocating for Kisunka within your church, family, or group of friends?  Visit www.handsatwork.org/advocate or email our partnerships coordinator in the U.S. at brooke@us.handsatwork.org.