Ann Marie’s Journal – Day 4

Friday, January 14, 2011 Today we went to Université Protestante au Congo (FrenchEnglish), a strong supporter of our work in DRC. The GBA Scholars Program was based at UPC and all of the Scholars enrolled at UPC during the first two years of the program while they are completing the coursework for the equivalent of their Masters degree. The UPC faculty and administration have played a key role in establishing the GBA Scholars Program at UPC.

Seeing all our old friends, joie de vous revoir!! Joy to see you again! Samy, our driver for so many years, Teddy and Dongala, with whom we had the best time in 2006! Mr. Mamba, the personification of equanimity, never disappoints me.  How wonderful to be back on campus!

A formal meeting with the UPC Administrators was exceptionally productive. It felt so great for me, personally, to give a complete report and evaluation of the GBA Scholars Program and to listen to their excellent advice. The relationship was as collegial as ever despite the fact that our champion, the Rector, Dr Ngoy was not present. I left the meeting feeling as though we had done the best we could with our first pilot (the Scholars Program) and the Comite de Gestion was saying – “well done.” I was, for the first time, able to breathe quietly and feel good about what we had accomplished under exceptionally trying circumstances between 2007 – 2010.

We then piled into cars with the Methodists and PAID staff to visit Mpasa I and the Methodist’s health clinic, and Kindobo farm, PAID's land outside Kinshasa.  At the clinic we met Mama Docteur Rebecca, who has been serving as the director of the clinic for 12 years. What an exceptional woman! She taught herself surgery because she had to and even now if she has to do surgery at night, she does it by a flashlight. Amazing resilience, how humbling for us.

Later in the our trip Docteur came to PAID to discuss regular medical visits for the orphans and students and the Mpasa II community.  PAID would be site for these health clinics.

Then, off to the Kindobo Farm with . Finally, after 4 years of having heard about this 125 hectare plot of land, I am able to see it with my own eyes.   Kindobo Farm is 125 hectares PAID owns and wants to farm. The vision is that the farm would provide a source of food, income and training for the orphanage and school.  It’s beautiful but a long ways off the main road and the soil is poor.  Still, this remains a min d’or (goldmine).

Kindobo Farm

Currently less than 1 hectare is under cultivation.  A local farmer is growing Cassava, a staple food in DRC.  The leaves and root, aka manioc, are the edible parts of the cassava.

Cassava plant growing at Kindobo Farm.


The case of Juselin, part 2

Juselin is the smart, bright, and entrepreneurial young man we met on our first day in DRC.  He wants to create a garden at PAID and in his youthfulness, he says he can, with great confidence.  He is a PAID-GBA “success story” – a young man, placed in a good foster home, enterprising, carrying on his foster grandmother’s legacy, growing beautiful greens next to the river to sell. He says he wants to make a garden at PAID to “give back” – because of what PAID gave him as an orphan. It’s another manifestation of hope and faith. I am captivated by this young man’s ingenuity and self confidence.

But here he is, having gotten a little 15 year old girl pregnant – what chance does this enterprising young man actually have? What will keep him from not having more children condemning him further in a cycle of poverty? He can’t make much money on his little garden plots. He needs Koko Katie to put some sense into him but Koko Katie is gone and he is on his own – though he still spends a lot of time at the orphanage playing with the kids and talking with the staff – hours and hours, esp at night, in the peacefulness of the night when we sit around telling stories…

How can you possibly articulate the horror of a 15 yr. old mother and an 18yr. old father bringing their little child to me, so malnourished and suffering from malaria that her tiny little limbs are limp, so limp they simply flop when held up and allowed to fall?  The child was blistering hot, I tried to give her water. She did drink but according to her parents, she had not eaten for 2 weeks. Why had they not sought help?? I asked. "We did not have the money…"

So we walked to St Angel, a Catholic health clinic about 1.5 kms away.  Because of my white skin and, I suppose, the utter absurdity of seeing a mondele actually “living” in Mpasa made enough of an impression on the staff at St. Angel’s that despite the fact that the clinic was closed, they opened their doors to this little one and examined her.  The diagnosis:  malaria, malnutrition, and extreme anemia.  You have to take her to the hospital closer to town – about 15 km away.  We cannot help her here!

So, Juselin and the 15 yr old mother, set out to walk to the main road to find a taxi to go to the hospital where they spent the night, outside, while their little girl received a blood transfusion.  It turns out that to get blood, you have to give it, so not only did Juselin and his “wife” have to carry their little one to the hospital so far away, they also had to give their own blood.  Blood that will likely not be screened for the many illnesses present (malaria, AIDS, TB).  With the money I gave them, they were able to pay the hospital but what would they have done if I had not been there.  This little one would almost surely have died – like the, what – 58% of Congolese children under the age of 5 who die from malaria every year? This little girl was not statistic to me. She was beautiful, though almost lifeless, she still struggled to live.

Juselin - A case that proves the point, part 1

I have described GBA under our new programming direction as primarily an education NGO moving tentatively into development.  Visits to PAID and other schools in January the connection between education and development are very clear.  Students carry water with them to school, partial payment for their education.  They study beneath a roof rent open and unrepaired following a large storm.  They may only eat one meal a day.

Our goal of Giving Back, teaching service learning, community service, can combine education and development such that students better their community while they learn to be leaders in their community.  We met Juselin on our second day in the DRC.  His story highlights how great things often come with great difficulties.

Juselin came to PAID as an orphan.  Three years ago he was adopted by Koko Katie, a "Grandmother" in Mpasa II.  Mama Katie taught Juselin all about gardening and he was so proud to explain to us how he kept the production of the greens he planted throughout the year.  He was proud of his work and attributed all of his learning to Koko Katie.

Now 18, Juselin knows how to garden!  He brings pig manure from a nearby farm to amend hisraised beds, layering it with organic material and rotating crops for diversity and continual growing.  Seeing his work we brainstormed what it would take to build a garden, a microenterprise business that could also produce food for the orphans.

For $150, Juselin estimates he could create a 400 sq. ft., with manure, and seeds/plants on-site at the orphanage.  The benefits of a garden are many.  Fresh vegetables can feed the orphans, can be sold at the market and teach the kids agriculture in a community setting, imparting useful vocational and leadership skills.  He was game, wants to Give Back, to the orphanage that raised him and spread the knowledge learned from family that took him !

Ann Marie's Journal - Day 2

Wed Jan 12

A very long day, hot and filled with emotion… As we drove the 30+ km to PAID, the orphanage and school in the Mpasa II neighborhood, I found the same emotions hitting me as they always do – the pulsing “vie de Kinshasa” is so overwhelming you are simultaneously exhilarated by an amazing, almost palpable spirit of survival against all odds and repulsed by the conditions under which most Congolese are forced to survive.  This poverty is a brutal kind of lifestyle that demands justice. But how? Where is the justice for most Congolese? Masena, one of the poorest, vast, and crammed neighborhoods of Kinshasa teems with people, bartering, yelling, laughing, running, making life work even as the rented car we drive snakes its way through masses of humanity. A city of 10 million – Kinshasa never stops!

Marty and Michael see PAID for the first time; Jim sees it again after 3 years. I return remembering with mixed emotions the last time I stayed here for three days with Rick, one of our board members, and two of the GBA Scholars. That was Nov 2009.  Not much has changed except one HUGE disappointment – the well that provided such gushing clean water in Nov 09 stands as a dead reminder that nothing lasts. It is locked, rusted, and sad.  The well is broken. It is the same old story, no money to maintain it, no money to fix it…

How wonderful to see Mamas Eliza and Bebe again; these two women are the true servant leaders at PAID caring for the 20 orphans from morning to night.  I remembered most of the orphans by name except for 4 new children, each so small; Enoch (8 yrs old), Alain and Exorce brothers (5 and 6—Exorce is adorable), Dorcas (a quiet troubled young 8 yr. old). What chance do they have – it’s the question that haunts me continually.

We visited the orphanage, each classroom, and then had a great “get to know you” meeting with the 4 administrators at PAID: Jackson Babese (who I grew up with), President of PAID; Rodin Mabingi, Exec Director of the whole PAID Center, Pasteur Jean, an exceptionally bright and committed student at the Protestant University of Congo who is the principal caretaker of the orphanage and accountant for PAID, and Director Willy Wasido, Director of the PAID Primary School. What a collegial and fun time it was. We sat in Pasteur Jean’s bedroom/office with the breeze gently blowing in the window.  I felt happy. Is this the beginning of partnership – being real with each other despite the white/black – we have the same blood, right?

A walk around the Mpasa neighborhood helped to place PAID in its own context. This is an exceptionally poor, peri-urban refugee area without any obvious coherence or sense of community. Yet, surely, I thought, there has to be some way people survive together.  The gardens by the stream about 1km away from PAID are one bright spot, and all the little gardens scattered here and there near the cement shacks of local neighbors; these little gardens surviving like the people who farm them are a reminder that there is always hope.

I was so looking forward to seeing Mama Katie again. In Nov 09 on our last trip, I fell in love with this “Koko” (grandmother) who had taken in two orphans from PAID, Juselin (now 18 yrs old) and a young 8 yr old girl. Koko Katie taught Juselin all about gardening and he was so proud to explain to us how he kept the production of the greens he planted throughout the year.  He was proud of his work and attributed all of his learning to Koko Katie.

I fell in love with Koko Katie in Nov 2009 when she literally marched up to me when we came to see the farm plots by the river yelling and pointing her finger in my face – “what good does it do for you white people to come here and look at us when you don’t offer anything. What are you going to do about this—look at how we barely survive?” She did not mince words. We became “friends.” I was so looking forward to seeing her again and to give her a present I had brought for her.  They said,

Mama Katie is dead.

Now it starts – the realities are sinking in, realities so easy to forget in my wonderful little warm house in Bloomington.

I found out she had become sick and died just a few months ago. Even though she was a Koko, she wasn’t that old, my age or even younger.  Juselin, her adopted orphan, was keeping her gardens alive despite her death. This is just one of the thousands of images that fill my mind with wonder and hope in the midst of the sadness that comes over me in nauseas waves.

Strengthening partnerships for community development

Our recent trip again highlights the plight of this forgotten country and its youth.  Images and perceptions in are complex, even more complex when viewed from our US base. By traveling to the DRC we sought to validate our perceptions of the school and orphanage operated by our partner PAID in the surrounding Mpasa II community as the site for our youth empowerment curriculum and development projects.

Meeting of PAID and GBA

The main image I have from this trip was the affirmation of our process, refined with our new board members, of strengthening our partnership with PAID and implementing a community based development program. It is hard to prepare a mode of evaluation for a project this complex but the time spent designing a culturally sensitive yet incisive plan was very effective. It opened a new level of understanding and dialogue between GBA and the PAID staff.  We all feel more secure of our process while still being realistic about the difficulties.

And the statistics from the previous post highlight the importance of strong partnerships.  They are on display every minute in every corner of Congo yet the people maintain an incredible spirit and vitality and life pulses every second.

Live from DRC

This inaugural post finds a team of Giving Back to Africa board members and staff in the Democratic Republic of Congo meeting with our partners and gathering information for our next steps.  If you've read our newsletter from September 2010 you know we completed the Scholars Program and embarked on an evaluation of our last three years,

This past summer has been one of reflection, evaluation, and reorientation – both for the GBA Scholars and for the GBA Board of Directors. We’ve celebrated Masani and Malivo’s graduation from the GBA Scholars Program, evaluated their experience and the potential of their Giving Back Projects, and worked with a team of experts and new board members to design a new strategic direction for GBA programs in the coming years. As always, we are motivated toward our mission by the faith and effort of our Congolese partners.

--SANGO MALAMU GOOD NEWS FROM GBA Volume 3, Issue 2 September 2010

The results of our evaluation affirmed our mission of educating young people to become servant-leaders capable of taking control of their own lives while serving as change agents in their local communities and throughout the nation.  Moving from the university setting, we will shift our efforts to younger children, in primary and secondary schools.  Further, we are exploring how to combine our education mission with more traditional development goals, recognizing the importance of nutrition, health and a quality learning environment to a good education.

Taking these next steps in our mission required a trip to Congo.

And so, on January 11 Ann Marie Thomson, Jim Calli, co-founders of GBA, Marty Moore, GBA board member, and Michael Valliant, Administrative Director, arrived in Kinshasa on a research trip, gathering the information necessary to implement a youth empowerment curriculum.  We meet our partner PAID, numerous nongovernmental organizations, schools and others to strengthen partnerships, create others and increase our understanding about how to work in the DRC.