Saturday, March 29, 2008

City of Hope

Camp by the River

When ever we would drive out of Kinshasa towards the airport we would pass an area that was very dilapidated. The river bank was covered with lean-tos covered with plastic and palm leaves. There were hundreds of people and everyone was dressed in rags. The area looked very desolate even compared to the poor areas of Kinshasa. We wondered who were those people and why were they all gathered on the river in such terrible conditions. We asked several people and were told that these were displaced persons, or refuges, who had come to Kinshasa from the eastern part of the Congo fleeing the violence of that area. Many were widows, orphans and people who had been injured in the wars.
There wasn’t much sympathy among the citizens we talked to and they said that the government was taking care of them. Each time we would drive by my heart went out and I wondered if they had any medical care, how were they avoiding cholera and malaria, were they working or earning any money or were they starving. This was not an area you could just stop in and ask questions as it is not safe to tread into these areas especially when you don’t know the circumstances or understand the language.
Then last Oct. 25th Kinshasa was hit with the heaviest rainstorm that the area had experienced since 1969. There was a lot of flooding and at least 30 lives were lost. We were unable to travel to our assigned ward in the suburbs as the roads were impassable and everyone was trying to dig their homes out which had been buried or undercut by the washing away of the sand. We worked at helping some of the areas such as Laloux where we have a water project. They needed sandbags but we were limited as to what we could do as travel to the areas was limited.
As we took the road passed the refuge camp we saw that the camp was gone. There was nothing there. Apparently the flooding had washed this whole area right on down the Kalamie river and out into the Congo river. We started asking about the refuges and found out that the government had came with trucks and forcibly removed the refuges and had taken them to an area east of the airport and quite a distance from Kinshasa proper. We tried to find someone that was monitoring this group or anyone who might be helping them but found no one. We read on the internet that the refuges were in great need as they did not have shelter or food or cooking utensils as everything had been washed away.
We felt this should qualify for some emergency relief but could not find any agency involved in offering any relief. We were approaching the holidays and all the Red Cross workers, Doctors without Borders etc. had gone to their home countries for the holidays and not scheduled to return till the first of the year.
Now we could just ignore this problem but it kept nagging and we decided to approach the church for advise. We were told to find a partner to work with and find out what the needs were. Easier said than done as we had no idea how to get to this new area and we again were concerned for safety and always the language is a problem.
We called our friends at IFESH, an NGO out of Arizona. We had worked with them in supplying some humanitarian containers for a project they were doing in the eastern part of the DRC supporting a program to rehabilitate child soldiers. They have native Congolese on their team and we felt they might could help us. Kinge and Jeanne of IFESH agreed to do some research and see what they could find out. We learned that the government had indeed moved this group of people to the new area and given each family a plot of ground 20X25 meters. They had provided some police for the group to keep order and were starting to build them some shelters from 2x2 boards and plastic sheeting. IFESH had arranged for us to have a meeting with the presidents of three different groups who had been moved to this new area.
What we found on our first trip to City of Hope

The trip to the area is difficult requiring us to travel through a maze of communities or suburbs of Kinshasa, a trip that took about one hour. As we crested a hill we could see off to our right a haze of orange. That Jean said was the New City of Hope, so named by the government because it was suppose to give these people a new chance and a new hope for a better life.

City of Hope across on the other hill.

Farrell with Kinge and Jeanne of IFESH

This “tent” city was heart wrenching as the area had hardly any shelter from the sun, only a few trees. The ground is very sandy and poor quality. The people were sitting in the dirt with just lean–tos made of palm frons as their only shelter. There were the plastic covered shelters being built but the people had so many needs.
We met with the presidents of the association and discussed their immediate needs. They told us that people were hungry, they did not have medicine or a health clinic although Doctors without Borders was coming twice a week to offer some health care to those who were sick. They had no cooking utensils, clothes or other basic necessities as everything had been washed away in the flood. We asked them for a prioritized list of needs which they had already prepared for us. The needs were great but it seemed difficult to determine the best way to help as we knew we couldn’t do everything on their list. This is a picture of all those we met with.

Plastic tents built by government
Defining their space with stick fences and planting hedges

We received approval from church headquarters for the project 2 months after making the request. We knew we needed to reevaluate the situation as things may have changed and needs may be different. We met again with the committee at the City of Hope and found things improving. Many of the Tent houses had been constructed and people were starting to define their space. The needs were still the same and so we proceeded to get started on the hard part, getting the goods to the people. It would have been easy to have the church send us containers from humanitarian services in SLC but since we are unable to receive containers and the shipping is way out of site we have to find the supplies we need right here. We needed to find 1502 mattresses, 1502 tarps and 1502 blankets. I wish I could explain how difficult this is to do but we did have our IFESH partners who would help us and we set to work to arrange monies, transport, security, and the required amount of goods.

Barriers to success in the project.

1. The DRC is a cash society. The church finance department requires you to have a receipt before giving funds and prefer that you pay by check. Nobody accepts checks and this financial quagmire is a battle that Farrell worked on for 3 weeks. It alone is quite a story but too long to tell.
2. Difficult to get bulk items here in the Congo.
3. Transportation to the site is very difficult and impassible by large trucks.
4. We were naïve

Transportation was arranged well in advance and at the last minute fell through. The only road big enough for trucks to get through was impassible because a bridge had been taken out. A little miracle happened. We were directed to a member of the church who happens to have a trucking business and he wanted to help us by delivering the goods. He found a way to get the goods up to the city of hope by taking his trucks to the area of the bridge and unloading them, carrying the goods across the ravine and loading them on a smaller truck he was able to get through the back way. This required numerous trips by the trucks. We were receiving goods at the site all day during the distribution

The Minister of Humanitarian Services came and started the distribution by giving a speech and handing the supplies out to the community leaders.The community members danced and sang songs prior to the ceremony. They sang "Thank you Jesus for Papa Barlow and Mama Barlow" then they gave their tongue warbling shouts and danced some more.
IFESH spent four days at the site handed out vouchers to each family so that we would not have any problem distributing the goods on distribution day.
No Voucher – no goods. This proved to be very valuable as we had people from outside the area come in wanting to be part of the distribution and we had no problem identifying those we had come to help.
The day was hot and humid and where we were was very dirty. We loved being part of the distribution as we were able to show people that the church was serious about treating others with Christ like love. We met some wonderful people and saw many families blessed. We worked 12 hours on Monday and didn’t finish before dark so had to come back the next day to finish. Going home that first night was interesting trying to find our way through the craters and avoid all the holes and ditches along the narrow roads. Thank goodness we had a great guide.

Did we do any good ? We hope so. The ones that made you think so were the children who came with their voucher to get their blanket for their families and the mothers who had tears in their eyes and a great smile that would warm any heart. One mother, with a baby on her back and one in her arms told us, “Tonight me and my babies will sleep warm.”

This beautiful woman expressed her thanks and gave me the Congolese kiss on the cheek three times. she had dressed up for the occasion and was very grateful for the help.

An exhausting experience but one of great satisfaction. We continue to be overwhelmed with the generosity of the people who donate to the Church Humanitarian Services and the ability of those in charge to determine where these sacred funds should be used.
Someone got a little too much sun today!

A couple of days after the distribution we had members of the church coming to the office and calling on the phone to tell us they had seen us on the DR Congo National television showing us handing out the blankets and tarps and a great explanation of the church’s humanitarian program. Farrell had been interviewed by the TV and newspaper reporters at the ceremony. They asked him if the church was doing this service to get new members and he told them no that we believed that we are all children of our Heavenly Father and should actively be helping each other.

A man , a recipient of the supplies came by the day after distribution and told us he had been to our church before. He had wanted to play his guitar and sing with his wife for the congregation at Sacrament meeting but was told we didn’t have that type of music in our Sunday meetings but he was welcome to come and be a part of the congregation. He said he was somewhat offended and left feeling like he had a gift he wanted to share and praise the Lord and our church would not allow him to do that. He said when he saw us handing out the supplies he wondered, are they imbeciles, coming out in the heat and the dirt and personally handing out these goods or are they showing the love of Christ. He watched us and felt a wonderful feeling of peace and knew it was the Savior’s love. When he was handed his blanket, tarp and mattress he again felt that wonderful feeling and knew we believed we were truly volunteers for Christ.

He told us he was going to swallow his pride and go back to the church and listen this time because he felt he was missing something very important. We were so touched. This was important enough for him to come tell us that he had walked (no money for transport) all the way from the city of hope to our office to tell of his experience.


Tiffany said...

We agree. Thank you Jesus for Papa Barlow and Mama Barlow. We love you. We would love to tell you how impressed and thankful we are for you but somethings are beyond words.

Scarehaircare said...

I'll add my Thank You Jesus for Papa and Mama Barlow. This has been such a blessing for all of us. You've opened our eyes to gratitudes we never fully understood before.

Kimberly said...

Rachel Grace
Grandma I love it!
they have such sweet spirits!
I agree too!
Thank you Jesus for mama & papa Barlow!
Thanks for being a great example for me !
I love you!(6 months until I can give you a real hug! I can't wait!)