Thursday, September 25, 2008

You win some. You lose some.

Early this summer we went to look at a new project submitted by OBIPHA, a handicap organization. They are located in the Kingaseke area and are trying to meet the needs in their community of the blind, physically handicapped, and mentally handicapped (specifically Autism).
They have no funding source but work together trying to help the handicapped be productive and learn ways they can generate an income. They have a school where they run a full curriculum for the blind, They teach sewing, hair design and nail care . They requested wheelchairs for their physically handicapped, supplies for their blind students, and support for a bakery they are trying to run as an income stream for the organization.

On our first visit we were greeted warmly to the neighborhood. The area was difficult to get to even with a truck as most of the roads are very narrow and not much more than walking paths. We met some of the blind students and the girls learning to braid and extend hair. The blind students are being taught to be pig farmers as it is a type of work they can manage.

They are renting a complex for their school and tables and chairs to furnish it. They have a small library and a few supplies including some sewing machines for their sewing class.

Emmanuel is President of the organization. He is also a minister in the Methodist church. The young man (center) is blind and was taught braille by a concerned member of the community. He now teaches the blind but he has no equipment other than his personal braille tablet and white cane. Next is Willymar, director of the center and a member of our church.

One of the blind students took us to see the pig farm that actually was a pig house. The pigs were boarded into different rooms of a house each room housing a mother pig and her young. It was impressive. I was snapping away pictures trying to hurry this experience along and get out of the pig house when . . .

I stepped off of a step and the floor beneath my foot gave way dropping my leg into a pit of some kind of liquid. My camera went flying and I was splayed out on the floor with my right leg down in this pit. Farrell and our guide pulled me out and took me outside where I examined my dripping leg for cuts – none were found – a miracle as the floor that gave way under my foot was a rusted piece of tin covering a hole. I was soaked to my waist in this liquid. Needless to say I smelled terrible. This area has no running water and all that was available was a bucket half full of water. Our guide grabbed a totally worn out wash cloth (a shredded rag) and started wiping my legs and shoes off. I squeezed out my skirt then dipped the bottom into the 1/2 filled bucket of water and then rung my skirt again. I rinsed my shoes off in the bucket and called it good. Our guide was so upset and Farrell looked like he was going to throw up at anytime. It was one of those times when you just pull up your pig poop skirt and say, ”Ca va” and move on

We headed back to our truck where I wiped down with some antiseptic wipes and lathered my arms, legs and hands in antibacterial gel and called it good. It wasn’t good. I was having a hard time myself with my stomach wanting to fight back but, we had not finished our tour as we still needed to go to their bakery. I knew if we left I would just have to return later to see the bakery so I opted to just finish the tour as this area was such a difficult place to get to.

We all jumped in the truck and headed for the bakery. I noticed that Farrell turned the air conditioner up full blast and everyone opened their windows with some even hanging out their windows.

Now I know this is a bad story to tell to you who are considering a mission but let me reassure you. . . I survived. I didn’t get a bruise, a cut or a scrape from the fall. I didn’t develop any terrible disease and best of all I got over it. We actually don’t talk about it and I dare anyone to mention it as it is best forgotten.

My camera literally bit the dust and has not worked since. Elder Moon, true to his form, is repairing it. I loved that camera so I encourage him to try whatever he can do to make it a survivor. Last I heard he had sanded down a drill bit small enough to work on the camera and is building a new part for it. I have no doubt that before we leave I will have my camera back.

As the camera was dead I didn't get any pictures of the bakery which was just a cement building with open windows and door, a wooden trough where they mixed the dough and a large brick oven into which they were putting loaves of bread with a big wooden paddle. It out smelled my skirt and we were amazed at the productivity of this little building out in the middle of no where accessed only by a rutted trail. The handicapped students were working in the bakery to earn money and they were selling everything they could make, their need being more supplies to boost their production so that they could increase the income which would support the students and the association.

We went to work developing a project from what we had seen on our visit -- the project which has ever since this ordeal been affectionately called the PIG POOP project.

We wanted to help them develop an income stream with their bakery but it didn’t quite meet our guidelines so we settled on putting the support to the Blind School.

The products we needed were not available in the Congo and we couldn’t get them sent in through the church (customs issues) so we went to some priests who have dedicated their order to the support of the blind. They ordered the supplies in from Europe. The list of goods included: computer, braille typewriters, braille notebooks, braille math system for learning math, audio watches, white canes, braille paper, plastic tables and chairs and 10 wheelchairs to help the physically handicapped in the organization.

When we picked up the braille typewriters they were very dirty and not in good repair. These machines are much like the old, old typewriters before electric.. They were suppose to be refurbished but we had to get Elder Moon to work his magic to get them in proper working order.

We held a closing ceremony at the center and one of the blind students serenaded us.

Farrell explained the Family Health and Hygiene program the center was going to offer to the community in an effort to help the community improve their management of family health and the avoidance of disease.

The closing ceremony was hampered as the wheelchairs were not delivered as promised. They didn’t come till the next day. We left the ceremony thinking the w/c would be delivered later in the afternoon but it didn’t happen. The w/c recipients thought that, Emmanuel, the Assoc. President had absconded with the w/c and they became very angry. He was roughed up and his phone was stolen. It was not a very pleasant situation but the next day the chairs were delivered and given out. This incident put a dark cloud over this project and caused us to second think our desire to help this group. We had thought this organization was stronger and more united than this and it was upsetting to have Emmanual treated with such disrespect.

Not our favorite project but one that will benefit people. We wished we had left the wheelchairs out of the proposal but then again we have to remember how desperate these people must feel when they are trying to survive in such poverty and have been mistreated for so many years. We hope that the blind school will be stronger, which it undoubtedly will be and that those who are trying very hard to be independent and overcome poverty will be strengthened by the supplies that were provided.

(Yes that is a Congolese dress. I needed a new outfit after this project)

Here is a tender photo of a man who came to the ceremony to receive a cane. He is blind and has had his left leg (below the knee) amputated. He was so excited to get a cane but as he left I caught this picture of his shoes. I wondered how he was walking in this rough terrain, blind and with a prosthetic in those worn out shoes

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Oh my head Hurts!

Here in the Congo it often feels as if time has stood still for the last 100 years and you are just an observer looking back in time.

Children are taught to carry a hughe amount of weight by balancing it on their heads. Walking is the main way of getting around in the Congo as few people have cars or other transport. It isn't a new idea, in fact it is an ancient idea but here in the Congo some things never change.

Every day you can see people bustling to get to the market. Their pace is fast and their posture erect - must be why they have such good posture.

I remember as a teenager walking with a book on my head trying to balance it. I found it very difficult. I wanted to improve my posture. Posture is not a problem here. I have never heard a mother here say "Stand up straight Johnny, don't slouch.

Enjoy these pictures. I have been collecting them to share with you over our whole mission. It is such a part of Africa.

big or small it doesn't seem to make much difference.
A baby on the back and a full bowl on your head leaves your hands free to do many other things.

Some people can carry everything on their head they will need when they set up their road side stand. Just keep piling it on

It is the way. Many women even carry their purse on their head rather than carry it.
This is full load!

Boiled eggs are a big lunch time treat and in the morning you may see a man hurrying down the road with the eggs piled twice as high as this man has. I keep missing the big shot because I am always so amazed they he will scurry in and out of traffic, balancing this huge column of eggs on his head with out any hands to steady it. I get so engrossed watching the balancing act I forget to take a picture.

Well, you never know when you may need a stool so you better carry one along.
We stopped these ladies in Mweni-Ditu on their way home at night from a day at the marked. I wanted the picture of the sewing machine on the head but everyone wanted their picture taken. When I had snapped the picture they wanted to be paid for me taking the picture. I refused and told them I don't pay for pictures. They weren't happy.
Learning at an early age. That yellow crate is full of soda pop bottles.Heeeaavy!

Nothing is wasted in the Congo. Often you will see people gathering wood from a fallen tree and then they take the wood home and make charcoal out of it which they will use for their cooking fires and sell for some income.
Want a scarf? Get it from the scarf lady. She has at least 100 scarfs on her head any of which she will sell you for a price. The price being double for a mondeli.
When you drive down the street you see people toting their loads on their heads where ever you look.

Aha, they must have got some new chairs at a good bargain.
When you have to tote a baby on your back and carry your bundles you shouldn't forget how handy it is to put one of the loads on your head.
Another crate full of large bottles of beer. We once saw a man carrying a crate of beer on his head and one crate in each hand held only by his finger tips. Again I was so fascinated I missed the awesome picture. I must add he didn't look like it was a very heavy load but we know different.

Women daily gather greens from the garden and tote them to market to sell. These three are dodging traffic as they cross a very busy thoroughfare.

My favorite has to be the bread ladies. Every day, several times a day you will see woman picking up bread at the Victoire (a large bakery). They carry it back to their neighborhood where they sale it Bread is a main stay and often people have a loaf of this bread along with a cup of tea for breakfast. Lunch may be a handful of peanuts, a banana or another piece of bread. The only real meal that is eaten is the evening meal which mainly consists of foofoo, rice and beans with ground greens and maybe a little fish or chicken (but meat only on a good day).

Where ever we have traveled we see people gathering sticks to make the charcoal. It is a very important fuel.

The hardest job is the toting of water for daily needs. It is endless and requires all to participate. It is unbelievable that a child can carry this much wait on their head. It isn't easy and they usually walk/run trying to shorten the distance to home.

The path is often steep and makes it rather treacherous for carrying a heavy load.

This is one of my favorite pictures. I didn't take this one. But I love it, not sure why. Maybe it is because it is just sooooo Africa.

Remember the chicken lady - another favorite from Luputa

Returning home after spending a day at the Marche sewing beautiful Congolese clothes.

Don't you Love it! Very African!