Despite the very best intentions from the staffs at these organizations, the reality of the childrens’ lives is harsh and often potentially fatal. There is rarely enough nutritious food; the caregivers are overworked with little time to offer loving attention to the children. They work around the clock cooking on wood fires and carrying water long distances to clean dishes and clothing. Malnourished to begin with, their prognosis is not promising if they should become ill. The majority have never had clean water to drink.
Most of my activity has been involved with Rwese orphanage in Lukanga with about eighty children. I am constantly raising funds to send for food, clothing, and shoes. I’ve studied World Health Organization documents because my western nursing training is inadequate for the health problems of these children. Statistically, one in five will die before they reach five years old. I plan on throwing everything I’ve got in the way of that future for the children. WHO says that Vitamin A in the diet of malnourished children will increase their chances of survival by 50% if they come down with a bronchial infection that often turns into fatal pneumonia. Carrots, sweet potatoes and pineapple are high in Vitamin A…so I try and send extra funds to purchase pineapple which is a special treat for children who eat only beans and rice or beans and potatoes. A single pineapple serves four children a life-saving micronutrient and costs 39 cents!
Despite popular opinion to the contrary, Congolese people and certainly the orphaned children are not at fault for their circumstances. In fact, anyone who owns an electronic product in the industrialized world is indirectly culpable for this suffering.
I will do what I can to raise awareness but I will leave the activism to other groups. PEACE for Congo is the only answer for orphans and their communities.
In the meantime I’ve created partnerships with Congolese charities that serve orphans in many parts of North and South Kivu provinces. These organizations do their best to provide safety, food, clothes, shelter and education for these children and infants. There are traditional orphanages housing up to one hundred children with paid caregivers. There are children that are sponsored or waiting for sponsors to attend school who live with foster families. There are smaller unofficial orphanages where generous individuals have opened their homes and do their very best to obtain adequate food and clothing for the children. And there are also children who live on the streets and fall victim to predators or rebel recruitment.
Since then, I’ve learned so much more about the beautiful country of DR Congo. Also called Congo, DRC, RDC, and former Zaire. There’s a billion dollar reason I didn’t know where it was on a map before I started planning my trip. There’s a billion dollar reason so little news of it gets to Americans. And there’s a billion dollar reason why there are so many orphans. We are the end users of highly prized devices like iPads, iPhones, and laptops that require coltan, a rare mineral found in Eastern Congo along with gold, silver, diamonds, copper and many more. Eastern Congo is a resource rich area that is terrorized by internationally financed rebels that use murderous techniques on whole communities surrounding the mines. Then the machinery moves the raw minerals around the world to manufacturers. And they eventually end up in our hands and laps without our ever suspecting that thousands of children paid for our products with their parents lives and their current suffering. The Enough Project has an excellent documentary on the supply chain of these minerals. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aF-sJgcoY20.
On the way, we had a flat tire while driving up a forested mountainside. Everywhere a car stops, waves of children crowd around at least six deep. I started entertaining the children with finger puppets and a partially rolled down window. I had four peppermint breath mints left in a small box. So I shushed the four children nearest the car because there weren’t enough for everyone. I put a little mint in each little hand. Without a single glance or word, all four children bit their mints into four pieces and gave three away to three of their friends! I thought, “Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore!”
I never went searching for some overwhelming challenge to confront and make my life whole. And I certainly didn’t look at a map and touch my finger to the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo and think what a great retirement spot. I actually planned my first trip to Africa because seeing Dian Fossey’s gorillas in the wild was on my bucket list. My very first trip to Africa I landed in the Goma Airport in Eastern DRC with some medical supplies. (Supplies were provided by http://www.medwish.org/ ) It all seemed reasonable at the time. I was so terrified I was planning on dumping the supplies at the prearranged office and skipping over the border to Rwanda at sunrise. But again, I didn’t run and stayed to watch the grateful staff of a remote clinic open the boxes I had brought around the world. And then I was hooked.
No one can “solve” the problem of orphans in Africa. As long as they are perceived as a problem, their humanity has been robbed. They are actually referred to as …”it”. First world people will feel free to dismiss “it”…”the problem” and leave “it” to others to solve. Each of these children is an individual with dreams, fears, talents, potentials and hopes of their own. We don’t need to attack the ocean of need. We just need to stand firm, resist the urge to run and do whatever we can for one child at a time. This could be antibiotics, fruits and vegetables that they rarely get, sponsorship for one child to attend school, becoming a pen pal so one child feels less alone in the world. And the best of all possible actions is to go see for oneself. I highly recommend taking any opportunity to look into their eyes, into their smiles or frowns. Bring a piece of bread for them and watch their faces light up.
At that moment, everything I had previously thought was important just dissolved like ash in the wind. I can’t even remember what was important to me back then.
My children. I call them my children because they deserve to be claimed by someone. The ones who die deserve to be remembered by someone. And they do die at alarming rates. Three million in DR Congo since 1996. But I can almost feel the readers glazing over right now so I will not dwell on the numbers. I’ll just say there are as many orphans in DR Congo as there are citizens of Scotland. I’ll never forget the time I was handed an infant who’d been found in a ditch. Human life has to be worth more than that. And I will spend the rest of my life proving it.