Greetings from Kinshasa! My current trip started on Sunday, November 14 from JFK on a direct 15-hour South African Airways (SAA) flight to Johannesburg. Unfortunately, the flight was 30 min late getting into Jo'burg the following morning, so I missed the tight connecting flight to Kinshasa. The next SAA flight to Kinshasa was not scheduled until Wednesday, November 17. The expenses for the extra 2-day stay at one of the airport hotels were paid for by the airline. The resumption of my trip to Kinshasa on Wednesday was uneventful.
The primary goals for the current trip are: 1) revisit and obtain additional information on the boys orphanage as well as make an initial visit of a related girls orphanage, both located in Lubumbashi and supported by the United Methodist Church of Southern Katanga, on behalf of at least one member of the Princeton United Methodist Church (PUMC) mission that had the opportunity to visit the boys orphanage during their 2010 summer trip, 2) participate in the launch and monitoring of the first Mectizan distribution in the health zone of Pangi, the last of the eight original health zones included in the Kasongo onchocerchiasis elimination program; and 3) make a curtsey call on several newly appointed key individuals and future collaborators at the Democratic Republic of the Congo's (DRC) Ministry of Health.
The United Methodist Church in southern Katanga with the Episcopal headquarters based in Lubumbashi currently supports two orphanages, one for girls and the other for boys, ranging in ages from <1 to 17 years. All of children have seriously been badly mistreated and forced out of their homes or abandoned by their parents and relatives, or no longer have living parents. Many had allegedly been accused of witchcraft. The PUMC mission team had the opportunity of visiting only the boys' orphanage during their relatively short stay in Lubumbashi in July 2010.
The first morning after my arrival in Lubumbashi, walking down across the Methodist Church's grassy back yard wet from a heavy rain and the front of the primary and secondary school complex (photo 1), several boys at the orphanage who had their classes scheduled in the afternoon recognized me immediately and warmly welcomed me with their bright eyes and big smiles. Emmanuel, the boy without lower legs and Andre (not actual name), the boy alleged of witchcraft were among them (photos 2,3). After a long chat with the boys and the staff, we decided that I would return to the orphanage the following day during lunch break to meet all the boys. A very nice luncheon party was organized at which ham sandwiches, soft drinks, lettuce and candies were served.
It was a great party. There were 28 people including the staff. In addition to food, each boy received a miniature, self-contained and long-lasting flashlight which they greatly appreciated and had lots of fun with (photos 4, 5, 6). The flashlights and the money for the reception were kindly provided by Nancy, one of the members of the PUMC mission team to DRC. She also provided additional funds for some of Andre's school and personal needs, and this money will be kept under his name by the church treasurer.
Thanks to funds raised through the efforts initiated by two thoughtful and caring American graduate students from Texas, Brittany and Christina, who went to DRC to teach English at The English-Speaking School of Lubumbashi from August 2008 through June 2009, and who in addition, ended up working one day a week at the boys orphanage, Emmanuel was able to have surgery in March 2009 to prepare him for the prosthetics that he received in January 2010. He has adjusted quite well to the use of prosthetics, but he obviously has overgrown them, and they seem to be of relatively poor quality (photo 7 and eight). He has also been provided with a very nice and useful wheelchair (photo 9). Apparently some funds still remain with the church treasurer in Lubumbashi that can be accessed by the PUMC mission team for Emmanuel's care, after clearing with Brittany or Christina.
Another highlight of my return trip to Lubumbashi was the visit to the girls' orphanage. Rev/Mrs. Francine Muteteka, director of both orphanages kindly took some time out of her busy schedule on Wednesday morning, November 24 to give me a tour of the orphanage for the girls located in the Rouashi region of Lubumbashi. Compared to the boys orphanage, the girls' facility is markedly nicer, cleaner and better maintained (photos 10, 11). There are about 21 girls, including Ruth, Andre's sister (photo 12 ) and three babies of less than 1 year (photo 13). About a year ago, the orphanage instituted a daycare program with about 50 children up to 6 years of age enrolled. In response to Mrs. Muteteka's desperate need of milk to feed the babies, I gave her $50 which she greatly appreciated.
I left Lubumbashi the following day for Kinshasa. All my airline reservations for traveling within DRC were made with DRC national airlines, i.e. Hewa Bora and CAA. Although their fares are significantly higher and their safety records are of some concerns, one the ticket is purchased and the reservation confirmed, traveling is guaranteed. Booking a flight to travel with the UN/MONUC is easy and free for registered NGOs. However, registered NGO members who are not UN employees fly standby; knowing for sure that one will actually be on the flight always a big headache, often unknown up to the very last few minute before the flight
I then left Kinshasa for Kindu via Goma on Monday, November 29. A report on my trip by road from Kindu to Pangi, our eighth and last health zone planned to receive Mectizan between November and December 2010 to prevent blindness will be forthcoming.
The significant co-endemicity of onchocerciasis and loasis throughout this health zone compared to other zones of the project and the high probability of encountering increased incidences of Mectizan-related severe adverse makes the distribution in the region very challenging. Compounding this situation is the realization that usual 2 to 3-week window of dry season usually observed annually between the end of November and the beginning of December has been moved up, starting around the 3rd week in December. It still rains heavily and almost daily at the present. So we will have to face problems associated with distribution of Mectizan in the rain.
I met with our CDTI Kasongo project coordinator, Dr. Arthur Nondo, who has been in Kinshasa since the beginning of November to assist his wife with the delivery of their 3rd child, for a progress report and to plan for our trip to the Kasongo region to distribute Mectizan for the first time in the health zone of Pangi, last of the initial eight health zones comprised in our project.