Additional revelations in and around Lubumbashi
Convinced that our mission team was destined to spend our entire journey in Katanga, this southeastern province of the DRC, we were poised and anxious to find out what else was waiting for us.
United Methodist Church Orphanage
Just a block away from our guesthouse and right behind the big and beautiful landmark sanctuary of the United Methodist Church in Lubumbashi (Picture 1) is an orphanage housing about 24 boys (Picture 2), ranging in age from 3 to 17 years old, each with a unique emotional and sad story of their journey before they got there. Most of the children in this orphanage lost their parents during the long rebel conflicts that plagued and to some degree still plague the eastern region of the DRC. Two of the boys in particular, Henri and Andre (not their real names), drew our immediate attention.
Henri is a 14-year old boy without legs, apparently a chemical-related birth defect. Sadly, he had been rejected by his parents since childhood and stigmatized by just about everybody until he was brought to the orphanage five years ago. With his typical smile, he shared with us how, for the first time in his life, he found love and acceptance in this orphanage. Being extremely adept with his hands in spite of his age, Henri is the orphanage?s resident mechanic. His teachers describe him as a very bright and dedicated high school sophomore with dreams of becoming a doctor. A humanitarian organization has helped him get a set of prostheses. But they are of relatively poor quality and not properly fitted. Especially during the rainy season, he relies heavily on other boys to get around. Andre, our second special boy has family ties deep-rooted in Kasai province. He is 16 years old, seemingly shy but very bright, has a fair knowledge of English and is a junior in high school. Schooling for all these orphans is provided free by the Church right on the church premise. Suspected and accused of witchcraft and being responsible for the hard time and misery that have besieged and crippled the family, Andr? has been outright rejected and disowned by his parents since a very young age. He grew up as a street kid and thanks to several humanitarian organizations, has received some assistance over the years. Before being brought to this orphanage, Andre lived for a couple of years with a woman who agreed to take him on so that she could benefit from the child care subsidies provided by the government. Unfortunately, in addition to benefiting from these subsidies, the woman passed on her HIV/AIDS virus to him as well. The orphanage was well aware of this situation before accepting him into the program, and he has been on an approved medication regimen since. The orphanage manager and guardian informed us that the organization that has been providing the antiretroviral drugs has expressed their intensions to discontinue this donation due to budget constraints. We promised them that we would check into potential alternative sources. We learned that Andre has a sister in a comparable orphanage for girls in another section of Lubumbashi, also operated by the same church.
We gave the kids one of the soccer balls we brought along (Picture 3 & 3a), and several team members spent a pleasant afternoon playing soccer with them, while other team members with a gift for arts and crafts engaged the children in several fun activities, including papier-mache. (Picture 3b).
Bumi humanitarian and development project
On another day, we spent the morning and a good part of the afternoon strolling along in the Kamalondo neighborhood of Lubumbashi, about 3 miles from our guesthouse. Serendipitously, we stumbled onto the Bumi humanitarian and development center (Picture 4), a non-profit organization established in 1985 by Madame Therese Ilunga, a delightful Congolese woman, and her French husband Lucien Moser (Pictures 4a, 4b). They have been determined to caring for hundreds of children in Lubumbashi who have been out cast by their families (Pictures 4c, 4d). It was very surprising and appalling to learn that 65% of these children were rejected by their parents because they were accused of witchcraft. Especially among certain tribes in the Kasai province, families experiencing major problems and unbearable hardship believe that their unfortunate fate is the result of a particular child being a witch. So the rejection, expulsion or even killing of the helplessly accused child is required in order to restore normalcy. During our visit to the center, we met a young Congolese student who had been assisting an Italian graduate student doing research to try to understand this widely held belief among certain Congolese tribes.
Relocation of UFAR office
To work as a nonprofit organization in the DRC, UFAR had to have an official address in the country and formally register with the Ministry of Health. These requirements were fulfilled in 2005 and henceforth UFAR has maintained an office in Kinshasa. However, the UFAR project and all of our activities are at the opposite side of the country, over 1,000 miles to the East from Kinshasa. Considering transportation costs and other issues, we have decided to relocate the UFAR office closer to our project, and Lubumbashi is one of the options. In checking around, an office space located at the Methodist Center in downtown Lubumbashi appeared to be quite reasonable (Pictures 5,5a, 5b). Negotiations are still in progress.