Thursday, April 16, 2009

People of Africa I

This couple have been married a week! Edy and Carin are friends of our friend Bombyck. We were in an area near their shop and had a break between appointments. Bombyck was very excited to see them. He lives on the other side of Kinshasa so contact is probably rare. Friendships are very important here. They became acquainted when Edy was an LDS missionary in Cameroon, Bombyck's home.

They are standing in from of their shop where they sell a variety of hardware, light bulbs, grinding wheels, flashlights, batteries, screwdrivers, and electrical equipment like outlets and sockets. At night they close the front of the booth, lock it and walk across the street to their apartment.

In order to marry, Edy had to pay a dot (pronounced dote) to Carin's family. All of her family, including aunts and uncles had the right to demand goods from Edy so that he could marry her. He paid 1,000 dollars, bought new pots and pans for her mother, a vest for her father, two men's suits for other relatives, and assorted tools for the rest of the family. It took Edy one year to raise the dot. This includes asking friends and acquaintances for help. When he finally turned everything over to the family, they were culturally married -- that was the ceremony.

The dot makes it hard for young people to get married. Often men marry much younger women because it is so hard to become financially stable enough to pay off the family. Paying the dot makes it hard to start life together with even the bare necessities. Of our small acquaintance, three Congolese men are working to earn the dot. The flip side of this tradition is that if anything happens to Edy, his family can take everything back and Carin and any children can be left with nothing.

Child of Woe

Often when we are going through the "villages" that are the suburbs of Kinshasa, we are followed by laughing children. Many want their picture taken. Others are interested in us, the strange people. Because they speak Lingala, they are pretty confident that we cannot understand anything they say about us.

Last week, we were in an area that was very poor. It was on a hill beneath the cemetery with no room to expand. The market lined the narrow road. Off the road, we passed these children as we walked to visit a pig "farm." On our way by, both little girls were carrying younger children. When we came back, one baby had gone to sleep and was on a cloth under a tree. The little girl in this picture still had her charge. She is a very small girl. Unfortunately, many children have no childhood in this difficult world.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Handicapped Center

Health care, hygiene and prenatal care in many countries have reduced the number of birth defects, diseases which debilitate, and accidents which dismember. In a developing country like the DR Congo, there are people with extreme challenges. Here there are no laws about access, no assistance with transportation, and no medical care from birth to assist as a child learns to live with a disability. We met with two men who have worked with the handicapped in their area, Willmar and Emanuel. Willmar is a young man with a big heart. Emanuel is a man with a big smile and his own disability, leg braces and crutches, perhaps from childhood polio. They are part of an organization which tries to help the handicapped develop independence. They had a relationship with the Barlow's ,our predecessors, and have come once more to talk to LDS HS. We visited some of their outreach programs.

This is the Handicapped Center where people gather to talk to volunteers and to get whatever help is available. Look closely at this picture. Can you identify the four people who use shoes on their hands to get around? The woman in front of the door had the biggest smile we have seen in the DR Congo, yet mobility for her was extremely difficult as she had no function in her lower body.

This small, homegrown NGO has established a sewing center in a market area. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, one group sews at the center. On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday another group sews there. The goods are marketed from the shop.

This is one happy seamstress.
One of these young women is deaf. The other has a disability affecting her mobility.

This man is blind. He had just finished tailoring a pair of men's pants.

This is a father and son. The father has learned to repair shoes that others have thrown away and sell them. He has a withered leg. The son has no use of his legs.

This woman has learned to make African dolls. She lives with her family. Her legs are also in braces.

The group also operates a small pig farm. The pictures of this did not work out very well, probably because we took them so quicky.
The NGO has asked for wheelchairs and crutches. They would like help restarting a bakery, but we are not able to supply flour for the operation. They are up against a market economy, and a huge bakery in Kinshasa that makes baguettes which are exceptionally cheap and delivered across the city. There may be other training opportunities we will be able to help with.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Kinshasa Streets Chapter One

Kinshasa streets are often pieces of pavement between potholes. There are sometimes patches of deep sand which require four-wheel drive, low gear. Most commonly, there are deep "puddles" of water where someone throws pieces of cement as a patch (or not). Nonetheless, nothing really prepared us for the road to Maleuka. Maleuka is a community at the top of a small hill in Kinshasa. In the Western US, this would be a foothill. Here it is a mountain. Rivers of water run down the middle of this street at each major rainstorm, creating a "gully" which cars, taxi's and transports (vans) must navigate each day to move people in and out of the area.

It is hard for a picture to do justice to this ride, but we decided to try. Remember, this is a city street. In our four-wheel drive truck, we navigated this street by going in and out of the ditches in the middle, much like a skier traversing across the side of a mountain.



And at the bottom, a van was stuck in the muddy ditch. We finally inched forward. Most of the
pedestrians simply didn't stop, some didn't even look up, even though we were pretty big and dangerous. Finally, our driver inched forward past the truck -- then we slid and bang, our left rear corner hit the blue truck. Our first dent, a lot of people yelling advice --- low range four-wheel drive got us out, but pedestrians actually walked between our truck and the building on the right as we were trying to maneuver -- they had all of a foot of clearance.

Fighting Erosion -- Living on a Sand Hill

Maleuka is another community in Kinshasa. In 2008, LDS Services d'Entraide (Humanitarian Services) partnered with Humana People to People (HPP) in Maleuka. HPP works on improving a community over a five year period. They train community leaders and establish programs within a ten point program. We provided money for two of the programs, latrines and adult literacy program.

We toured Maleuka with HPP representatives in April 2009. One of the problems the community faces is erosion. In this picture you can see one of the community streets, at one time paved, is eroded and covered with refuse from the last rain storm. HPP has assisted with sand bags and training in how to prevent erosion.

A short walk brought us to a much more serious erosion problem. Over time a stream of water had destroyed a road. The boys in this picture are standing at the previous level of the road.

When a landowner complained about people using his yard as an alternative road, the community was essentially split in half and access between the two sides was non-existent. Initially, HPP and the Spanish Government gave the community sand bags, but after the first effort washed away, a supervisor was brought in to provide the expertise to handle a serious problem.
Lesson learned: serious problems often take skills and require training.

A view from the top shows the depth of the problem. Along the edge, it is possible to see a home that is within a few inches of being the next home lost in the chasm.

The community participates in solving the problem. On both sides of the divide, people fill sandbags with sand from volunteer's yards.

At the bottom, community members place the sand bags. This is difficult work because the bags are very large (about double the size of those used in the United States), it is a hot day and there is no breeze down in the ravine.

Bombyck goes down for a view from the bottom. Notice the bamboo reinforcements. This is the strategy designed to keep the area from washing away again.

From the bottom, the size of the problem is more obvious. The man in the white t-shirt is a community supervisor, also a member of the LDS Church from the community.

It is so good to see a community working together to solve a problem. The resources provided by HPP and the Spanish Government made the difference.