Monday, July 24, 2006

Sponsored Children Grateful for Gift of Goats

While in the Congo we had the privilege of working alongside World Vision's Communications Manager for the DRC, Vianney Dong Tshisekedi. Please pray for this wonderful woman, who has the enormous task of covering (alone!) the entire Congo ... an area larger than Texas and Alaska combined ... during a very challenging time in their history.

And pray for the results of Congo's historic democratic elections which began on July 30. Results won't be known for about a month. But this process is obviously very important to long-term peace and stability in this troubled country.

Vianney wrote the attached account of one of the interviews we did together in the Katanga Province.

Gifts given from a heart of love have a funny way of multiplying in impact. Just ask Manfela Musambo Julias, 12, and his sister Nialu Netty Lydia, 8, who are sponsored children in Kolwezi, Congo.

Their sponsor recently gave the family a special gift, above and beyond their ordinary monthly sponsorship gift. With the money, the children received new clothing and also two goats ... which can be a very important source of income and sustenance in this part of the world.

The children's father, Musambo Kamota, 76, is a subsistence farmer who cultivates maize (similar to corn), cassava, beans and sweet potatoes. He does not have regular source of income apart from his harvest, which makes keeping his nine children clothed and fed a challenging task.

The children's mother, Manfela Lydia, 36, explained why the goats were so important: "What we harvest cannot allow us meet our basic needs." Musambo added that their plot is too small to provide sufficient food for the family.

But the goats changed the outlook for the family. "We started with two goats and we have been blessed so far with six more," Lydia explained. "We can sell in order to meet other basic needs of the family, such as school fees and food."

"We are really grateful to our child‘s sponsor for the gift allowing us to develop an income generating activity on top of our farming," Lydia said. "Please convey our gratitude to him!"

Julias is in the third grade at Maleozo primary school, while his sister is in grade 2. His favorite subject is French and he says he would like to become a doctor in order to help others. During his leisure time, Julias plays football with his friends. "I like to play with my friend and it makes me happy," he said.

In addition to the special gift from their sponsor, Julias and Netty have benefitted from other assistance, such as school fees, school supplies, and health care.

Thanks to World Vision, the Diur community where they live now has access to a neighborhood health center, safe water, and school supplies. "We used to walk more than 10 kilometers for health care," said Julias’ mother.

Since Julias and Netty have been sponsored by World Vision, many things changed in their families. They are very happy to be sponsored children and expressed their gratitude to their sponsors, Livingstone and Lynne.

"Look at my sponsor’s family picture!" Netty showed the photo and pointed to her sponsor, Lynne, while holding tightly to a small toy, a stuffed animal she received as a precious gift from her sponsor two years ago.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Sapalo Survives a Silent Killer

Ten-year-old Sapalo Satshilenge was walking peacefully along the relatively deserted and lonely country road in the pre-dawn darkness when there came, unexpectedly, a moment he would never forget.

He never heard the approaching motorcycle. It wasn't until some time after the motorcycle struck him that he learned exactly what had happened.

It wasn't that the motorcycle was silent. Most vehicles on such roads on the Congo make a lot of noise as they navigate, usually honking their horns every time they see a pedestrian to warn them that they have no intention of slowing down.

But for Sapalo, a deaf-mute, the warning of the oncoming danger was never received.

Fortunately, Sapalo survived the terrible accident, and now has scars on his head and elsewhere to show how lucky to be alive he really is. Many other pedestrians in similar situations haven't survived an accident on the Congo's treacherous roads, where any kind of emergency medical help, if it is available at all, is most likely many hours away.

Sapalo was on the road in the darkness because, like many of the deaf-mute students at the World Vision-assisted Ephrata school, they have no other option but to walk long miles to and from the school each day. Some students walk as far as 20 miles, each way, to reach the school, their only hope of living a life freed from the worst effects of the poverty that enslaves so many families in the Congo.

It is at Ephrata, which is one of four schools established for the deaf and mute in the Congo's enormous Katanga Province, that these students are taught not only a classical education but also valuable career skills such as sewing and carpentry.

And they are taught something else as well: hope for a better life, both now and in eternity to come. For Ephrata carefully and strategically conveys Christian values to its students and isn't afraid to help equip them to grapple with what the Bible has to say about how to truly be successful in life, despite whatever disabilities you may be born with or accumulate along the way.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of families of Ephrata's students are far too poor to figure out any better way to get them to and from school each day. In this part of the Congo, school buses are unheard of, and very few people own cars. Only the "upper crust" even own rudimentary bicycles, which are usually used like small trucks for conveying various goods to and fro for business purposes.

So most of the students walk the distance. And it is because of this walking, on very hazardous roads under poor conditions, that Sapalo was just one of two of Ephrata's students, in May alone, who were struck by vehicles in separate incidents.

To address the hazard, the leadership of Ephrata is hoping to build dormitory facilities on the school's ample land to house students during the week. They are seeking special funding for this project, and accumulating piles of bricks that will eventually be used in the construction.

World Vision is supporting Ephrata and the three other deaf-mute schools in Katanga Province, and their enthusiastic and hopeful students, in a variety of ways: with educational supplies, teacher training, desks, sewing machines, and more. This support is a vital investment in the future of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and that of many families and their disabled children in the Katanga Province.

Top photo: The marks of Sapolo's run-in with a motorcycle are evident on his face and head.

Bottom photo: One of Ephrata's teachers demonstrates a sewing technique to a female student.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Another Killer in the Congo: Diabetes


In the southern Katanga Province, in or near cities such as Lubumbashi, Kipushi, and Kolwezi, World Vision is assisting large numbers of orphans and vulnerable children. As the killer pandemic of AIDS strikes and divides families, so many children lose one or both parents. Typically they are "adopted" by extended family members, but the stress of AIDS on a society already devastated by war and economic catastrophe makes the challenge especially difficult for these families who are now caring for the children of their deceased relatives.

"HopeChild" support provided by our donors is assisting in meeting the needs of orphans and vulnerable children. The latter may not have lost parents, but they nonetheless have special levels of critical need in an impoverished society, due to a debilitating illness such as AIDS.

In addition to HIV, there are also a number of other serious illnesses which can make a child vulnerable. Diabetes and sickle cell anemia are common examples of illnesses which affect children in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Felicite Nzabandora is one such vulnerable child, due to a 15-year fight with diabetes. Felicite's surname means "I will see" ... which is sadly ironic, as Felicite is in the process of losing her eyesight. She also has other complications resulting from her battle with a disease which might be relatively easy to control in places where access to medical care is taken for granted; but here in the Congo, in Felicite's home town of Kolwesi, such a disease can and often does create early childhood mortality.

But her first name, "Felicite," means "Joy," and World Vision is working with the Nzabandora family to try and create a hope for a brighter future and a reason for joy for Felicite. Though she has recently turned 18, her small frame and childlike face could easily be mistaken for a child four years younger. In addition to struggles with her eyesight, she also experiences pain and circulation problems in her hands due to the disease.

Felicite is the sixth in a family of seven children, but even her younger sister is a head taller and looks older than she. Her father, Joseph, is a civil engineer, and her mother, Agnes, is a registered nurse ... which is good fortune for Felicitee, since Agnes takes such an active role in trying to ensure her good health in the face of such a debilitating disease. Agnes ensures that Felicite faithfully takes her daily injections of insulin, provided by World Vision, which has helped to arrest the negative progress of the disease.

However, unlike a country such as the U.S. where blood sugar testing tools are readily available and affordable, and diabetics can therefore test their need for insulin several times each day -- enabling them a finer level of control in their administration of the important but dangerous substance -- unfortunately, in the Congo, the only place where blood sugar testing can be done is in a medical clinic or hospital. So Felicitee is only able to get her blood sugar tested occasionally, when World Vision takes her to a nearby clinic for checkups.

In addition, Felicite is now in need of surgery to remove the cataracts which have developed in her eyes. She was forced to suspend her schooling because of her inability to read due to the deterioration in her eyesight.

“I cannot see properly," Felicite explains. "And it is very difficult for me to make a fist. I cannot go to school and it is painful for me. When I see other children going to school, I am really sad. I wish I could also join them, but ….” and she begins to cry.

After she is able to speak again, Felicite says her career goal is to become a medical doctor, so she can help other children who are suffering with diseases such as diabetes.

When asked if she has other friends who struggle with diabetes, Felicite nods her head but remains silent for a moment. Then she explains, through her tears: "All my colleagues suffering from diabetes have already died." At one time, her mother explains, she had four friends suffering from the disease. But each has since died of complications. "I am now alone," Felicite says sadly.

In addition to her health care and medicines, World Vision is also providing food assistance to Felicite and her large family, in the form of milk, rice, potatoes, biscuits, and apples.

I had the privilege of praying for Felicite and her mother, Agnes, during our time together. Please join me in praying for a full recovery of her eyesight and use of her hands.

Friday, July 07, 2006

"Sorcery Children"

Sometimes, when things in life don't go the way we planned, we blame our children. Sad, but sometimes true.

In the Congo, we discovered an extraordinary tale of what is happening as some adults are taking this sad reality to a frightening extreme.

Meet Belinda Kaji Manengu. At only 8 years of age, Belinda should (like other children her age) be enjoying all the carefree fun that life has to offer a child.

Instead, her parents both died of AIDS, and she went for a time to live with an uncle. But, angry about his brother's death, her uncle and his family accused Belinda of witchcraft and blamed her for the tragedy.

Unbelievably, this is a fairly common occurrence in the Congo. In Lubumbashi alone -- a major city near the southern border with Zambia, and an area with a relatively high prevalence of HIV thanks to thousands of truck drivers who cross the border every day -- there are an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 children living on the streets, and the majority of these are there because they have been accused of witchraft. The locals here call them "sorcery children."

In Kinshasa, Congo's capital in the west and largest city, the number of street children is estimated at between 25,000 and 30,000, and at least 60% of them are estimated to be on the streets because of a sorcery accusation. Children as young as 5 have been abused or thrown out onto the streets because of a sorcery allegation.

We were told that pastors and churches are sometimes complicit in this tragic practice. Families upset about a misfortune, such as the death of a family member due to AIDS, will consult ill-informed pastors, who -- for a fee -- "diagnose" the root of the problem as a child practicing withcraft. These children are then subjected to a horrific cure -- "exorcism."

In this case, exorcism doesn't mean what you probably think it does. In order to "cure" these children of their supposed inclination to sorcery, they are basically abused -- even tortured.

We were told about one girl whose skin was burned with fire in order to "cast out the demon." And they are even expelled from their homes and left to wander the streets. Fending for themselves and sleeping in public areas such as parks, alleys, or train stations, they become all-too-easy prey for child sex predators. In addition to being victimized by HIV or violence, they also have a high rate of accidents, being struck by vehicles or run over by trains.

And naturally, many simply run away to escape the abuse. We asked the founder of the World Vision-assisted Faradja Center for orphans and vulnerable children, Mrs. Maguy Numbi, 47, how Belinda came to be at the center. "She ran away. After sleeping at the train station and other places for a number of months," she said, "one morning we discovered her sleeping under the window of our office here and took her in."

"And why did you run away?" we asked Belinda.

"I cannot go back to my family," she replied. "I was beaten every day."

The Faradja Center is far too small to house all of the 230 children they are working with. They have one small bedroom with a bunk bed, where nine boys sleep each night -- two to a mattress, and five on the floor. The room is a third the size of most hotel rooms.

As for Belinda, Mrs. Numbi managed to get her placed with another relative who now cares for her and shields her from abuse. With World Vision's help, providing school fees and uniforms and funds for health care, she also works to ensure that the children are placed in local schools so they can resume their education, and gets them regular checkups and urgent medical attention at local clinics.

But for the Faradja Center, this daily struggle to get children off the streets is a life and death matter. World Vision assists by providing food for meals and other needs, and the 15 volunteer caregivers who work with the children have all received training from UNICEF. They also employ creative means to pay the rent and purchase more of the food they need; the older girls knit sweaters and other garments by hand and they barter them in the market for the cash and supplies they need to stay afloat.

They need far more than they have to work with ... more space, more financial resources (every staff member is 100% volunteer, including Mrs. Numbi, who has nine children of her own to feed), more trained volunteers, and simply more capacity to help children. Mrs. Numbi says that every time they venture out into the marketplace or other public places, they find more "sorcery children" who need to be rescued from almost certain victimization on the streets.

Captions: Top photo -- Belinda's eyes betray just a fraction of the tragedy that has thus far marked her young life.

Bottom -- Two more "sorcery children" at the Faradja Center. In addition to all the other struggles these children have to deal with, many of the orphans served by the Center are themselves also HIV-positive, as a result of sexual abuse or vertical transmission from infected mothers (in utero or sometimes due to breastfeeding).

More Info on Sorcery Children -- April 2006 Human Rights Watch report highlighted by BBC News, Worldwide Religious News, and ReliefWeb.

"They say I ate my father. But I didn't." Los Angeles Times, August 29, 2006.

Watchlist Report on child trafficking and exploitation in the Congo

U.S. State Department information on sorcery as a religious practice in the DRC.

Congolese blame Ebola deaths on "sorcery"

IRIN News: NGOs, public authorities denounce killings of suspected "sorcerers" in the Congo

Wikipedia article on how indigenous beliefs in sorcery intersect with Christian faith in the Congo

March 2004 New Humanist article on the torture of child "sorcerers" in the Congo

May 2002 Global Action on Aging article about how sorcery is used as an excuse to abandon the elderly in the Congo

Information about shelters offered by the Catholic Church in the Congo for children and the elderly accused of sorcery and expelled