Trip Start Dec 18, 2010
Trip End Dec 01, 2011

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Flag of Congo - The Dem. Repub.  ,
Monday, May 30, 2011

Sunday morning we had the privilege of going to visit an orphanage.  There is a man, Nick, who is a teacher at The American School of Kinshasa (TASOK, where all the expat kids attend school) who voluntarily goes to the orphanage a few weekends a month to hang out with the kids and take some food and supplies.  Mostly he uses his own money to support his work there.  I have heard from many people what a great work he has going so I wanted to see it.  Luke, Caleb, EmilyFaith and myself borrowed a car and headed out at 7:45 AM and followed Nick the 45 minutes to the orphanage on the other side of Kinshasa.

The orphanage houses about 600 children.  75% of which are boys.  It is run by an Italian priest and a nun.  As we arrived at the long road that leads up to the orphanage, there were a few children there waiting and they ran beside the cars shouting and waving greetings to us as we approached the orphanage.

We pulled in and parked our cars off to the side of the "road."  By the time we could open our car doors and get out, the cars were already surrounded by children.  Nick is a hero to these kids and they were all over him from the moment he opened his door.  For each of us, there were 3 or 4 kids that immediately latched on to us and wouldn't let go for anything.  They loved just touching us.  We walked around the grounds for just a few minutes with our "posse" of kids (that was growing by the minute as word spread that Nick was there and he brought Mundeli - white people)before we headed to the outdoor chapel where mass was to be held.  The children that are able to are required to attend mass. 

We arrived at the chapel surrounded by about 100 children at this point.  We walked in and sat where we could.  Each one of the 5 in our party were sitting in a different location surrounded by dozens of kids each.  They were on our laps and wrapping our arms around them.  About 1/2 of them would smile when I smiled at them, but the other 1/2 just looked empty and desolate when I looked into their eyes.  That tore me up the most.  There was no hope in those kids.  There was no joy.  There was no love.  There was nothing.  They had even passed the point of desperation and despair

The priest filed in with some of the older boys that were serving as the altar boys.  Following them were two men carrying a tiny white casket.  They set the casket down in the front of the chapel and then brought in a large white cement cross with a boys name written on it.  The boy was 18 months old and had died the day before from complications of AIDS.   I was horrified and shocked at the sight of the casket.  The children were not phased.  I later learned that they average about one funeral per month.  For the first hour or so the casket was basically ignored and the service went on as usual. 

There was a lot of singing.  Boy, can they SING!  They dance and sing at the tops of their lungs.  There is nothing else in the world like it.  They were accompanied by a keyboard, African bongo drums, and various shakers.  They were born with a rhythm I do not possess. 

Various priests and ministers got up and prayed and read.  The service was in French and Lingala so we were not able to follow along.  Caleb had a boy on his lap that slept.  The kids on either side of  him figured out that if they slapped Caleb's hand, it would turn red.  They thought that was prettty cool.  THEN they figured out that they could write with their finger on the red and watch the capillary refill.  That made them laugh out loud.   So he sat for the whole hour and a half with kids slapping his hands.  Poor guy.  Luke had a tall handicapped boy on his lap.  In the photos it is the boy in the striped pants holding Luke's hand.  He had other kids piled on either side of him hanging on for dear life.  Several boys were standing behind him running their fingers through his hair and making his hair do different things.  It was pretty funny.   EmilyFaith had so many girls crowding to be around her.  They loved touching her hair and rubbing on her and petting her skin.  I was a few rows behind EmilyFaith with Maurice on one side, playing body guard.  He would determine who was "worthy" to sit by me and shoo other kids away if they got too close.  This broke my heart.  I tried to explain to him that I wanted to hug them ALL.  After awhile he seemed to catch on, but he was pretty possessive the entire day of me.  I was holding one baby I would guess to be about a year (it is so hard to tell because they are soooo small for their age and so tiny in diameter and delayed in development) old.  The baby had on a rag tied like a makeshift diaper with a plastic grocery bag wrapped over that.  The baby had no facial expressions and never made a single  sound.  He finally fell asleep on my shoulder.  There were older boys sitting around me.  They kept putting their hands around my arms and pinching and kneading my arms.  I actually have bruises today! :)  The girl standing behind me realized that when she ran her fingers through my hair, I would shed some hairs and they would come out in her hand.  Her eyes lit up and she couldn't comb her fingers through my hair fast enough.  She took some of the hairs and stuck them on her hair.  They actually stuck to her hair so she walked around all day showing the other girls that she had some blonde hair.  They couldn't figure out how she did that.

After about an hour, the "funeral" portion of the service began.  The priest did some things over the casket and then the two men came back and carried the casket out.  The priest followed the casket and all of us followed the priest.  They carried the casket up the hill to a truck where the priest went with the casket to bury it.  A couple of the girls wailed for the casket.  They believe that there must be someone to wail and mourn when a person dies.  It validates that life.

After the casket was taken away, we walked down to a grassy area and the drums were brought there.  Everyone gathered in a circle and the dancing began.  It was a celebration for the life of the little boy.  At one point, the man that was in the middle leading the dancing began to draw people from the crowd into the center and had them dance while everyone watched.  He actually grabbed Caleb and drug him in to the middle of the circle.  Then he went and picked out one of the orphan girls about Caleb's height and brought her to Caleb.  He placed Caleb's arms on her waist and told them to dance.  If you know Caleb at all, you know what this almost made me wet my pants.  He was mortified and looked at me with nothing short of terror in his eyes and asked me what to do.  My answer:  DANCE!  God bless him, he did.  The children loved seeing the mundeli boy dancing!  Luke, EmilyFaith and myself all took a step or two back and tried to be invisible so we wouldn't get picked next.  LOL 

From here we continued on with our tour of the different buildings of the orphanage.  It is built on the side of a really tall hill so all the building are spread out on different levels.  The kids were still swarming us and hanging on and crowding us such that walking was difficult.  We made our way to the volunteer area where the children are not allowed.  We sat in there and ate some spaghetti, rice, and bread with Nick and two Italian men that were also there for the day.  It was a much needed time of quiet and peace before going back out to the waiting children.

Just outside the door to the Volunteer room, there was a monkey tied up to a tree.  It was awfully cute but didn't look too friendly so I stayed just out of reach.  I don't know if he was a pet or dinner.

As soon as we went back outside, the kids were waiting for us.  We went up to the baby ward.  I couldn't believe what we saw once we got there.  By this time my camera was dead and I was unable to get any photos, but I will get some when I go back, I promise.  The first room we came to had no furniture or anything in it but there were babies that were sitting up on the dirty floor.  Some had some clothes on, others did not.  They were sitting there with a bowl of mush between their legs eating with their hands.  There were hundreds of flies swarming them and flies all over their faces and in their mush.  The kids had no facial expression.  It was heart wrenching.  The next room contained tiny, old, metal cribs with babies in them.  The first I came to was soaking wet and laying in their mess.  It had a lollipop in it's mouth.  I noticed then that all the babies had suckers.  I thought maybe this was a nutritional suppliment but found out it was not.  It was just a sugar sucker.  It keeps the babies from crying so they put them in their mouths.  The next room we came to held the newborn babies.  There were at least 7 brand new babies that couldn't be more than a week old.  I was watching one when I realized the baby had no arms at all.  There were Congolese workers in the building and they do what they can to keep the kids fed and changed, but they don't have time to hold the babies.  It takes hours between times when the babies are changed or fed and that is the only human contact they will get.  It was almost more than my emotions could take.  We walked from that building to the next where the handicapped chidren are housed.  Actually, it is the housing for just the severely handicapped.  Those with down syndrome or who are mobile can stay in with the other children.  The things we saw in that building are undescribable and heart wrenching.

After we finished that part of our tour, we needed something uplifting so Nick decided he would pass out the candy he brought.  When we arrived to his car we saw that about 200 kids were already in queue there.  Apparently they know his routine.  When he got out the bags of candy he brought, chaos decended.  The lines were gone and the kids actually stampeded.  Luke and I were knocked out of the way. I was using all of my strength and couldn't get out of the crowd.  It was rather scary.  Once the candy was gone, we got into the cars and drove to another part of the orphanage.

The next part of our visit went much more calmly.  It was the areas for the older boys, maybe ages 10 and up.  When they were in their little kitchen eating their small portion of rice and foufou (that's all they get, 3 meals per day) we snuck into another room and laid out cups of milk and sandwiches and cheese that Nick had brought.  When the boys finished their meal, they were told to go to the other room where we were waiting.  They were so excited!  They drank the milk like they had never had a drink before.  Many of them stuffed the food into their pockets to save for later.  They were so thankful and sweet.  They told us "thank you" in English, as Nick had taught them.  There was one boy I met there that would mimic everything I said.  He wanted to learn English words so he would copy the sounds I made.  It was great.  At the next building we went to, Nick handed out Milk and Rolos and chocolate to the kids.

Like I said, they only eat rice and foufou for each meal.  They get no protein whatsoever.  Their beds are ripped up plastic mats.  Most don't have sheets and there are no pillows at all.  The clothes they have are the rejects from Goodwill and places like that in the  USA.  Most of the children don't wear shoes.  The kids just grab what they can find in the morning and that is their clothes that day.  They don't own anything for themselves.  With the exception of the older girls (teenagers) the kids heads are all shaved regularly for health and upkeep reasons.  The kids stay there until they are 18 and then the orphanage tries to teach them a trade of some kind so that they might be able to get a job when they leave, but many of the orphans end up on the streets as adults.

Two weeks ago, Nick came to the orphanage and took about 20 kids to the TASOK campus so they could play futbol and go swimming.  He fed them pizza for the first time in their lives and they took classes on music and different crafts, etc.  Well, as he was leaving the orphanage with a van full of kids heading to TASOK, two 7 year old boys went running after the van because they wanted to go.  Nick did not see them chasing the van.  Once they left the gate of the orphanage, the two little boys were never seen again.

The 7 hours that we spent with those kids was life changing.  I saw in person the horrors that we see on those "sponsor a child" commercials.  I can't wait until I can go back to that place and love those kids and touch them and hold them.  I want to get involved and hopefully be able to do something that will make a difference for a few of those kids. 

Some of you have expressed a desire to help.  I am going to try to go back and take the kids some Peanut Butter sandwiches and some fruits and veggies.  Milk would also be great.  Those things are super expensive here.  I know Nick must've spent almost $1,000 of his own money on Sunday giving those kids what he did.  Nick is leaving the DRC for the summer.  I would love to pick up in his place.  I do need transportation.  We don't have a car here and we are dependant upon everyone else if we want to go somewhere.  You can't just take a taxi and there aren't cars to hire.  So that is a big prayer request right now.  I will find a way to get back and to get to work there.  If you are interested in helping purchase needed items for the kids, just let me know.  The need is overwhelming.  THIS is why we came to the Congo.  I pray that we can make a small difference.

Again, I am sorry we ran out of camera early in the day.  I will take more photos next time to post for  you.
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Kim Eubanks on

You have definitely found your calling. You are so wonderful with children. There is no doubt in my mind that you will make a profound difference during your stay in the Congo. Thanks so much for sharing your experience with us. It is a friendly reminder to those of us who are fortunate enough to have a roof over our head, food to eat and family that loves us, that there are so many people that need simply necessities. Now if everyone would take the money that they were going to use to buy an I-Pad or new cell phone to keep up with the Jones', and use it to sponsor a child we would live in a better place. Love to you all, Kim

Lynette O'Neal on

Dear Jennifer, Thank you so much for sharing your life there with others. It is like your friend Kim said we all need to think of forgoing the things we take for granted to help someone else. I think it is such a selfless example to your children and others that you all are following the Lords leading to serve in The Congo. The pictures you posted and your comments are very challenging to me to see where I need to make a difference. Thank you for sharing, your experiences with others. May our dear Lord bless and protect you and your family. Love in Jesus Name, Lynette

Cathy walter on

I am so thankful you are there and able to share with us what you are doing. I know you will make a differnce somehow some way with someone. I will be praying that the suffering will not over take you and yes I want to send you help just tell me what I can do. I love you and am so very pround of you!!

Staci on

Hey Jennifer - thank you for your descriptive story. I almost feel like I was there! I will be praying for those children. How said to go through life never knowing love :(.
Can you send me your address for letters again please?

Belinda on

I will be praying that you get back to that orphanage soon to love on those children. I'm sure every second you are with them it makes a life-changing difference. Love you.

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