Monday, April 30, 2012

Life in the DRC from George Billings

From: George Billings [
Sent: Monday, April 23, 2012 10:19 AM

Dear Friends,

We are at our apartment this evening and we have been thinking about the experiences that we had today. We would like to share them with all of you.
We were invited by another couple in our Mission to go out and visit an orphanage. This orphanage is located about 20 miles outside of downtown Kinshasa. We live where I would call downtown. The reason for them inviting us was because they have been there before and have a desire to help the lady who runs the orphanage to provide better conditions for the kids and there is a need to reconstruct much of the facility and the furnishings. They thought I may be able to help them fulfill their desire. To get to the orphanage we had to drive a short distance off the main highway on a dingy narrow path filled with potholes and crevices. On both sides of the path there were people displaying and selling various items of food. There was barely enough room for a vehicle to fit in between the food vendors and they weren't about to pull their displays back away from the path a few feet to let us pass through easily. But, we drove slowly and made it to our destination. When we got there we walked a short distance up a wet and narrow path adjacent to a ditch filled with dirty water to enter the grounds of the orphanage. When the children saw us coming they ran to meet us on the path. They each greeted all of us with a huge hug with joyous smiles on their faces. There we seventeen children. Eight girls and nine boys. Most of them were between the ages of three and seven. The kids held tight to our hands as we continued down the path and entered their compound. They were beautiful, adorable children who seemed very happy in spite of their circumstances.
Once we arrived we were first shown the sleeping rooms for the kids. All of the girls slept in one room and all of the boys slept together in another. Their rooms were dark and moist. There was a moldy, musty smell. There were no windows or for that matter any other form of ventilation. The rooms were about the size of a typical child’s bedroom in one of our homes in America. All of their beds were broken down except one bed in the girl’s room. All of the boys, and most of the girls, slept on floors that were half dirt and half concrete. There is no electricity and no plumbing in their entire compound.  We were then led to a building that served the purpose of classrooms for the children.  There was one room in this building that had a roof.  The others didn’t.  The roof over the one room was not tied down to the walls.  It was just sitting there.  A strong wind could easily remove it.  The benches in the classroom were old and rickety.  They were on the verge of collapsing.  The chalkboard is so worn that it is nearly unusable.  The rest of the classroom building is without a roof and the walls are slowing disintegrating.  Only somewhere between one-half and two-thirds of each wall is still standing.  The classroom building floors are all dirt.  After looking at and assessing what we could do with the classrooms we were led to the grounds where we were shown holes in the concrete block fences that the caretaker would like to have repaired.  Evidently, children are leaving through the holes and are becoming lost requiring extensive searches to be recovered.  On the grounds there was a young lady, about sixteen years old, cooking a pot of beans over an open fire.  The facility doesn’t have a kitchen.  In fact, there aren’t even tables for the children to sit at while they eat.  They either eat standing up or they sit on the ground.  They did have a few plastic stools on the premises. 
After touring the facility we were provided seating in some plastic chairs under the shade of a papaya tree.  There was a slight breeze but it was still very hot.  There, we discussed what we might be able to do to help.  There is an organization from America that is raising funds to renovate their building.  This organization’s intent is to raise enough funds that they can hire a contractor to do the renovation.  We have concerns that will never happen.  There is a lot of corruption.  Contractors have been known to start and never complete their projects.  With our own limited funds we thought that we could start by building some beds and tables.  This is something we can do off site and just, one day, haul them in and surprise the sweet caretaker and her kids.  We made no commitments while we were there because we don’t want to promise anything we can’t complete. We would like to do much more and maybe we can.  We have some ideas of how this could happen.  We’ll just have to see if we can get all of the pieces of the puzzle to fall into place.  
These events promote much philosophical thought regarding the current status and the future of this society.  There is too much poverty.  People have nothing to do.  They have to eat and in order to eat they have to obtain food.  Food can either be bought, or it can be grown, or it can be stolen.  In order to buy food you have to have money.  In order to have money you have to have a job or you have to steal it or you have to steal something else and sell it.  There are hundreds and hundreds of orphans and thousands more who have just been abandoned.  If someone like this caretaker doesn’t take people in when they are young, and teach them how they should be, they could end up like the kids on the street who harassed us today.  What do we do about all of this?  We believe that the little bit that we are doing now will have a huge impact.  It must start somewhere.  The thought becomes less philosophical and more certain as we consider our own security in trying to help.  We learned of both a good place to be and a bad place to be at noon on Saturday.  We have to find secure ways of visiting places like this orphanage and offering a helping hand.  The incident with the cassava flour was our fault and it could have been handled a little bit better to defuse the rage.  The other incident wasn’t our fault it was just a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  We will be much more cautious in the future.  This incident happened on a road that we have traveled several times before without incident.  Saturday is just not a good day to be there.  Also, when we travel that road again, we will take a Congolese who can communicate for us.    
We’re sorry that this message has been so long.  We just wanted you, who we also care about, to know of the experiences we are having on this side of the world.  Please take care of yourselves and your own.  Every life is precious.

George Billings

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