When I am working, it is easy to get caught up in the future, or thinking about things that have passed, or wondering what is going to happen the coming day or next week. But when I’m in my safari, travelling, it is all about the present moment. Right now, and no other time because no one knows what will happen next. We cannot imagine what we will be seeing this time next week or whenever.
I was so excited to be home. All the time I was thinking about meeting with my family members and preparing for the celebrations of being together again. I was wondering if I would be able to see all my friends and neighbours while I was there. The picture in my head was of our old house, where we were living before the war. I did not know what to expect of my parents new house but I knew that it would not look the same as I remembered. I couldn’t believe that I was standing at the border between Burundi and Congo, as a Canadian for the first time. I kept forgetting that I was carrying a Canadian passport. Everyone looked like me, but I came from that part of the world and my Canadian citizenship was still so new.
Travelling across the border into Congo, I enjoyed the bumpy car ride. The roads in eastern Congo are in poor condition, the potholes are many. Some of the bridges are not in use because they are old, broken and are not maintained or repaired. We crossed and drove through water at times instead of using the bridges that should have be operational.
It had been so long since I was home that all the time while I was walking around I was calling out to friends and neighbours that I knew. I kept running into familiar faces, everywhere I went.
The main purpose of my trip to Congo was to visit with my family after many years apart. After that, I was spending time in the communities that Baraka Victory Centre is helping to assess needs and plan for projects and strategic cooperation in the Fizi Zone with other organizations, schools, hospitals and clinics.
During the visit with my family, I had a great time. They are facing many challenges and it was difficult for me to see the conditions that they are living in but it was amazing to have time together with them. I had the chance to visit with many of siblings and meet their children. I also met with my grandpa which was a great thing for me. I visited the grave of my late brother who was shot and spent time with his three children who are now living with my parents. Visiting his grave finally allowed me to accept that it was in fact my brother who was killed earlier in the year. Overall, the trip was short but it was still great to have that time with my family.
With BVC, I was struck by how hard life is for children in eastern Congo. Food is scarce and children are lucky if they are able to go to school with food in their bellies. Some are lucky to go to school at all since there are fees to attend school for children of all ages. Children are in need of basic things like shoes and clothes but for the most part they have to go without. In general, life is terribly hard for people living in eastern Congo, they go without basic necessities and lack opportunities to better their lives, or better their children’s lives in the future.
I visited two clinics while in Congo. One in Mshimbakye and the other in Nundu, where I was born. The clinics have no equipment to treat patients. Patients who come for medical attention wait by sitting on the floor in the clinic, and even though they are the main medical service providers in the area, treatment can only be offered for very simple illnesses and ailments. People who have more serious illness or disease cannot receive care because the resources are too few. The little resources are stretched thin in an area with a large population and a complex history of conflict that has left people’s health and well being neglected. Women especially suffer due to a lack of equipment for maternity and post-natal care.
At Mshimbakye, I met one of the lovely nurses who gave themselves to help the community regardless all challenges they are experiencing. Her testimony was very touching and the way she accept to work in a maternity unit where there is not enough equipment. She told me that they only have two pairs of scissors for the maternity centre. If they have two women who are giving birth at the same time, one has to wait until they are done with the other and they wash the scissors. Life is so hard for our moms, especially during labor.
Seeing how people are being treated in Congo was a shock for me. After being in Canada and seeing how the government uses resources to take care of the population, it was discouraging to see how people elsewhere have no options and must simply remain in need, without receiving any help. Some people have even lost hope for their life in the future.
During my trip, I attended the children’s Christmas Service at Mshimbakye Free Methodist Church. We shared a nice moment with the kids singing, dancing and shared candies with them after the service. I spent a fantastic moment with the kids. They were adorable and enjoyable to spend time with. Regardless of all thechallenges that the kids of Baraka are facing, they never stop smiling. For us to distribute candies to a big number of kids, we put all of them in a big room which was a former Free Methodist Church building located near Mshimbakye Primary School, and we were giving one candy per child and then we would release the child from the room. We shared 500 hundred pieces of candy but there was not enough so we had to send someone to go get more so that every child could get at least one piece of candy.
I attended primary school at Mshimbakye. My teacher was called Anza. She was a nice lady from Burundi and lived in Baraka for a long time as a refugee together with her family. It was an amazing and emotional moment to see the school that I went to during my childhood and especially my former classroom. Unfortunately, the school looked old and had not been repaired for ages.
With joy, seeing people from the community I grew up with, friends, teachers, I ended up visiting the Mshimbakye Secondary School as well. It was awesome to see and have that old memory of how our parents were paying for the school fees and buying all the equipment required for the school. While at the school, I spoke with a number of teachers about the challenges that they are facing, not being paid, no school supplies and the construction of some new classrooms that have not yet been finished. I took some pictures of the school construction and I promised the staff that I would share their struggle and needs with friends to see whether they can find an organization or an individual that can help them to finish their construction project. Seeing the importance of education, parents contributed a certain amount of money for building some new classrooms but it wasn’t enough to complete the project. Anyone who wants to help this community in finishing to build these classrooms, your support will be appreciated.
This maybe my favourite thing about travelling. Leaving home, even if it is just for a few days, makes it pure and alive again when you return. You can see just how vibrant, how wonderful, how beautiful your hometown is no matter any change.
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Enjoy the read!