Since Autumn 2002 Judy has officially been ambassador for the international aid agency WORLD VISION (WV). In January 2003 Judy and Patrick got the chance to visit the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania to get a good look at a number of WV projects. Here's a brief look at some of their impressions:
Our 10-day trip to theEastern Congo, Tanzania and Rwanda earlier this year was an unbelievably intense, jam packed and rich experience. Being home again, the impressions certainly remain and I believe we left a bit of our heart in Africa! We had the chance to get a good picture of what's being done in emergency programs in the Congo, which is suffering under civil war, (including one Goma region, which along with the war is still reeling from the effects of a volcanic eruption one year ago). We also got to see long-term development projects in Tanzania and Rwanda. What a chance to go where tourists and even some press just wouldn't have the chance to go, to talk with people who were suffering, and to see, hear, smell, touch and taste first hand what is the reality of millions of people living in desperate conditions. We had the opportunity to really look into what WORLD VISION was actually doing, meet people affected by disaster and poor conditions and to see what the response was to the aid being offered.
Rebels fighting their way through the northeastern corner of the massive central African country have terrorized the civilian population There is continued fighting and aAs a result there are thousands of internally displaced people - refugees in their own country - who have had to flee their homes and spend months on the road to try to ensure their safety. This is the basic situation in the Congo.
Lava flowed for kilometres and burned thousands of houses to the ground. Even during our visit a year later the evidence of lava destruction was everywhere.
It was great to hear of how the schools were built with the help of WV but how much of the onus was placed on the local people to gather together and to carry bricks and water and mortar, so that they were an integral part of the building process. Was great to see the ownership of the schools that this fostered and the resulting enthusiasm of parents to have their children attend.
(Throughout our trip we saw and heard a lot more examples of this working together on various projects e.g. building wells and various agricultural projects. This community cooperation is obviously crucial in the success of the projects.)
In Sake, a half-hour drive from Goma, Wwe also saw livestock projects where 2 young goats would be given to a household. The responsibility would be on the household to raise the goats, have them mate with a neighbouring goat and then to give two young goats back to the program to be given on to another household.
In Beni region we visited refugee camps in Oicha that had been set up as a result of extreme fighting in a the nearby Ituri region. People had fled to get away, many seeing relatives killed in the process. Without even trying to pick out a desperate story - just turning to someone next to me and asking what had happened to her, I was told by a 20 year old - her name was Fenice - that she had walked for 3 days, pregnant at the time, to get away from her home where war had broken out. Her parents and siblings had all been killed in an attack on her village. She had no idea what happened to her husband in the attack. Fleeing to the woods to save her life she left everything she had and walked for 350 km pregnant. Her baby was born soon after her arrival in ?? Oicha. She named her child "Happiness". This was one story of thousands.
The refugee camps were extreme. Thousands of people "housed" (straw huts with roofs of plastic sheeting - sheeting provided by WV) in a small area, 4 latrines (holes in the ground) for men, 4 for women, and 4 smaller holes for children. There were hundreds of children running around. These difficult conditions, normally highly conducive to disease and under-nourishment were undoubtedly abated by WORLD VISION's presence.
We visited a couple of water projects set up for the refugee camps. We'll never forget our arrival at a water projectKatuki Spring where a huge crowd of several hundred welcomed us, cheering, dancing, throwing flowers, celebrating, singing and shouting "MERCI, MERCI, WORLD VISION MERCI!!!" to thank us for the water.
They led us on for another 500 meters singing and dancing all the way to where they now had a source of running water (it is not unusual in this area to have to walk 3 or 4 hours to get to water). They proudly showed us a pipe with water flowing.
They made a speech and gave us the best they could give - a gift of 2 living pigeons and 6 eggs wrapped in dried banana leaves. That was their Thank You. Here were these wonderful people overflowing in gratitude and celebrating like crazy what is such a very basic human need - one that we so often take for granted. We were put to shame.
Other projects visited included health centres, hospitals and feeding programs where mothers were taught how to try to provide a more balanced diet for very undernourished children. We held the frail children and listened to their stories. There's a 99% success rate for this program. That was encouraging!! At another heath program/therapeutic feeding centre?? we spoke with many mothers and their children in a room crammed full to capacity with beds. We went to many and sat on their beds with them and again listened to what they'd been through and what distances they had travelled on foot to get there. Like any mother in the world they just wanted their children to be well and would do all they could to make that happen.
Our trip to Tanzania had a totally different tenor. Here we saw more of the developmental aspects of WV's work. Our first stop was with the Maasai tribe in Arushaat King'ori Area Development Program near Arusha. Here in the midst of singing, dancing and speeches we heard more about the work that WV had been doing with the Maasai. We were thanked for the schools that had been built and the possibility of education for their children. The Maasai even sang us a song in their own language thanking for what they had learnt about Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and disapproving the ritual. FGM has a deep tradition in Maasai culture and is a very sensitive issue. It speaks volumes to hear of this response. As another mark of their appreciation, we were treated to a meal of among other things, goat meat, which is reserved for their most honoured guests.
At the end of our Tanzania trip, we met another group of Maasai in ???at Mtoni Bombo village, that we had to drive for kilometres off even the dirt roads to meet. They specially cleared some bush knowing that we were coming so that that we could get through with the vehicles. WV was just starting to cooperate with them. Again our arrival was celebrated. We sat in a circle with the village chiefs with the village standing around and had some exchange as to what they hoped for from WV. They were very happy about the school programs that were gradually being put in place (we also visited these - right now the school buildings are mud and stick huts (the staff room is under a tree!) - and said thank you for "bringing us out of the bush" and giving the possibility of education. However they were adamant that their tradition of FGM remain. We were very cautious knowing the delicacy of this issue and did not feel at this sensitive stage that this was the appropriate time to challenge them. Instead we took the time to listen. However, at the end of our "pow wow" a couple of women came up to us and begged us (i.e. the local WV staff) to please come back and address the issue of FGM.
There are many area developmental projects in this area. In addition to the school development, we saw a new agricultural project specifically developed to assist villagers achieve a more balanced nutrition. We met a village council - a group of 25- 30 adults who said what had changed in their village with WV's help, and where they felt they still needed support. Once more the strong partnership with the community came through. They proudly told us of how school attendance had risen from 45% to 75% since the start of the project two and a half years ago ??. More children now had the chance to go to school. They still need more buildings, health programs and school supplies.…??? We also got to hear from the Children's Council Committee - a group of 15 children from various schools in the area, to hear from their perspective the issues that concerned them.
Asha - our sponsored child
A personal highlight of the trip was to meet 6 year old "Asha", our sponsored child. She lived way off the beaten track and when we thought we had arrived we still had to climb some way up a mountain before we got to her house. She greeted us smiling and we met her parents and siblings. Asha lives, like many other children from the area, in a small mud hut, with no electricity or running water. She and her family are fortunate as far as water is concerned. They "only" have to go about 10 minutes away for water, but way down a small path and down a steep hill, and then back up the hill with heavy buckets on their heads! Many have to travel for 3 hours to get to water - every day! It was very special spending a few hours with the family and neighbours talking, eating, laughing and singing.Overall a wonderful time to spendt with everyone -sharing a little bit of our lives with theirs. They never thought they'd have visitors from so far, we never thought we'd be called "Mummy & Daddy" by a family in the hills of Tanzania.
The child sponsoring program is an important part of WV's longterm development work. I learned more about what it meant to be sponsoring Asha. Our sponsoring her means that she has the chance to go to school, can get the most essential immunisation, and... Not only does she benefit, but her sisters and brother (who aren't directly sponsored) do as well, as do others in the village. This makes so much sense when you are there and start to understand how the concept works. It is not that Asha benefits alone - can you imagine how terrible that would be if she would be chosen and immunised but her brother and sisters weren't? Or sent to school, but no chance for the siblings? The result of a sponsorship goes far past the child. Altogether there are 26 villages profiting from the project including 1700 sponsored children and a population of over 50.000. It's like the child is a window into the village. Great concept. I didn't quite get it before I experienced it.
What can you do to help?!
Having been there I can really encourage you to get on board and do something. One great way is to have a sponsored child. You are a part of the sponsorship program by contributing 30€ a month. You can do this alone, as a family or even share the responsibility further. Maybe your youth group or some friends are interested in caring for a child in this way. So you'll really be helping a specific child (which you actually can write letters to and visit if you want to) as well as it's family and village. I do believe this is God's world and we all have a part to play in looking after his children.