February 26, 2010

Despair

Here in the United States we view poverty in terms of a line. You're either above or below the poverty line. Go below and there are institutions to sometimes help give you a leg up. Are those institutions perfect- NO! But they exist and they help to ensure that children in the US get hot meals at school whether they can afford them or not and make sure that families who can't afford it, can get baby formula and baby food.

The Congo is a very different story. 85% of people in DRC are unemployed. The average person only makes around $300 per year. I've heard people say that it is all relative. But the thing is that it is not all relative. Things in Congo cost just as much as they do in the US. A can of baby formula in Congo still costs $20. If that can of formula were 7% of your income and you knew it would only last a week, would you buy it. Absolutely not. Same goes for beans. The week that I was in DRC, a 50 pound bag of beans cost $75! Which means that per year, you could buy 4 bags of beans for you family and it would wipe out every single dime you had.

I can't even begin to describe the poverty that exists in Congo. It is everywhere. I have studied the Congo and the conflict intensely for over a year and a half and nothing prepared me for what I saw. When you get out of the car, street children run up to you. They knock on your car window begging you for anything you might have. The problem is- if you give, you will be swarmed with children, many of whom are expert thieves. A skill they've learned out of necessity. There are also street children being pimped out as salespeople. Everything in Congo is for sale. These children will walk up and down the line of bumper to bumper cars selling everything imaginable- an ink pen, a Kleenex- anything that might make them some money. Then they have to take this money back to they "employer" who may or may not give them a little something for their sales efforts. Children here are exploited to the nth degree. It is a sad reality.

On the 3rd day of my trip, Cami and I visited an orphanage. The orphanage was a government run orphanage. Really all this means is that the government sends children here. It doesn't actually do anything by way of sponsoring resources. That is left to what tiny amount locals may be able to give, or what NGO's may happen to bring by. Which, from the looks of things is very little.

We drove up to the orphanage. There were no walls around it. There was no door to the orphanage. Children spilled out onto the street. Young girls sat outside on the street, maybe hoping to escape the sweltering heat inside the orphanage, while men in their cars drove by. It is only a matter of time, until these girls will sell the only thing they possess (themselves) to survive. As soon as I opened the door of the car, a tiny little girl, maybe 18 months old, ran up to me and grabbed me by the hand. This little girl had been out playing on the street, unsupervised. And streets aren't what they are here. Down both sides of the streets, everywhere you go in Kinshasa, are big dug out trenches. With no sanitation system, this is where waste and garbage end up. These roadside latrines are exposed and you have to step over them to cross the street. All of this seeps into what little drinking water there is in Congo, furthering the rampant diseases that exist here.





This little girl, her name was Eron, pulled me by the hand into the orphanage. I walked over the latrines and stepped inside the building. It was dark, and smelly and hot. In Congo you can sweat through your clothes in about 30 seconds. There was no running water, no electricity. Loose and broken up lumber was lying around haphazardly with nails sticking out of it. There were children everywhere. All ages. All of them dirty. The little ones were all covered in urine and feces. The older ones were covered in dirt and sadness that permeated out of their bodies. The sight was so overwhelming, I almost couldn't take it all in. Or maybe I didn't want to take it all in. My heart broke into a million pieces looking at those children. They are all alone in the world. No one wants them. In a country with 5 million orphans, they were nobodies. Fogotten children. The ache in my heart was palpable. It felt hard to breath. I knew at the time that crying about the sight before me, would do no good- I'd have to save that for later. So I strengthened my resolve and became determined to love on these kids, even if it was only for a little while.

With the donations that you all made, we brought 250 kilos of beans and countless cans of baby formula to this orphanage.

The day that we visited, there were 103 children being "cared" for at this orphanage. There was one pot of rice, no beans, no formula, no water. The children there were starving. We did our best to help those children have some fun in the midst of the horror they were living. We blew up so many balloons our mouths were in a permanant pucker. It made me sick to my stomach to think that my children have balloons around the house all the time, but for these children, getting a balloon was the most exciting thing in the world. We took a soccer ball, too, and the boys went wild. They were so grateful and excited and they kicked that ball around and laughed and for that moment in time- they got to experience childhood.




All the while, Eron never left my side. I felt such overwhelming love for her. I think about her still almost constantly. My heart aches for her. My heart smiles for her. She is a beautiful daughter of God. But she is being fed to the lions. In Congo- school is not mandatory. It is a priveledge- one very few children get to enjoy. Which means that very few children will ever get the advantages they need to get out of the cycle of poverty they are in. I wonder what will happen to Eron. I wonder if she is supposed to be a Terry. I wonder if the ache in my heart I feel for her is God trying to tell me something. I wonder if she is hungry and if she is thirsty. I wonder if she is crying and there is no one there to pick her up. I wonder how much longer she can survive in the hell she was born into.




Nearly all the children at Lisanga were sick with something. Cami and I walked to the upstairs of the orphanage where the children were supposed to sleep. For over a hundred children there were maybe 15 beds. We looked around and in one of those beds, we saw a teenaged girl we were certain was dead. Cami walked over to the girl who was soaked with sweat and burning up with fever. She was completely unresponsive. But her heart was still beating. She was dying with malaria. The one mama at the orphanage told us she had malaria and that they had given her some medicine once, but the girl did not get better, so they left her there to die because there was no money to get her any more medicine.

Miles got malaria the next day while we were in Congo. Within hours of him coming down with a high fever, I was able to go to the pharmacy (you don't need a prescription for drugs here) and buy the antimalarial medication he needed for $2. Two whole dollars. And this girl and thousands of others like her will die every week from malaria because there is no one who cares enough to spend $2 to save her life. We also saw this tiny baby girl who was dying of malaria. The picture does not do justice to how frail she was. Every single bone in her body jutted out. She was drenched with sweat, wrapped up in a plastic bag for a diaper and being cared for by another child who couldn't have been older than 9.


Holding that little dying baby is one of the worst moments of my life. I came back to my cozy life and yet I can't stop wondering if that little baby is even still alive. How do you live with that? How do you come back to a life where there is a grocery store on every corner and a school where my kids go for free and clean water to drink? How do you step back into your "real life" when there are so many people whose reality is just trying to survive. I don't know all the answers. I do know that when I look into my little Congolese child's eyes, I see hope. And sometimes hope is just enough to carry you through.


To see more pictures from this orphanage- click HERE.


 


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