Monday, December 19, 2011

just because I can, doesn't mean I should

Living in DRC changed my life (that could probably go without saying).  When I moved there, I had never lived overseas before.  I had only visited the continent one time before; I went with my new husband to Zambia and it was lovely, beautiful, and the people were friendly and open.  I made my first international trip at age 25ish when I went to India with some friends and traveled around for three weeks.  I did a MPH and didn't take a single international course (because I thought then that I was never going to work overseas, I was committed to rural or urban U.S. poverty).  So, I was woefully underprepared when I moved to Congo.  I suppose it was the classic example of "sink or swim".  (I share that for all of you out there who don't know me and think I am some sort of super person for moving to eastern DRC with my newborn.  I wasn't then and I'm not now.  I am just a simple person that felt my heart move, knew it was the right thing to do and the right time.  Took a leap of faith and one step at a time.)

My first memory of DRC was crossing the border.  We weren't even in Congo yet.  We were just sitting at the Rwandan border going through customs.  Congo was across the bridge, over the river, and up the dusty road.  I was trying to feed Natalie (who was 8 weeks old or so at the time).  She was a fussy/colicky baby and very attune to my emotions (and still is!).  I was nervous, scared, excited and hence, she was too.  It was hard to get her to latch on.  She was hungry, I was feeling a bit vulnerable in this big white land cruiser with windows surrounding me.  The more she screamed, the more anxious I became, and the more people started noticing the lady with the screaming baby in the white ngo car.  A woman stopped and stared in the window at me.  Eventually I had to give up all attempts at modestly and just threw the cover off and tried to get her on.  What started out as one woman quickly became at least 20 women surrounding the car and staring in the windows at me.   All kinds of words were shouted to me through the windows in languages I didn't understand.  I understood the gist of what they were saying I think.  Lots of it was advice, I think some of it was speculation as to whether I even knew what I was doing, if I even could breast feed.  Eventually I got her on.  And when I finally lifted my red hot embarrassed face, to glance at all those lovely women, they all were giving me grins with thumbs up.  Instead of bursting into tears (which is what I had felt like doing), I grinned back and felt like, this will be okay.  I'm going to be okay.

I learned a lot since then.  I have been humbled so much, and fallen flat on my face more ways than I can count.  I have felt my pride and arrogance whittled away bit by bit.  All my preconceived and judgmental opinions were swept away as well.  What I thought was the best way to do things and all my pat answers left me by the time I drove away from Congo 4 1/2 years later.  All those answers I thought I had back then in that hot white car surrounded by all those women; well, I don't have them anymore.  I really don't have answers to most of it actually.  I was talking to a friend about it yesterday, and I think there are some questions that I will never have answers for, especially those surrounding suffering, pain, and injustice in the light of a good and loving God.  I will not stop believing or having faith, but I think I will finally accept that some things I won't get answers for this side of heaven.

I could go on and on about the ways I have changed in 4 1/2 years but I want to share about one way that I changed in regards to giving.  I knew something about aid/development/humanitarian work moving to Congo having had my husband and good friends work in the field, so I wasn't naive to the bad parts in the midst of the goodness of it.  But seeing first hand the effects of aid/donations that were blindly given really helped me to see how important it was to treat people with dignity when we give with compassion.  I saw blind giving completely paralyze a community into dependency that led to cycles of not caring for their children that led to extreme malnutrition and neglect.  I was humbled by my own ability to treat fellow brothers and sisters with lack of respect and dignity.  I learned that I must never let my love be without wisdom (and how I often mistook my pride for wisdom).  And that in my compassion I must not forget dignity.

I watched this video tonight.  And what really struck me was that the pictures were so similar to eastern DRC.  I used to love walking around town and shopping.  One could find most anything there! It was incredible.  To high end shops selling products that might cost 100s to 1000s of dollars to the man or woman on the side walk with shoes, or clothes, or books, or food, backpacks sitting on a blanket for a person to buy.  There was this awesome market that I loved going to in town.   I didn't go very often but I loved it when it did.  You could find SO much there.  There was a section of it that was just shoes.  Brand new shoes were in one area under a ceiling.  High heels, boots, you name it.  Then there were the nicer used shoes on one long long lane, boots, kids shoes, running shoes, sandals.  Then there were the very very used shoes section.  There were clothes organized by size, type, gender, age.  There were pots/pans.  There was an underwear area.  There was a rug area.  An area to buy sheets, towels.  To buy food.  Soda.  Beer.   It was very fun to go there, especially with someone that spoke fluent swahili.

What I learned is that one can buy MOST things in eastern DRC.  Not everything by any means ( and finding good quality things was hard sometimes) , but most things.  You can buy high quality formula and powdered milk.  The city I lived in was a city of almost 1 million people.  (Imagine what can be purchased locally in cities like Kinshasa at 10 million?) And I learned that a lot people sell things to make a living if they weren't farmers/cultivators.  They sell clothes to feed their families.  They sell shoes, they sell pots, they sell fabric.

At Tumaini, we have tried to make a commitment to buy locally as much as we can.  We buy formula locally, powdered milk, and when they need clothes or shoes we help them buy it locally.  We try to encourage donations of goods that cannot be bought locally (or in good condition).  We try to discourage donations of anything (like formula) that can be bought locally and support congolese families.

It may seem overwhelming to figure out what can be bought locally and what can't.  But you can start by asking.  Most of what you want to give can be bought locally, which in turns gives back to the Congolese people be supporting small business which in turns supports families (which in turns helps them not fall into destitute poverty which can lead to abandonment of children).   Trust well known and respected organizations that are committed to sustainability in the countries they work.  Commit to working with organizations that respect the dignity and the value of the Congolese people.

We received donations last year to complete a fence that enabled the orphanage to start to grow their own crops that they harvested and then used to feed the children (the harvested beans are below). 

Amos, the cook that has worked at the orphanage for 40+ years, proudly showed me the beans.  


JJ said...

Okay first of all you are pretty amazing. Not only becuase you did move to Congo with Nat-nat when she was a tiny baby.. BUT also because you busted this great post out in like under an hour! Nice job!

Holly said...

Thanks Courtney! I always write better when inspired (so thank YOU!).

Danielle said...

Beautiful post. Although we were in very different parts of the world, my heart resonates so much with what you're saying. Thanks for this glimpse into your heart.