Monday, July 29, 2013

on sentamentality and screaming like a girl (oh, and super heroes!)

I'm surrounded by boxes and a million things left to pack, sort, clean, trash, organize.  What am I doing?  Eating chocolate, wasting spending time on the computer, and admiring the view from my window.   I've decided having surgery in the middle of a giant move and then not being able to lift for the two weeks you are supposed to be packing the house is enormously discouraging and frustrating.  And that can lead to anxiety and feeling extremely overwhelmed.  Which can lead to lots of tears ice cream and dark chocolate, comedy movies, and happy ever after ending type books.  Which all lead to happiness and ones house magically packing itself.  I wish.  However.  Here are two genuinely humorous moments the last couple days.

First off, and this will be short, I really DO have to get some work done, the container is coming in 3 days and my house looks like this (literally, I just took this picture and this is what it looks like from the chair I am sitting in right now):


I've always known I was sentamental and just a bit of a hoarder (just a tiny bit).  This was more than apparent in my mind when I found two old t-shirts from my days of backpacking.  Once, a long time ago I helped lead 12 day backpacking trips into the high peaks of the Adirondacks.  A long time ago.  And I always wore the same t-shirts.  Over and over again.  And I kept them.  You would think they were awesome and so very cool, right?  Uh, no.  They were dark blue, nondescript and faded by sweat and dirt (basically totally gross).  And I kept them it seems, and just found them.  I suppose I must have kept them for old time's sake, you know?   Yup, I have a serious problem.

I did throw them out when I found them a couple days ago.  Though I suppose I can admit they didn't make it into the trash bag.  They are in the yard sale pile.  Because someone will want them, right?  I mean, really, you can't put a piece of something that signifies the blood, sweat, and tears of your youth in the trash?  I mean, literally, they are priceless.  I'm sure someone will agree!

Two,  the other night my mom (who was a saint and came out to help us pack over the weekend-  from Oregon) and I were watching a movie (because that is what you do when you are overwhelmed by how much needs to be done).  Mike had gone out with some friends.  I heard something in the kitchen.  Chewing.  I figured it was the neighbor dog (I had left the door open and he can walk through the screen and is always welcome in our home), but the chewing sounded more like rustling and that seemed a bit odd.  I sort of crept down and then went into the dining room. I immediately did not see the dog.  But I saw stuff moving in the corner.  I admit it:  I stood on a chair and reached over and turned on the light.  Then I saw it.  A fluffy white tail.  And then a black and white body.  There was a skunk IN MY HOUSE!   My next amazing move?  I screamed like a girl (like my 6 year old to be exact), ran (screaming) out of the house, calling the name of my neighbor (who are also friends of ours) as loud as I could.  (Thinking all the while I was yelling my head off--if that skunk sprays in my house the week we are packing it to move to Africa, I will just...I don't know what, do something very drastic).  Yup.  It was my most glorious moment.  While my mom and I stood on the chairs (yes, we were not scared at all), he calmly informed me that he looked young and that skunks were really very nice and that it was totally okay and yes, he then somehow magically herded that skunk out the door.

As you can see, he is calmly leaving the house.  No big deal.  If you are a superhero maybe.

Uh, yes, I'm pretty sure he is a super hero.  Actually I think both he and his wife are secret super heroes considering some of her hunting stories (if you know her, you should ask her).

So, the moral of the stories?  I hang onto stuff WAY to much and the only person that I can fault for the current predicament I find myself in tonight is myself because most of the stuff I have to go through is mine.  And, I'm pretty much NOT a super hero but I consider myself pretty lucky to have lived next to two of them for the past year.  (Oh, actually, my mom is a super hero too.  Pretty sure even when I am not recovering from surgery, she is way stronger than me.)

On that note, I'm off to pack.  Or to eat more chocolate.

Last photo--I couldn't make myself put these in the yard sale pile.  Until...I took a photo of them.  They were Natalie's first crocs.  (Insert...ohhhhh....with a sigh and a small tear.) 

And now truly, I will sign off and go do something very important.  

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

the view from my window

I have been recovering from surgery (that was unexpected) the last few days and have never appreciated the view from my window as I have been lately.  It's been good to slow down.  I feel like this is the calm in the middle of a tornado and I'm about to get swept up in the craziness again in a few days or so.   I simply have too much to do.  Yet, there is a calm that surrounds me even in the middle of it all.

the view from my window

There is only so much I can do and there are four little ones that clamor for our attention despite whatever else needs doing.  It has been so good to have Mike back home.  Five weeks without him was just a little too long.

talking to dad

Yet, the container comes in two weeks.  There is nothing I can do to stop its arrival.  Also, I can't lift anything for two weeks.  All I can say is it should be a very interesting two weeks!  (And yes, in case you are wondering, the kids are in camp full time for the next two weeks.  I don't think I could get it done any other way.)

There is grief happening in our house over our approaching departure.  Tears comes easier, tantrums are more frequent, and hugs are given more often.  I feel like I have known too many goodbyes over the past 6 1/2 years.  Even if the changes are the best kinds of changes, goodbyes are never easy and always leave a heart clenching memory in it's wake.

There are other updates I want to share.   I'm so excited about the new sponsors that have partnered in our work in eastern DRC with Reeds of Hope.   Thank you!!  We now only need three more sponsors!  Here are the two little ones that still need sponsors.



These are specifically sponsorships for the children that live in the orphanage.  I'm most excited about the fact that when we are at full sponsorship we can begin to work on our goal of family reunification and alternative care.  There is nothing easy about this work.  A lot of the families live near the orphanage and are simply poor farmers.  The fathers are caring for the older siblings at home.   

There are others that come from far away.  One of the children we support is from an area that is where there is a lot of violence.  An area where there is a lot of displacement of populations.  I would recommend watching this video.  It is eye opening to the reality of what people in eastern DRC face who live in the areas where there is fighting.  (It is not for young viewers).   Our work is complicated by the insecurity that the region faces. (The orphanage we support, though in eastern DRC, is not located near the violence and most of our children are from farmers that are not directly living in areas of conflict.)

Yes, despite the challenges and despite how small our work feels compared to the overwhelming atrocities in eastern DRC, working with the children is worth all our best efforts.  Reuniting a child with his father, making sure he has high quality formula when he is dropped off after his mother died by a desperate father, providing loving caring women to love that infant, this work is valuable and means everything to that father and his family. 

Sometimes I get overwhelmed by what is happening in eastern DRC.  I feel broken by the pain and my own helplessness.  I feel hopeless, that it will never change and the suffering will happen over and over again.  But when I look at the work we and others are doing, the small numbers of lives we are all touching, I know that it does make a difference.  It makes all the difference to that child and his or her family.  And then, in their smiles, I see hope.  Hope for the people in eastern DRC.

If you have interest in sponsoring one of the last two children, please check out our website.  Sponsorships are $25/month.  Thank you! 

(More to come about a very important part of Reeds of Hope, supporting older children to go to school.  Please check back in.)

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Changes (Moving back to Africa)

In a little over one month we are moving back to Africa.  My husband has almost finished his degree and after an extensive (and exhausting) job hunt, we decided on a job in Mwanza, Tanzania.  We had hoped to live overseas in Africa again, but we didn't realize it would be this soon.  It seems our time in the U.S. will have been short (only two years). 

Mike will be doing development work, like he has for many years.  We are excited to get back to Africa and especially to be living in Tanzania.  There are many reasons for this and why it is a great decision for our family right now, but there are also some personal reasons why I am excited, the being that I miss living in Africa, specifically central/eastern Africa. 

I really want to learn Swahili.  I have no particular gift at learning languages and have found that living where the language is spoken encourages me to not give up in the language learning process.  Our girls' Congolese family speak Swahili and not French and communication with them has been hard.  I would love for the girls to learn their first language.  That would be a gift. 

Mwanza is on the bottom of Lake Victoria and the climate is very similar to where we lived in eastern DRC (and we were on a lake there too).  It is an area with more security and infrastructure so the practical aspects of life will be much easier.  There is also a much larger ex-pat family group which will be great as well.  Natalie is very excited that her school will be English speaking and not french speaking. 

Mwanza is actually pretty close to eastern DRC (all things considered).  I am REALLY excited about this because when I was in DRC last month I realized I really need to visit our programs more often and be on the ground more.  This move will enable me to do so.  And I miss DR Congo all the time.  It's pretty amazing that we will be so close.  On the map below if you find Mwanza at the bottom of the lake and then you go directly west, you will see Bukavu!

This is a brief and there is a lot more to the story about the move, what we are looking forward to, and everything that has to get done in the next month (which is a lot and very overwhelming).  We are looking forward to visiting friends and family in the states before our move.  We are doing our best not to even think about the flight over there with the four kids. 

I am soaking up every minute of every last day here.  Trying to be very present and appreciate what we been given. 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Current priorities and needs for Reeds of Hope

A friend recently reminded me of a verse from Proverbs that really resonated with me as well.  She has worked a long time in DRC and has been giving us some guidance (and wisdom) about school sponsorship programs.

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
    for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
    defend the rights of the poor and needy.
Proverbs 31:8-9 (NIV)

I've always felt that everyone has a voice and a story.   Even the most desperately poor and vulnerable.  But that sometimes it isn't heard or there are circumstances that prevent us from hearing them or even them from speaking.  I think the little ones we serve are those that need us to speak up for them.

Akonkwa, age 2

One of the most urgent and pressing convictions I felt when I was in DRC visiting the orphanage was that the babies, toddlers, and preschoolers need their families.  They shouldn't be growing up in an orphanage.  We can bring formula and we can hire women to care for them, but in the end, what they need most urgently of all is a loving family. 

As a reminder, ALL the babies are brought to the orphanage by either a family member, a church member or a friend of the family.  These are not babies that have been abandoned on the road and found without any history or known family.  Most of the babies are brought to the orphanage by family members that cannot afford formula and are in a desperate situation.  Most families drop their babies off planning to come get them again. 

Safari (smiled most of our visit), 8 months old

Why don't they get them sooner?  Well, I don't have all the answers for that.  But I can imagine a couple of them.  The biggest reason I believe is that we have nothing in place that helps them get them back sooner!   At the orphanage the children get three meals a day, they get milk, they get meat, and they have health care and are taken to church.  They have clothing and beds.  They live in a secure compound.  In essence, from a physical standpoint they lives are better than their life at home.  Right now, we are basically caring for their children and hoping something changes in their life that would bring them just a little out of extreme poverty so that they feel like they can care for their child.  This is the vital work we want to do; working with vulnerable families that are in crisis so they can keep their children. 

But their children are not forgotten.   Their families still visit and check on their children if they live within a days walk away.  Other families may call the director.  After being involved at the orphanage for 3 years, I can say that most families pick up their children at around 2 years old.

Another reason that I think is a barrier is that the father hasn't remarried.  If he hasn't remarried it is likely the rest of his children are being cared for by someone else in his family or that he is getting help from others in caring for them.  Many fathers wait to marry again and then come get their child.  And you need money to get married.  Most families are desperately poor who bring their children to the orphanage.

Also, I believe that lack of bonding and perceived lack of dependence prevents families from picking up their child.   Visits are infrequent by those families that live far away.  Which means that when they do visit their child may react to them as they would a stranger.  His or her needs are being met by the orphanage (for the most part).  The child doesn't "need" their father, he is not bonded with the child (as much as he may love the child) and the child is not bonded to him.

Anipa (sitting), one year old

This may sound daunting.  And it is!  But I firmly believe that children should be with their families.  And within a year of initial arrival at the orphanage (ideally 6 months).  The orphanage should be more like an emergency short term baby home.  This is the work I passionately believe in.  (And yes, at times, I am very overwhelmed by the work required and the challenges we face).

Now, I realize, immediately there will be those reading this that will say, "But Holly, what about those children that cannot go back to their families???".   There will be those children.  There are two children at the orphanage right now that are 6 years old.  (Of note, we recently had a dad come and pick up his son who was 5 1/2 years old.)  First, I will say, I firmly believe children belong with their families and that there is another long post that will explain more about how we envision overcoming some of the barriers that prevent the families from caring for their children.  Second, I firmly believe that if they cannot be placed back with their families then alternative in-country care should be found.  Most families in Congo are caring for orphans.  Most families in Congo are caring for children who lost either their mother or their father.  Every family I knew while we lived there had a child in their home that they cared for that wasn't their child by birth (imagine if that was the case in the U.S.!).  And we know a lot of loving, caring, incredible Congolese people.  Long term family placements can be found.  And third, I do believe in a role for international adoption, but I really feel like few children will need it if we do number one and number two well.

Claude, 10 months old

So, here (briefly) are our current priorities--
1. Meet our monthly budget that enables us to provide quality (short term) care.
2. Family assessment that will guide our planning as we work toward family reunification (or alternative care).
3. School fees, notebooks and uniforms for the 80 children we support every year. (Much more on this important work soon.)
4. Raise funds for a motorcycle so our staff can check on and visit the children we support after they leave the orphanage.
5. Training and capacity building of our staff. 

Right now, we need our monthly budget met so we can move to number two.  We have to make sure we have enough funds to feed the babies in our care.  Right now, we do that by monthly sponsorships.  We have some children that need sponsors.  Do you want to join us in our work by sponsoring a child?  Or would you like to give a monthly contribution that will support our work?  

All the children pictured and named in this post need sponsors.  A sponsor can either fully sponsor a child ($50/month) or partially sponsor a child ($25/month).  

Consider joining us as we work in eastern DRC.  It will not be easy, we will need courage, wisdom, and the grace of God.  We also need the support of others that care for the vulnerable children of eastern DRC.  Please visit our website to donate (or donation buttons on the side of this blog).  Thank you!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Remembering when I was thankful for water (dry season in DR Congo)

Right now in New York it is raining.  A lot.  When we went strawberry picking yesterday the strawberries were mush.  Today, there are floods.  It hardly seems like July.

Last night, I received an email from a good friend of mine that lives in DRC.  Sue and Bill Vinton are actually not just friends, they are our family.  She and her husband are missionaries in Bukavu with Grace Mission International.  It's dry season now.  Lots of dust and too little water.  When I was there a few weeks ago, it was dry season but it had just started.  The grass was still green.  There was water in the cisterns.  We used buckets for baths.  Water came out of the taps in the evenings to wash hands and flush toilets.

Before we moved from DRC two years ago, we had gone through a horrible dry season.  The cisterns were empty and no water came in from the city at night.  We went days with no water.  Using water that had been saved in Jerry cans.  We sent out drivers to try to find water for us throughout the city.  Because we couldn't cross the boarder with Ellie and Mia, we couldn't take a "vacation" to Rwanda where there was water.  I started researching how you make sure you kill cholera from lake water before use!  But our struggles were nothing, not when one considered the children at night.

Sue was so nice to give me permission to copy her email here.  I thought it was beautiful and worth reading.   A wonderful reminder of thanking God for our everyday needs.
We've had no water for a week.  Thankfully we did have a full cistern at the beginning of the week, but it has gotten lower and lower each day without being replenished.  I looked every morning to see if water had come in and if so, I would do laundry. But alas, nothing.

This morning I was praying and I was praying that the cisterns ( we have a large and a small one) would get filled, that God would give us lots of water. And then it dawned on me that water is the only thing I have to trust him for day by day (for like my daily physical needs), and that he wants me to just go one day at a time.  Don't worry about full cisterns, just pray for enough water for today. That is the life that so many people all over the world live--for food, for health care, for school fees--it's all just one day at a time.  In all the years I've lived here I've never not had food for tomorrow, medicine or the possibility of purchasing medicine for illness, or the ability to pay school fees (excepting college, which we haven't been able to pay). But the day to day dependency on God that so so many people we know live with, is finally felt by me in this one small area.

So I decided that there was enough water to do laundry today if I hauled buckets from the gross cistern where the water looks kind of nasty and I really don't want to use it for much.  I figured that as long as it came out of the cistern looking clean it would be good enough for our clothes.  So for 4 1/2 hours I hauled buckets and buckets of water, and fussed with electricity problems and worked on saving water in my attempt to do laundry.  I put trunks out to drain the washing machine water into. One for the soapy water after washing, one for the cleaner rinse water after rinsing. Then I used the rinse water for wash water for a second load. Then I cleaned and fought with dust and used up the soapy water for cleaning dirt. There's endless dirt here.  Our diningroom table has to be wiped before you sit at it to do anything.  Anyway, I finally finished 2 loads of laundry and now I have a trunk of dirty wash water and a trunk of "clean" rinse water.  We'll be using that water for flushing the toilet and mopping, dusting, etc. It's nice to have the laundry done.

Some water came into the big cistern while I was washing, but it's not even 1/4 full. So I'll pray for water for tomorrow, tomorrow. And I'll try not to worry and stress out about the fact that we don't have lots of water. Instead I'll try to trust God for water like my Congolese friends trust for so many daily needs.