This past week I returned to Uganda where I met up with Innocent again and together we made a dash to the DRC. The purpose of the trip was to further the progress in establishing a ministry in the DRC. Due to the shortness of time I had available plus some delays in Uganda, we ended up spending only 2 ½ days in the DRC – although it felt like 2 weeks! By God’s grace we accomplished all our objectives and some!
Region visited: North East, right on the boarder of Uganda
In the DRC we met up with Innocent’s Grandpa who at 80 years old is still striving to see progress in the DRC, is a leader in the community, and goes around on the back of a motorbike! The only ailment he complained of, on one occasion, was sore knees (and this after being on and off a motor bike for 2 days straight!). In addition, we went with 2 of his Grandpa’s associates from Medical Aid for Poverty Eradication (M.A.P.E) who doubled as drivers.
Our mode of transport was motorbikes; the best option over the (often poorly-kept) dirt roads. They enabled us to get from town to town and out to various land plots of interest. With John’s bike being temperamental at best, Innocent and I were left to share a bike, driven by a legendary kid called Phillip.
I was impressed in our travels with the hard work ethic of the people. Much of the picture painted is dim. We learnt that most are lucky if they eat one meal a day. The children lack school facilities and hospitals/ health clinics lack adequate medications. We watched school children carry bundles of green reeds to repair the thatch on the school buildings – and this on a Saturday! It certainly makes one appreciate their own school days more. School children also work the school gardens, bringing hoes and other equipment from home, and may also be expected to help harvest the coffee plots of their teachers. But there is a flip side to the coin!
As mentioned, the people are hard working. Part of the reason for the coffee business project we are working on is that whilst there are many established coffee plantations in this region of the DRC, the people lack transport to bring the coffee to market. People will carry bags of beans over 20+ kms to get them to market; they may use bicycles to help them or occasionally motorbikes. As you can guess, they cannot take much at a time and if they run into delays they may miss the market altogether, at which point most simply abandon their bags rather than cart them the day or two back home.
Farmers also lack education regarding the best methods of planting, harvesting and pruning. It is a fertile area and the climate is cool (yep – not all of Africa is scorching hot. I spent most of my time in a sweater).
What we hope to do is several fold. We want to start a coffee business which will trade in Congo coffee and also to begin a NGO in the DRC. I’ll give you a brief outline here; sorry about the briefness of it!
The business will have local, small storehouse where farmers can bring their beans to rather than try and get it long distances to the markets. We hope to have a processing plant and a main central storehouse. The idea is that the business will eventually support the ministry but will also be a ministry in itself. Innocent’s Grandpa has 3 agricultural scientists who we wish to employ to provide local farmers with training in how to best maintain and care for their coffee plantations. We also hope to provide education to women and equip them to manage small plantations. The business will create vocational opportunities in the DRC and locals will be employed and trained in all sectors. Again, the ag scientists will be utilised to upskill the workers.
Our main heart at this time is for the women and children of the DRC. We want to help provide vocational opportunities for the women and also counselling. We hope to expand Soldiers of Christ (the ministry in Gulu, Uganda, working with ex-children soldiers) in to the DRC to support children affected by war.
This is a massive project and I’m sorry that I have only lightly touched on all our plans here. There will be more coming! If you have networks or suggestions they will be most welcome! It is exciting to see how God progresses this in the coming months and years!
Finally … some quirks and mini adventures:
• My cold had its up sides – I couldn’t smell the latrines, the child behind us vomiting on a 6 hour bus ride and what I am sure was a none too pleasant aroma wafting from my person after the days in the field.
• Going 3 people and 4 bags on a dirt bike – for several hours at a time!
• Forgetting cultural differences, I arrived in Uganda budgeting for 1 and ended up paying for 6! But it was worth it. Traveling in convey with Innocent’s Grandpa and 2 others from his NGO (non-government organisation) was a blessing. They opened doors and introduced us to many influential people. They didn’t have the personal finances to come on the trip out of their own pocket but their contribution was invaluable!
• Lost John, one of the drivers/ M.A.P.E representatives, overnight when his motorbike broke down again. Apparently his horn doesn’t work either and so driving at the back we weren’t sure when we lost him (phone reception was also non-existent)! The poor man pushed his bike through the night to reach the hotel where we were staying.