It is said that the soil of Africa is red from the years of bloodshed over the land. A land of great resources and beauty, now poverty-stricken and ruined by corruption along with years of war. It was this land that I've visited twice. In the summer of 2011, I went with a group of women and teenagers to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The first time I went to Congo was in 2009, so some things have changed quite a bit since then. There were a lot more soldiers (who were armed with machine guns) around and three UN peace troop camps were in a city of 200,000 people, Gemena. We stayed at an orphan training ground called Elykia. Our group worked with the orphans in Globalfingerprints, a sponsorship program, and we visited their homes. All of the children were delighted that we visited them.
One of the days there, we visited a hospital in a village called Tandala. Though the hospital was one of the best in the country, its conditions were the opposite. Only a few of the beds had a mattress since most were stolen during a war, there's a major shortage in much-needed medicine, no running water, no bathrooms (the children were sitting in their own waste in the pediatric ward), and no electricity, except a generator for the operating room.
One thing we learned on our trip is to never go when an election is a few months away. There was a lot of hostility toward us compared to 2009.
Another thing to know is that you have to wear long skirts for girls. Though the society is starting to accept pants more, quite a few people would be disgusted if a girl were to wear pants. Also, skirts can't be tight at the rear since it's scandalous. Since I'm on the topic of clothing, wear thick shoes that are closed-toed because there is a parasite in the dirt that loves to dig into your feet and lay eggs… it's quite painful to get them removed from what I hear.
Traveling to Gemena via airplane from Kinshasa can be dangerous. A week or two after we left, a plane going from Gemena to Kinshasa crashed and everyone onboard died. As a matter of fact, when the plane lands safely on a runway, the people in the plane applaud for a good, safe landing. A safer, but longer route is to cross the river from Bangui, C.A.R. into Congo, then taking a truck to the destination. This can also be treacherous since there are no paved roads and bridges wash out in the rain.
It’s extremely dangerous to travel alone. Always be accompanied by a national.
Always take malaria medication…. Malaria is something you don’t want to take home.
Finally, though these children live in one of the poorest countries in the world, they give everything they have to give with smiles on their faces. For the church offering, they dance up there, as happy as they can be, as they put 40 Congolese Franc (.04 cents in the US Dollar) into the offering. They gave us their crop of bananas and pineapples though they might not have anything else to eat. Even the mothers give their food to their children so they can grow up as healthy as they can be.
From this trip, I believe that one of the best ways to fight poverty is to give children an education, hope, and love though established sponsorship programs.
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