Sunday, July 29, 2012

Orphanage Bed and Clothing Project

This Saturday, we had a bed and clothing party at the orphanage. The little orphanage needs so much, and has so little. The owner of the orphanage has a heart the size of the continent of Africa. Earlier this year when we first visited the orphanage, we assessed the great need. One of the adoption agencies from the US was with us on that trip. We knew that we wanted to do something. As missionaries we are limited in the scope of what we can do. The adoption agency representative, a truly wonderful women, took it upon herself to raise money to repair the building so a school could be maintained in an acceptable room. She is continuing with that project. She was at the orphanage on Saturday, and we met the engineer who is competing her project who was also there. During our first visit determined at that time to do something. Since the children were sleeping on the ground, we thought we could make beds for them. Elder Billings, the construction program missionary said under his direction, we could make beds for them. The sisters decided to make clothing for the kids. Saturday, the beds and clothing were finished and we took them out. Five bunk beds and a new outfit for each child. The following is a pictorial glimpse of the project. Under a separate correspondence, we have thanked those who generously gave of their money to help finance the project. We thank them again.
preparing the assemble bunk beds. Mission President Jameson and Elder Billings.
Elder Smith working on beds as children watch
Suzane and adoption agency person
Orphanage owner and vision impaired young man that has been their since birth. He liked his new shirt and shorts.
Children loved the beds. Sorry this is so dark. I ran out of battery on my flash camera and took this with the iPod. (Note to Apple, put flash on iPods.)
The stake president, who came by to see how it was going, with the mission president.
We feel truly blessed by the generosity and goodwill of our friends and the will always remember he love of these beautiful children.
As usual, the children bid us a fond farewell. They call, au revoir, (French), Byo, (Lingala), Bye Bye...

Saturday, July 7, 2012


Many basic infrastructure necessities are missing here. We are constantly amazed at the resilience and creativity of the Congolese. Mass transportation is one of the elements of the infrastructure that is lacking. In a city of 10 - 15 million people, the vast majority of whom do not have automobiles, getting from the outlying neighborhoods into the city to work or sell their wares must depend on some sort of transportation. The free-enterprise entrepreneurial spirit has somewhat solved this problem. In Kinshasa there exists an informal or parallel economy. That is to say, with 85% unemployment, people must find ways to feed themselves and their families outside of the normal job market. Transportation is one of them. Since the government has not provided mass-transportation, the entrepreneurs have. There is one very very old train that runs from Masina, the highly populated suburb, into down town Kinshasa. It comes in about 8 am with several thousand people jammed into it, and then goes back in the evening. Most transportation is provided by old beat-up vans. The owners remove the seats and replace them with 2x4 slats. That way they can get 20+ people in a 9 passenger van. It costs about 500 Congolese Francs to ride across town. (that is about $1). There are no set times or routes, they follow the crowds and come and go as they please. For these "transport" drivers, traffic rules are more suggestions than rules. They will come down the wrong way on a street, run red lights (well, anyway, the four traffic lights in the city.) A good rule of thumb for driving among the transports is to ask yourself, "what is the absolute dumbest, most dangerous thing that transport driver will do next?" Then, he will surpass your expectations. Sidewalks are fair game for the transport drivers. Anyone who owns an automobile is automatically a taxi. People line the streets and cars will stop and pick them up to take them on their way for 500FC. Goods are often moved around the city on "Pus-Pus" carts, they too can be a challenge to ones driving. Big trucks (Poire Lourd) are interesting. Some I think were left behind when the Belgians left 50 years ago, some I think, are world war two left overs. All in all, driving here is somewhat like bumper cars on steroids. Suzanne says that I must go to driving detox before I can drive to Safeway when we get home.
Typical group of taxis. Most are blue and yellow. The one in the center of the picture is a very nice one. People look for rides on anything they can find.
Pus-pus in a neighborhood
Loaded pus pus
Sometimes you can catch a ride on a pus-pus
Sometimes you ride, sometimes you push
Some times you put 20 pounds in a 5 pound bag
At some point you should just give up and carry it on your head.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

This week we took a Senior Couple field trip to TIFIE farms. This is Robert Workman's humanitarian project here in the DRC. (Google Robert Workman, TIFIE) TIFIE stands for Teaching Individuals and Families Independence Through Enterprise. This facility is about two and a half hours outside of Kinshasa.
It is definitely out in the bush. We passed rolling African hills and rivers. This facility is a farm. The goal of this farm seems to be two-fold. 1) to develop a better strain of Kasava plants and 2) teaching individuals, families, and villages how to become self-reliant and self-supporting. Kasava is the main stay of the Congolese diet.
The Kasava plant is a hearty leafy plant with tuberous roots. People pick the leaves, crush them in a mortar and pestle type affair. They then boil the leaves into a spinach-like dish. They put spices, onions, tomatoes, etc. into it and cook it.
The root of the Kasava plant is peeled, diced, soaked for a couple of days to leach out the arsenic resident in the plant, dried for several days in the sun, and then ground into a flour similar to corn meal. A dish called Foo-Foo is made of the flour and is eaten with the spinach type stuff. If you made play dough out of a coarse white flour and ate it - it would be foo-foo. (most African countries have a dish similar to foo-foo made from flour or corn meal that goes by different names.) Kasava grows without much water, and seems to be very hearty. Once a plant is pulled out of the ground, to harvest the roots, a branch may be cut into several 6 inch lengths, then laid in the ground and will produce a new plant. At TIFIE, in cooperation with USAID, they have developed a more hearty, quicker producing, and more nourishing plant - called Obama Kasava. The Kasava is harvested at TIFIE by several nearby villages. The villages rotate turns harvesting the product. A daily quota is set and each member of the work team is paid for his/her days work. There is a daily quota of harvest that must be met before they are paid. Also, as a bonus, the smaller Kasava roots are given to the workers. So the daily operation of harvest is 1) pull the plant from the ground, 2) cut off the tuber/roots, 3) haul the tubers to the collection point, 4) sort the tubers into sizes, 5) peel the outside tough skin off of the tuber, 6) load them in containers for processing. The teams are working at full speed to make the daily production goal.
The Kasava is then dried in the open, the bagged and sent to be ground into flour. Then, after the villages are taught how to care for and harvest the crop, they are given plant cuttings, then TIFIE brings in their tractors, creates a "farm" area in the village, helps them get started and then the village can grow, harvest, and sell the Kasava in the market place. Thus gaining self-reliance and independence from multi-generational poverty. They also raise rabbits for food. They are implementing a project now that teaches villages how to raise, slaughterer, and market the rabbits. They will provide each family with a pair of rabbits and let nature do the rest. This one more effort by good people to break the chain of poverty in Africa.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Harmon Grant and Music

Suzanne has coordinated the Harmon Music Grant in the DR Congo since we arrived. The Harmon Grant provides keyboards/pianos to those who will learn basic music conducting skills and how to play the piano. Basically, if a person will agree to learn music, and then be willing to share their musical talents with others by playing for Church meetings or teaching others to play/conduct,the Harmon Grant provides a keyboard for them. The Congolese love music. They love to sing the hymns of the Church. They have a natural ability to sing on key. Example: recently, one of our volunteers in the office had a birthday, Suzanne made a birthday cake (perhaps his first cake ever) and there were several PEF applicants and other students in the office. They sang "happy birthday" to him in perfect harmony. They did it once in French, then regrouped to determine who would sing what parts, the sang it again in French, then English, then Lingala. We have never heard such a great version of Happy Birthday. Wherever we go, people seek out Suzanne and ask for music lessons. Many wards do not have pianist. In fact, many wards do not have pianos. From young children to even the Area 70 are numbered among Suzanne's students Here is a Member of the Quorum of Seventy learning simple hymns with Suzanne. One of Suzanne's early students. This young sister was asked to lead the music in Sacrament Meeting. She had never led music and did not know how to lead music correctly. Here she has just finished the conducting course and is very proud of herself. The Seminary and Institute Secretary taking lessons. At Suzanne's discretion, students may receive a keyboard - on loan - with which to practice. Then, when they have completed the music courses and demonstrated their willingness to serve others or play for meetings - and when their bishop and stake president have signed off, they may receive the key board to keep. One of Suzanne's students had never played piano before starting lessons. He was given a keyboard on which to practice. He took it home and practiced tirelessly. We attended a stake conference, and there he was, playing prelude music. This is a great program. Joseph is a very musical young man. He and Suzanne have worked together with choirs and the like. He has been teaching several people in his stake to play the piano. It is important that good efforts continue after we are gone Suzanne and her legion of fans..

Monday, May 7, 2012

Greetings from Africa. It has been a while. The Perpetual Education Fund is progressing. These kids are awesome. We love working with them. We are seeing young adults who are progressing in school, finding jobs, and changing their lives. In our spare time, we have been to a couple of orphanages to play and visit. Our French friends, Eric and Chantal invited us to go to an orphanage of older children to play one Saturday. A young French man is here teaching at the French School. (his wife lives in Geneva and is friends with Eric and Chatal - who live in France, but just accros the border from Geneva - are friends with his wife. His wife's ward in Geneva had sent some money to buy food and stuff for them. We went out, organized soccer and frisby games and visited.
The man who runs the home has a large house he has built and takes in older kids off the street. He uses his own money from his job to support them.
They played the drums and sang to us. They love to sing and dance.
Suzanne with one of the younger kids
They have a home made large checker board that uses bottle caps for checkers. They are really good. They don't have a lot of things to do. The kids beat all of us soundly.
The Geneva ward had sent coloring and craft books for the kids. They loved it.
The other orphanage we visit has many many needs. We decided to build some beds and tables for the kids. The kids are sleeping on the bare ground and getting bug bites etc. There table broke apart, so they have no place to eat. Hense, the bed and table project. Elder Billings and I built the prototype. One of our young friends came by to help.
Sister Billings is heading the sewing project to make clothing for the kids. There is so much to do and so little time and resources to do it all. But we enjoy helping when and where we can.

Monday, April 9, 2012

CBS 60 Minute view of DR Congo

This was sent to us. We do not have TV here, so we did not see it first hand look at the street scenes.  That is how it is here.  The walk those boys take to rehearsal look just like the trails we go on with the Humanitarian couple when they show us well sites.  The boys house is pretty nice and far above the standard place to live.  The conductor has a really nice place!  Way, Way above standard.  We wanted to share this as it is very true to life Congo.;contentAux   Or  

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Building Chapels, Building Self-Reliance

In the DR Congo, the two missions realize approximately 500 convert baptisms per month. That amounts to almost a ward a month. The retention and activity rate remain high. The Congolese people are very spiritual, open, and love the Lord. They have very few books to read, however most have a Bible. They read the Bible, are conversant with the scriptures, and easily accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They live in great poverty and difficulties. Unemployment, disease, and poverty. However, one of the favorite hymns that they sing whenever hymns are sung is, "Count Your Many Blessings." A joy comes into their lives with the Gospel. Temporally, it remains difficult, but the hope, faith, and promise of eternity fills their hearts. A dual problem arises with high growth rates and unemployment. 1. What do we use for meeting houses if we convert a ward a month? I recently saw retention figures showing 95% retention over the past 13 month period. Many wards have 110% attendance at sacrament meetings - high activity rates and many non-member visitors. 2. How to we help provide opportunity for members to gain the requisite skills to find work. This question has pre-occupied the thinking of the Church, as the member population grows rapidly in developing countries. BUILDING CONCEPT
Last year, the Church announced the intention to create a pilot program in the DR Congo. If the Church could facilitate training of members in the building skills, members could find employment or create jobs for themselves. The First Presidency approved a plan to build more modest chapels using the membership to do so. As a young missionary in France, I briefly participated in the volunteer or missionary building efforts then in place. As I finished my mission, my mission president asked if I and a few others would extend our missions for a month or two to help with the construction of a chapel in Nice, France. There, French, Swiss, and Belgian young men were called as labor missionaries to construct the new chapel. It was a wonderful program, these young men learned skills and trades as well as providing a great service. This program was discontinued in the mid 1960's. Revisiting the concept, the Presiding Bishopric, under the direction of the First Presidency, put a new plan in place. A program to train worthy individuals (focusing mostly on return missionaries) in the building trades, then hiring some of them to construct chapels. Suzanne and I were fortunate enough to be in a small meeting with Bishop Burton, the Presiding Bishop of the Church, as details were set in place. Because the Perpetual Education Fund should play a role in the education process, we were invited.
There, Bishop Burton made it very clear that "this is a training program, not an employment, or building program." And, that "Return missionaries are the prime target for this effort." A native French Brother was assigned to direct the effort. He is from Salt Lake and has been involved in building and has spent much time in Africa directing temporal affairs of the Church. Also, an extremely talented and spiritual brother from France was assigned to lead the projects here in Africa. In 6 months time, the plans were completed, working with LDS Business College in Salt Lake City, instruction manuals, "how to" videos, and curriculum were developed. And the program initiated. About this time a brother retired from a Salt Lake City college where he had taught construction techniques for 30 years. He and his wife decided to serve a mission. He mentioned to his sister that he would love to serve a mission teaching building principle in an emerging nation to help return missionaries become equipped with skills that would help them become employed and self-reliant. His sister happened to work at Church headquarters and mentioned to Bishop Burton about her brother's desire. To which Bishop Burton replied, "you just answered my prayers, where is he?" Elder and Sister Billings arrived in the DR Congo - Kinshasa Mission three weeks ago. They are truly an answer to prayer.
Here is a typical class at work with Elder and Sister Billings. preparing the site, laying a foundation, and basic masonry. The young man in the green shirt in front is one of our PEF students and former volunteer at the PEF Service Center. Elder and Sister do not speak French, and this young man was hired as their interpreter. We hated to lose him, but are pleased that he found employment and can be of great service while the Billings learn to speak French. (For the Huntsman family, he served with Johnny in South Africa.)
Yesterday, Elder Billings was teaching them to make a "saw horse" in order to learn basic measuring and planning skills. The interpreter had no idea what a saw horse was. It took quite a bit of explaining to get that point across. It was perhaps the first saw horse in the DR Congo. By the way, the name for a saw horse is "trétaux."
There are very few power tools in the DR Congo. Most of the work is done by hand saws, hammer and nails, etc. These pictures were taken at the training site behind the Kinshasa Stake Center. The Seminary and Institute Building which houses the Seminary and Institute facility, the Center for Young Adults, and the PEF Service Center are adjacent. They hold classroom theory in the class-room next our our office in the morning, then practical application on the practice area outside.
Elder Billings on the training site doing the two things he loves best - teaching young people how to build properly - and serving the Lord as a missionary.
Sister Billings using a desk in our office to keep up with the administrative and keeping a journal of the progress. There are currently two chapels being built by previously trained teams of return missionaries in the Kinshasa area. 20 more chapels are in the planning stage to meet the growing needs in throughout the DR Congo. One does not have to look very far to see the hand of the Lord in the work in Africa.