Thursday, March 11, 2010

Walungu

I find myself taking on many roles here for which I am totally unqualified however, simply being that I am from the West makes me more qualified than anyone else here. Some of those roles include French teacher, translator, nurse, nutritionist, etc. Today however I took on the role of photographer. Congo Restoration, the organization that runs the orphanage, is in the beginning stages of a new project, providing seeds to women to grow and help feed their families and communities, and today I was asked to go along to take pictures of the first of those seeds being distributed. We left first thing this morning for the village of Walungu, the capital of the Walungu territory (like Quebec City and Quebec). We caught a ride with a truck full of Oxfam workers and the view along the way was spectacular. We drove past women carrying babies on their back and crops on their heads, young boys and old men herding cows along the side of the road and countless mud huts with small children running around naked out front, all to a backdrop of the beautiful green mountains and valleys. It is neither safe nor appropriate for me to pull my camera out in public so as much as I would have loved to take tons of pictures, I didn’t. I soon realized however that even a thousand pictures could not do it justice.

After about 30 minutes the Oxfam truck dropped us off on the corner of the main road and a more rural road leading into Walungu. We then continued the rest of the way on foot which took about another hour or so and was even more breathtaking than the drive. As I walked the red dirt road alongside the Congolese people, a luscious forest on my left and the mountains behind a field filled with African cows to my right, you could still smell the rain that had fallen the night before and I almost had to pinch myself to believe that I was really there. I quickly told myself to take in every moment, every detail; this was an experience of a lifetime. The first 30 minutes were great, then we reached where the road had been washed out and were forced to climb along the narrow, muddy edge that was separated from the road by a ditch which, although shallow, was filled with murky water. As some of you already know, I am extremely clumsy and have absolutely no balance whatsoever, so much so that I have be known to trip walking down a straight, paved road. So, ask me to on walk along a narrow, slippery, uneven ledge… I thought for sure I was doomed. Interestingly enough though, the verse God gave me this morning (although I didn’t understand the significance at the time) was from Psalm 18:33 – “He makes me as surefooted as a deer, leading me safely along the mountain heights…” That’s what I kept repeating to myself over and over again as I walked and, sure enough, I made it without falling into the mud.

We arrived in Walungu and after delivering the seeds we went around, in true African style, visiting various people. One of our first stops was CAMPS (Centre d’Assistance M├ędicale et Psycho-Sociale), a center providing counselling, rehabilitation, etc. to women who have been victims of rape. It was very interesting to talk to the director there and hear his perspective on what needs to be done to bring restoration to his country. According to him, although the war is over, the people and the country are so traumatized that a lot needs to be done before the country has any hope of moving forward. He believes very strongly that the future of Congo rests in the hands of the women and children and therefore it is of the utmost importance that they are provided with opportunities for healing. His organization is doing a great work among the women however he also emphasized the importance of caring for the children, most especially the orphans. We also visited the mayor of the Walungu territory. Although our time there was short he also spoke with hope in regards to the future of the Congo. One thing he said that struck me was that the children here have lost the ability to play and he spoke of the importance of simple things like teaching them games so that they can move past the trauma they have experienced and be children once again. I had to agree with his observation and I thought to myself, “I may not be able to do much but that’s one thing I can do, teach our kids how to play…”

All in all, it was a good day and I returned to the orphanage this afternoon exhausted yet at the same time feeling refreshed after a day away, filled with gratitude for the awesome privilege it is to be here and, after hearing all that the mayor CAMPS director had to say, filled with a new sense of meaning and purpose for my time here.

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