What did you do on your birthday?

Img_4014 Posted by David Gough on Fri, 03 May 2013 | 1 comments | Bookmark: digg this Post this to del.icio.us Post this to Facebook

It was Gerald’s birthday on our third day in Butembo so I managed to get over 400 children at a school as well as the congregation of Makerere Parish singing happy birthday to him, complete with a 5-piece Congolese band. Among the schoolchildren were some of the orphans that are looked after by a project of North Kivu Diocese.

Horrendous atrocities and abuses against humanity have been a trademark of the rebel war in Eastern Congo. Rape and abduction by ‘soldiers’ continue to be daily and harrowing realities. As a result, thousands of abandoned women and hundreds of unwanted children with nowhere to go and no one to look after them.

The Diocese of North Kivu and the Mothers’ Union have risen to this challenge and have been seeking to bring some light and hope in a desperate situation.

Nine years ago, Rev Immanuel and his wife Dorchas opened up their home to accommodate some of the orphans. Today 39 children live in their home – a three bedroom home with 4 bunk-beds per room – the balance of kids sleep in a store. Milltown Parish raised some money for food for the Orphanage from Carol Singing during Christmas 2011, so this has been a particularly special visit for Gerald to make.

One of the big challenges for abandoned children is schooling – they have no-one to pay the school fees that are leveed on each child (to supplement the teachers’ salaries) and so they were being turned away. So the church decided to build a school to accommodate the orphan children. Today there are 193 orphans attending school, as well as over 250 local children. They also have more recently opened a Secondary School with only nine students.

As we visited the schools, the muzungos (white men) were invited to greet the different groups of children. When I stood up I asked who was the eldest among the three muzungos, they all pointed to Robert, because he was balding. I told them it was Gerald and with the help of Bishop Isesomo, we all sang Happy Birthday.

Although the conditions are extremely basic and poor, mud walls on a wooden frame, corrugated tin roofs and mud floors, the children seemed happy as they swarmed us and wanted to hold our hands, stroke our strangely coloured skin and follow us around.

Our next stop on this busiest of days took us to a Mothers’ Union project. The Mothers’ Union here have been working closely with the widows who’ve survived many of the worst atrocities, providing medical support, trauma counselling, adult literacy classes and training to help them develop their own small businesses.

We were privileged to have a private meeting with a lady called Kavira, a local mother of five children. Her harrowing story is only too familiar in Eastern Congo where many militia groups continue to cause havoc abducting young boys and girls and abusing women. Kavira had a traumatic attack by a rebel soldier who burst into her family home. Her husband was so traumatised by the episode that he abandoned her and their seven children. Today, thanks to the medical, prayerful and practical help of the Mothers’ Union, Kavira is able to start rebuilding her life again.

Later in the day, we visited Makerere Archdeaconry on the outskirts of Butembo, where we were welcome by song and music from school children and local church members. We also visited two Primary Schools and one High School. While the schools were well staffed, they were all in need of significant repair. Most classrooms had corrugated tin roofs but the mud walls were cracked and in poor repair and they only had earthen floors. Robert and Gerald gave two of the headmasters footballs that had been provided by their parishioners – so little means so much here.

Later that evening we were hosted for dinner by the Vicar of St Andrews Cathedral and we again sang Happy Birthday to Gerald just to bring our day to a good end, if an annoying one for Gerald. I really enjoy listening to Congolese music but it can be very repetitive and loud, especially when it began at 05.30 that morning!

Friday was a long, rewarding, humbling and heart-wrenching day but one I expect that Gerald will remember for many years – I know I will.


Gerald Macartney said Sat, 04 May 2013 10:07PM
Thanks for a wonderful trip. It certainly was a birthday to remember. Now that we are back the hard work starts as we raise money for the project. Hope the trip to Kindu with Andrew is as enjoyable as ours. We will get together when you return,

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