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Following Miles' trip with Warchild

Ngangi & Kinogo

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Tuesday 8.30 – The first conversation of today was “Mosquito net 2 – electric boogaloo”. Wendy might have laughed at me yesterday for my mosquito net incident, but she wasn’t laughing this morning, as hers fell off the ceiling onto her last night. Although, unlike most sequels, this one packed a punch, as mine fell off again at 6am too…

Today was always going to be jam packed. Either side of visits to Ngangi & Kinogo, we had meetings organised with senior people at MONUSCO and UNHCR (UN organisations), which were very educational, but not to be blogged about as a lot of the information was very sensitive, and could lose to people losing jobs, and others losing lives.

It’s also Jas’ last full day with us, so we’re out for a special dinner tonight. She still hasn’t done anything to take the piss out of though, which is very disappointing and no fun at all, although my supply of Twix’s won’t be going down as regularly now, which my tummy is particularly happy about. She will be missed by all of us.

8.40 – we’ve just driven past the local airstrip in Goma, which was pretty much decimated by the volcano eruption is 2004. I’m sure I just saw the plane from Lost in there – hopefully we’ll bump into Kate at some point – what with me being short and British, I’m sure I’ve got a chance if we do!

9.45 – We arrive at Kinogo, which is the sister project to Maison Margarite which I blogged about yesterday, but on a much grander scale. What was really noticeable as we drove through the district just before was just how lucky the people in this project are – the huts they live in, and the facilities, are fantastic compared to what is usual in daily life in the surrounding areas of Goma.

Whilst there is still an area here for at risk women, it’s also for at risk women with their older children. There are 400 houses, with 800 families on this huge site, and the ability for the families to buy the property at a cheap rate too.

There is a smell of ash still in the air, but unlike the camps we visited at the weekend, the sanitation is pretty good, with the toilets fitted with KVIP’s, which are essentially methane gas pipes that collects the methane, and puts it high up into the sky, rather than it being stuck on the ground.

3 of the houses in the project are run by children, but the rest have adults. Schooling for the children that live here is free, which is very rare for DRC, but more of that later.

We were able to visit the weaving class, where mothers and daughters are able to learn the trade together, and are able to sell their wares (alongside more sewing and embroidery) at the Ngongi boutique (I picked up some very nice placemats).

Unlike Margarite, there is no power or water at this camp, but some entrepreneurs at the camp have built a generator and water container which they can buy at a price, or they can walk 2km to get water, also for a price, but slightly cheaper. Don Bosco, who built all the houses and the rest of the project, don’t want the people there to be dependent, and are trying to encourage them to move forward withtheir lives.

Directly next to Kinogo is the Ngangi project. Essentially, this is a giant school, with 3,300 students who are able to get a primary education, but also learn trades such as furniture making. But it’s also a lot more than that.

Schooling in DRC is meant to be free as part of the constitution, but the reality is that it’s not, and Ngangi is deemed the only free school in the area. The average that primary schools charge in the country is $7 a month, with secondary school $14 a month, with books and uniforms on top of that. Sounds cheap right? But the reality is that the average wage in DRC is $460 a year. And the average amount of children in each family is 8. Which, as you can imagine, has lead to a lot of children not even getting the basic education, hence so many street children in the country, or children working, whether that be to collect firewood for their families (which increases the chance of rape and abduction) or begging.

Ngangi is a lot more than just a school though, with an orphanage built in too, with the youngest child there being just 7 days old. Most of the orphans are there because their mothers have died in childbirth, or from the trauma of seeing their child, particularly amongst those mothers who have become pregnant via rape, although many are just abandoned, and the project also looks for the families to see if it’s possible to re-integrate them with their families.

There are 54 babies in total in the orphanage, and lots of other children who come from all over the Kivu regions. There is one social worker per 40 children, which is ridiculously high, but the funds for the project only go so far, and with 240 members of staff, 3,300 children, all of whom are fed and educated, it’s amazing that they can afford to keep it open at all. It’s estimated that 10,000 children have been referred to the project in the last year, so, as with every project over here, there is a lot of means testing that goes on so that the most deserving and poorest children are able to get the education that they need, and we in the West take for granted.

There are also football pitches at the school – although there isn’t much grass on them. The pitches are a combination of lava, dust and wood shavings which come from the furniture workshop, one of the trades you can learn in the school, the products of which helps keep the school running. It’s fair to say that the machinery in there is very basic, but it does the job. As for the pitches, well, last season us Watford fans were constantly moaning about the state of the pitch – this puts it into a whole new dimension.

One of the amazing things about Ngangi is the medical centre. Hospitals are a rarity in the country, and this is a dedicated centre for the people at the project (and, occasional, those in Kinogo) where they can treat the basic and most common illnesses of malaria and diarrhea sickness. For child birth, major illnesses and most other medical issues, the children are referred to hospital.

On the day of our visit, we met and American women, Dr.Sylvia Gleeson, who comes to the centre each year for 3 weeks, this year bringing a bunch of American student doctors with them. She is one of many volunteers who bring much needed experience to the medical centre and through her project congo NGO, has also managed to bring in much needed equipment – oxygen wasn’t available in the centre until she brought it in a few years ago, and she has also managed to adapt a vetinary portable x-ray to be used there to check for breaks – might sound a bit odd, but the same equipment is used in the field by the US army, except they pay $20k for the equipment. The vet version is $5k, and a stand was built in the centre to give it extra functionality. Very resourceful.

They also have a generator in the project so that when (inevitably) the power goes out, it’s only down for a few minutes before the generator kicks in.

Ngangi is another Don Bosco project, but couldn’t run without the help of lots of other NGO’s. We were lucky enough to meet the person who heads up the whole project, and has done for over 40 years, Father Piero. There are over 240 staff working there, many of whom are provided by partnerships with the other NGO’s, such as VIS in Italy who co-ordinate a lot of the work, particularly on the education and food for the pupils, and we met 3 people from there too – they work with WarChild on quite a few of the Don Bosco projects.

Father Piero’s phone rang in the meeting. His ringtone? We wish you a merry Xmas….

It was then time to go and look at the main project that War Child are working on there, which is one of “micro-credit”.

The point of the micro-credit programme is to help vulnerable women to set up, or expand, business for them and their children. To qualify for this particular programme, the mother must have a child in the centre and, again, everyone is means tested to see if they qualify.

The kinds of businesses that they’ll support are the expansion of roadside shack shops, setting up said shops, or businesses making clothes and the like.

The person applying for the micro-credit is given an amount of money, and has a year to pay it back. If they pay it back in the first year, they can then get a second, larger, payment on the same terms, and a futher payment in the third year.

The amounts of money I’m talking about here are tiny – typically $30-$50 for the first payment. The difference they make though is huge.

We went out to meet 3 of the micro-loan beneficiaries to a strip of shops not that far away, although quite a scary area (we do tend to get surrounded wherever we go, but this was slightly menacing).

The first woman we met sells charcoal. She had the business previously, and would go out and travel 150 km to get a bag of charcoal, which would take 7 days or more, come back, sell it, and go and get another one, only being able to get 1 at a time due to having to walk a lot of the way, and getting lifts where she could.

With her loan of $30, she was able to send someone to get the coal for her, and fill up a van. Her profit margins are up 300% because she’s able to have more stock, and sell it, despite the extra costs – however, she’s worried about her new found “wealth” (she makes around $3 profit per bag she sells) so sleeps in with the charcoal in the little shack.

She has 8 children, and has so far managed to get 2 of them back to proper schooling.

The second we meet sells processed manioc which people grind to turn into flour. She has managed to raise her profit margins to a massive 1,500% in the 2 years she’s been part of the scheme, and as well as being able to afford a padlock for the door on her business, she has now been able to get 8 out of her 9 children back into proper education.

The third we visited was a small pharmacy in a shack, which was set up by a woman who was working in a pharmacy before earning $20 a month. One of her daughters actually had the day off school that day to work in the shop, but of the mothers 6 children, she’s hoping to put them all into proper education soon, and now has her own business having borrowed just $40.

The micro-credit scheme has so far helped over 100 businesses and has a brilliant 95% re-imbursement rate. It’s lead to more kids being schooled, so having a much better chance in life, as well as them having more to eat, and better health. A superb scheme, I’m sure you’ll agree.


Written by milesjacobson

June 22, 2011 at 3:13 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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