By Mugisho Ndabuli Theophile, Founder/Exec. Director, COFAPRI. September 2014. Photos by COFAPRI ©
Journey back to DR Congo
It was a Saturday, the day was rainy when I started my journey from Kigali. The journey started at 6.30 am and it took six hours on bus to reach the border with the DR Congo.
When I reached the Rwanda-DRC border, on the side of Rwanda there were medical agents in white gowns and people from the Congo were aligned in front of them to be checked for Ebola. Ebola is a deadly disease that has been detected in the DR Congo’s Equator province and so people have been afraid of it as its consequences are terrible.
I entered the DR Congo side and another medical agent pointed something like a pipe at my throat and told me ‘continue’. That is how I was checked for Ebola there. Then it was the turn of the next person behind me in the queue to be checked and so on. I joined the queue that was waiting at a small window of the immigration service at the DR Congo border.
I got my passport stamped with no problem and continued on my way. I reached the city of Bukavu. With no rest I went to the Kadutu market where I bought school materials for COFAPRI children. In the Kadutu market, I could see a lot of strange things: the market is incredibly muddy and noisy and the costs are bargainable. But I was also curious to see meat being sold on the ground in open air. I could see people, cars, and motorcycles intensifying the jam and so it became hard to move among the huge masses of people.
To Munya village
The materials I purchased included notebooks, red, blue, green and black pens, pencils, pencil sharpeners and erasers, plastic rulers, and some treats (sweets) as I knew children like the latter a lot.
In addition, I purchased the materials for sewing and knitting activities for the women, such as four poplin fabric sticks for the women to practice more sewing, measuring tapes, scissors, etc. I could not forget yarns and knitting needles for the women.
On Sunday at dawn, I had already arranged for a car to take us to the villages. It was at 6 am when we left Bukavu. We engaged the muddy and slippery road. As it was raining here as well, the road was then puddles and incredible mud. We went across several barriers along the road before we reached the village. At each road block, the driver could give some ‘chai’ or tea (this is money given to soldiers who are at the roadblock) as this is a way of life in the country.
We reached the Munya village centre at 7 am. Naturally if the road was good, it could only take 25 minutes to reach the village centre, but due to the bad conditions of roads, cars take that long.
Sustainability - achieving more together
Mugisho and COFAPRI coordinator, Mr Mushagalusa Ezechiel
At the village centre, COFAPRI coordinators had come to help carry the materials to the other villages because cars cannot reach there as there are no roads and where they are, they are too bad.
The women and the children had been informed of my arrival and they were now coming one by one. At 10 am, we started the meeting. The speaker of the day informed the audience that they were going to discuss ways to help their organization, COFAPRI, to develop sustainably and one of the things they said was to be united in open communication and commitment to work.
The speaker repeatedly said that if other people can help us, where do they get that money? And why can’t we do like them and help ourselves and others of course?
“We need to strengthen our organization; it is ours. Although there are a lot of hurdles to overcome, we must keep our commitment and faith live. We need unity and our heads are not empty. We can achieve more together, I am sure.”
Coordinator Mushagalusa Ezechiel.
Local radio: Broadcasting to the People of Bukavu and the villages
In the village, I met a local reporter of Radio Maendeleo, Mr Pacifique Ntamago, who wanted to cover our activities of the day. I welcomed his idea and he was with us the whole time. The news was sent to his Radio station in Bukavu and the people could hear what COFAPRI has been doing in the area. The radio is very popular in the villages and most people listen to it.
The media and your organization are going to unite efforts and do something tangible. You are awesome, your women and children here are great and your efforts need to be heard all over the world and I am here to do that.
I personally appreciate what you are doing; very risky but you deserve being told about.
Your courage and determination means a lot to us, to the population here and to the world. I would ask any person of good heart to join you in this hard battle. One person cannot win a battle but their unity and willingness can do.”
Mr Pacifique Ntamago
Help from the Kelley School of Business in the USA
Mugisho presents funds to COFAPRI coordinators.
Before I started distributing the materials to the women and the children, I informed the present members about the generous donation and help we received from the MBA team at Indiana University's Kelley School of Business in the USA.
I explained how the Kelly School had also been involving me in the collaborative development and adaptation of a business handbook for the women. The women were very excited on hearing this news.
The business planning guide was created by the Power of Love Foundation in the USA, and adapted in collaboration with the Kelley School of Business and Safe World for Women.
Thare Machi Education DVDs
DVDs to inform about basic hygiene.
Some are in Kiswahili language, some in French and one in Lingala. In addition, I told them about the Thare Machi Education organisation in the UK who sent them DVDs that will teach them issues regarding basic hygiene.
Then I started distributing the materials to the women and to the children.
Some coordinators helped me do this task and it was successful. The women and the children were very thankful.
I also told COFAPRI members about the other many good people who are helping our organization financially and morally to move ahead and help more children go to school and involve more women in income-generating activities.
Messages from COFAPRI women
“We understand and we see there are kind people there outside this village. We have been helped by many people and today others are still thinking of us. God bless them all. Kelley [school], Livi, Anne, Andrew and Chris – and many others have a good heart; they understand how much help we need for our development.
We thank COFAPRI to be searching for us such kind people. This money will help us make a business and so help our families.
We will make it productive to motivate those who donated it.”
“We thank this person who sent us the DVDs, but we have no recorder to use them. If they [supporters] can again help us by sending us that tool people use to see images, that can be right. We have no electricity here but tell them how much we suffer here.
We send you, Mugisho, to kindly make our message reach. The explanations you told us are very important and we need to see the pictures with our own eyes. We thank again those who sent the DVDs.”
‘My joy is immense and I feel tears of joy in my eyes. Thanks a lot. You have done what a good parent can do for his children; you are far from us but you leave your family because of us, because you better understand and know how bad we live. You bring us materials, money and friends from all over the world. You are a blessing; God protect you forever and the people who help us, God help them more.”
Messages from COFAPRI children
“Today is another great day.
Last year it was the same when we got other materials. We have no real words to say thank you to this organization and its founders and everyone who contributes to help us get these materials, but only God knows.
We simply say thanks and God protect you. God protect you.”
“You are wonderful people; your organization is helpful to us and the people who help us through you are nice people.
We cannot forget you all in our lives. My mother could not get money to buy all these materials but you have helped me a lot.
I promise you, I will work hard and bring you good marks. Thank you for the DVDs, too, and thank you – my mother will start business and so she will help us, too.”
Beginning of the new school year
The next day, Monday, was the beginning of the new school year. However, the teachers had decided not to come to schools because they were claiming for better salaries. I was told the news had been on air some time before this day came.
The strike concerned public schools and not private ones; there are no private ones in villages. Although it was said no classes would take place, the teachers came to the schools. As we also had some school materials for the children and that school normally begins at 8 am, the coordinators and I were at Ngomo Primary school at that time waiting for the students to come, but they could not come respecting the information.
As we could not see the pupils, we handed the materials to the teachers who were present and their director. The director presented us to her teachers and I was asked to speak to them about COFAPRI’s activities in the area; some said they were already aware about it and were even participating in different meetings we had organized. Both the teachers and the director were very happy with the materials and they were pleased we had chosen their school for the materials. In fact, there are some children under COFAPRI education sponsorship who study there.
The children under our sponsorship are scattered in different schools in the area.
Presenting Ms. Zaina Musango with school equipment.“My daily prayers are with you Mugisho – your organization and all the people who help you to help others. I used to hear about you and today I can now understand how helpful you are to the children of this land.
Last year, some children here benefited from your material support as well as the school fees you paid for them. The parents were very happy with your actions although they did not know you.
I will report to them, I saw the big man on this earth; the man who help those he had never seen and met. Again, this year you bring them more materials compared to last year, and school fees again. I have no words to thank you but only God will bless you for your good deeds. Your courage and commitment will make you achieve more.
God be with you and may he bless your hands and heart that are helpful.”
Ms. Zaina Musango, Director of Ngomo Primary School.
One teacher of Ngomo Primary school said,
“People differ from one another but you and your organization have made a great pace; children will be extremely happy to return to school with all needed materials.
I think you are a good parent, a parent who is committed to the community cause.
We are not in classrooms today due to a problem I think you know; I hope one day, you will be able to help the teachers as well.
The DVDs from your organization will also help our children here in hygiene.’
Support from traditional local leader
Then we were due to meet the traditional local leader, Mr. Cishugi Nyangezi, who has always been supportive of our activities from the start. On this occasion, he told us he is still on our side.
He promised us a room in in the village centre where the women will be learning and practicing knitting and sewing skills.
Mugisho meeting with Mr. Cishugi Nyangezi.“Mr. Mugisho, you are incredible. If I recall well and see how you started; now you have done big steps ahead. You are truly helping many here; women and children who had lost hope are remaking their lives because of you, my friend. I join you in this endeavor.
To make this practicable, you will be using my empty house on the road to Cibimbi as your office and sewing and knitting centre until you get your own. That is my support to your endeavor.
Your name here has become more than popular due to your good heart of helping the women develop themselves and send the children to school, which many natives here have never thought of. God bless your efforts.”
Mr. Cishugi Nyangezi - Traditional local leader
After this meeting with the traditional leader, I felt my heart full of joy and his support was truly meaningful to me although he has often supported us.
I had to return back to Bukavu and the same day I reached Kigali but at night, around 21h. The travel was tiresome, but I felt it was fine since it was very successful.
I felt I have done a wonderful job as all the children got served and those who were on the waiting list got something at least.