On Sunday, July 24, we finally set foot in Mpiana! The villages greeted us with an exuberant and joyous welcome. Mass was celebrated under a palm branch covered shelter prepared especially for us. The villagers sang, played instruments, and danced during the Mass, giving us a very vibrant and spirited performance. At the end of Mass, the congregation presented us with a live goat to express their utmost appreciation for our kindness and generosity to the people of Mpiana.
Afterwards, we headed over to Kafuku, where fresh spring water is purified and channeled into a 15,000 liter reservoir built with the funds provided by DIAGEO. While Javier and Father Theo chatted with the workers Any, Erin and Roxann played with the children who came to the spring to fill their water containers with fresh clean water.
We were busy that day! We later visited the Maternity Clinic to deliver the medical supplies, baby blankets, baby clothing and other apparel we brought with us. During our visit we had the good fortune to meet two newborn babies and their mothers. Of course, we also took a look at the concrete water tank built right outside the clinic. This tank, which will soon hold fresh, clean water delivered from the Kafuko Spring, was built from the funds raised from St Theresa Catholic School Walk for Water fundraiser, and will provide clean water to the Maternity Center as well as to the villagers. We were also very excited to meet Mutombo, the local 10-year-old boy who was the face for the STS Walk for Water project!
The loud banging and clanging of bells woke us at at 5:30am sharp the morning of Monday the 25th of July5. This was the ‘wake up call’ for daily 6am Mass. Father Applonea and Father Theo conducted daily morning Mass by the rustic, peaceful grotto. The nuns lead us in hymns, which were sang in the native Tshiluba dialect; Javier did the readings in Spanish; the homily was done in Tshiluba and Erin and Roxann meditated in English.
Throughout our daily visits to the village, we distributed all of the items so lovingly donated by our Hope for Kasai friends. The looks of joy on the children's faces are priceless!
On another occasion, we had the opportunity to see a mill in operation. The villagers would bring their dried corn and yucca to be ground at the mill. The end product, a fine powder, was use for cooking.
Since there is no place to stay in the village of Mpiana, we stay in a guest house in the town of Ngandanjika, a one hour car ride away. Of course we could not leave without visiting the local market, and with Father Theo taking the lead, we followed him through the market observing the different stalls. The stall selling the African printed fabric was one of our favorites.
On Tuesday the 26th of July 2016, we visited one of the two schools in the village. We took a census, photographing and documenting each student and distributed school bags, school supplies, sandals, t-shirts, some school uniforms, friendship bracelets, floral headbands and packets of sweet biscuits. The teachers and students entertained us with speeches, poetry, and local folk songs. The students and teachers of the school presented Mamma Any, as she is fondly called, with flowers and a toy truck made from bamboo sticks. These humble gifts were given as a token of their appreciation and gratitude for all that Any and her Friends of Kasai have done for their village. Their greatest and most urgent request was the need for a permanent structure to be used as a school, as their current structure consists of nothing more than mud and sticks which constantly has to be rebuilt.
On one of days driving back to Ngandanjika, we had a unique opportunity to visit a very picturesque traditional village. The villagers were curious upon our arrival but they welcome us openly. We gave the children postcards and drawings, which were created by some of our many Friends of Kasai. Each child was also given a packet of sweet biscuits which they held onto as a prized possession. The leader of the village was very grateful for our visit and he presented Father Theo a live chicken as a token of his appreciation. Check out the pictures below!
Wednesday, July 27, 2016, was the day our dream visit to Kasai was sadly coming to an end. After our daily Mass in the quaint outdoor grotto and a hearty breakfast, we said our goodbyes to the many friends we have made at Project DeTunga. One of these "new friends" was Father Apollina. He is an extraordinary man and it was a great pleasure to have met him, dine with him and talked with him. Hope for Kasai will always be grateful for his generous hospitality and we look forward to meeting with him again in the near future.
Our journey to the Democratic Republic of Congo did not go without its fair share of trials and tribulations. However, despite delayed visas, lost flights, many missed connections and misplaced luggage, our trip to Kasai was one of the most monumental and heartwarming experiences in our lives.