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Little Sisters of Jesus in Democratic Republic of Congo, Mabasele, our village
Little sister Nicole writes:
Let me tell you about our rural village of Mabasele, which is more than 1,000 miles from the capital. What is daily life like? Quite simply it is a struggle for life. We live one day at a time, on less than one dollar per person, per day.
Families are large, so everybody works hard on the land. Where the villagers farm can be up to 25 miles away. They often travel on foot, by bicycle or motorbike when they have one and the roads are in very poor condition.
They come back with heavy loads of wood, bananas, cassava. We often meet women bent double under their load which is held in place by a rope which they support on their foreheads. Sometimes, they have a baby tied in front or a little one perched on top of the load. The Congolese little sisters are not surprised, because they have known that life since they were children.
And what about all those little ones who come back from the spring with their cans of water, also held by a liana on their foreheads! These little children cannot always satisfy their hunger, in a region where they have two harvests a year: beans, peanuts and rice. Why? Because the parents are obliged to sell the biggest part of their harvest to pay for the hospital, pay back their debts, pay for the metal sheets they use as a roof, pay for clothes, for school. All the expenses for schooling are the responsibility of the family, because teachers are paid little or nothing by the State. Sometimes students can get to the end of secondary school without having had a single book in their hands, everything is written down in copy books. In the morning, we sometimes meet a group of students coming back home because their parents cannot pay the school fees.
Recently about 20 miles from where we live there has been a lot of unrest and sporadic fighting. About 40,000 to 50,000 people decided to leave the area. What happened? Our neighbours know very little, because they are not informed. It is true that some years ago a group of Ugandan rebels, who were well-armed, took refuge in Congolese territory. They cultivated the land and did not cause too much disturbance. Sometimes the local population even helped them.
There is also talk of oil. The subsoil of the Congo is fabulously rich and according to the Bishops, « a permanent source of greed, conflict, corruption. There is even an international mafia at work and some Congolese are accomplices. »
When these refugees arrived they formed an important group. They were housed in schools, empty during the holidays, and many were welcomed by friends, parents, who took in up to two or three families and fed them, until the arrival of food distributed by the GNO's a month later. For me such generous hospitality is always a source of wonder! There is an instinctive solidarity !
So are our people who are materially so poor revolted or embittered by the harshness of life? Well, no, they are joyful, happy to live and to bring children to birth. What is the secret of such vitality? How ingenious they are to pull through and make ends meet. People repair their shoes with the hard-wearing fibres of an old tire. These threads are both unbreakable and free! And with five or six worn batteries, which would normally be thrown out, putting them end to end in a bamboo stick, they make for themselves an electric lamp, the dim light of which will help to save on kerosene in their kerosene lamp.
Is not God the secret of their joy, he who they know to be present in every aspect of life and who is the source of their trust and courage? The Catholics, who represent about half of the population, are particularly energetic and are involved in various organizations: the charismatic movement, legion of Mary, children of Mary, Eucharistic crusade, etc. Adult baptisms are numerous as well as priestly and religious vocations. The catechists are very zealous. It is true that witchcraft which has permeated social life for centuries is still very active and alcoholism causes suffering in some families and makes life hard for many.
We also want to tell you about the Pygmies living in our region. Their camps are generally about 15 miles from Mabasele. It was for them that our community was founded in 1991, when Mbao had been closed during the war.
They are a small group, who generally live on the outskirts of the villages, in camps under the authority of a leader. We visited two camps that are fairly close to each other. They have a few mud houses, similar to those of the peasants of the area. There is only one traditional round hut, made with arches on which leaves from the forest which make them waterproof, hang. At the centre of the camp, there is a straw hut which is used as a meeting place, where we are welcomed joyfully, because these are long-time friends.
The big forest has been cut down in our region, which has upset the lives of our friends, who were essentially hunters and lived from gathering fruit. Several families have started to grow crops. We are happy to meet up with two young dads, who completed high school. This is quite a feat considering the nomad spirit of the Pygmies. Other children go to school, few proportionally, but they are often good students and are encouraged by their teachers. As our Pygmy friends dress in the same way as the other people in the village and become more integrated, they are welcomed better. Sometimes, they sell mushrooms and products from the forest. They know all the medicinal plants which they can sell easily. They make creams or drinkable liquids.
They come quite often to our house where they have their own little house because of the proximity to a Protestant hospital which takes care of them for free. Sometimes they stay for several weeks, in small groups, because a patient is looked after by the family. Many have been integrated into the Baptist church and the leader's wife has become a deaconess. She serves in the Church, especially on Sundays and proudly wears the same clothes as the other Protestant women. We feel she is very attached to her faith.
The young people often want to marry somebody from a nearby tribe and so to become integrated into it. Probably, this trend will intensify in the future.
At the moment we are four, which is not too many to cultivate the ground! The equatorial climate, which is ours, allows us to have two harvests of beans, peanuts and sweet potatoes every year. We also grow cassava, soya, corn and various vegetables. An important job, about every two weeks, is to collect the palm oil from our palm trees. We send it by truck to Goma, where the little sisters sell it at a price which allows us to meet our ordinary expenses. One of us works twice a week at the mill where we crush the palm nuts, the cassava, the soya and where rice is husked. She earns three dollars a day... Another one does some sewing when she has time and we have plenty of customers, because the parents, when they have a little money, like their children to be nicely dressed.
Little sister Suzana Ngungwa writes:
We have lived in this neighbourhood of the City of Oi'cha, in Mabasele, since 1990 and we would like to go on building up our friendship with the Pygmy people and also the people of the village.
Our Pygmy friends are coming less often to visit as they are getting more at home with everybody in athe village but life remains difficult for them because of the very high cost of life in the Congo for everybody.
For several years, some GNOs have wanted to come and help the Pygmy people. In 2000 a slogan said « health for all » but unfortunately more wealthy people took advantage of the help to grow rich.
We were very sad to see our friends left behind. The Pygmies are very simple and they trusted those who came to help and imagined that this help was without limits! It prompted them to run here and there to the food distribution centres or to meetings. Sometimes, they did receive help but at other times were so disappointed and got discouraged.
In fact this kind of help did more harm than good to the Pygmies of our region. They were uprooted from their culture, their traditions and their language. They wanted to be « like » the people among whom they find themselves. They can adapt easily. It is truly their gift!
Before the presidential elections, the few who were studying left their studies to take advantage of a flight to Kinshasa, the capital, a trip paid for by the electoral propaganda. They all came back loaded with gifts after having voted. They received metal sheets for the roof of their house, a cell phone, shoes, clothes... But they sold all these things back to have money. A few came to the point of reselling their little field to be able to buy worthless things or to ride through town in a motorcycle cab! Many fell back into alcoholism and to using drugs.
We feel we have a new challenge. How can we continue to build up our relationship taking these present difficulties into account? Keep praying for us and with us. Thank you.
There are two communities of the Little sisters in our country that used to be known as Zaire:
Inspired by Brother Charles...
From this or neighbouring countries