(Mark Nash) Friday was a day full of incredible stops on our journey to the DRC. Steve and I did not start the day off with the drill team for a change. Our team is really coming together as they learn how to drill in this incredibly harsh environment. Because it looked like more of the same, based on how we ended the day yesterday, we made the decision to join David Owen and the women on our team for the morning.
The day started with a stop at a kindergarten located on the campus of a girls’ school. After David showed our video of our church’s children’s choir singing “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”, the 41 children in the kindergarten class sang it to us in French. The children laughed as Rev. Bonanga tried to lead them. It was quite a wonderful sight to watch.
Before I tell you what they did for us, let me describe their classroom. It is a former classroom at the girls school divided in half by old sheets of plywood. They only use the half closest to the door that goes outside. There is no door on the opening though; just as there are no longer any panes of glass on the windows. An electrical box hangs uncovered on a wall in the back corner with wires hanging out and down within reach of the children sitting in the back row. Not to worry, since there is no electricity in the building during the day.
There are ten desks in the room. Each desk is made of wood with a bench seat attached; much like you would expect to see in an old western movie showing a schoolhouse on the prairie. Four children sit at each desk, with the exception of the one desk that has five little bodies piled onto the bench. Four teachers dressed in bright yellow, pink, gold and navy dresses moved about the class encouraging, and occasionally hushing, students.
Just as in America, you can pick out the precocious kid in the class. This one little girl was full of animation throughout our visit. When they started singing she was in back. By the time they were through to no one’s surprise, she had made her way to the front row and was really hamming it up for us.
When the children had their chance they sang their hearts out for us. Every child filled the aisle in between the two rows of desks. They sang and danced and cheered as they showed their appreciation for us visiting them. We left a few gifts of books, balls and crayons and moved on, all of our hearts moved by this group of three to five year old children.
From this school, we drove south to Bolenge where we toured a women’s nutrition farm run by the Disciples of Christ Church in the Congo. This fifty acre farm produces manioc (both roots and leaves are harvested vegetables), corn, tomatoes, egg plant, and peanuts.
The farm is staffed by 50 Pygmy women who have moved into the area as refugees after years of war, discrimination and slavery in the region. As part of the process of blending them into modern society in the DRC, these women and their children are allowed to live on the farm in huts built near a well, and tend the fields.
They harvest what they need to live on, and then sell a bit more on the roadside each day or in the market in Mbandaka. They have a single well of non-potable water that they carry in buckets into the fields to water the plants when the seasonal rains cannot provide enough moisture in this oppressive heat. As we walked through a ten acre field of manioc, egg plants and peanuts, we saw approximately 25 women, some with infants strapped on their backs, weeding the rows of crops.
After we came into their small village beside the field, the entire crew of pygmies stopped their work and all headed for the village as well in single file. As the first woman came through the gate into the village they all burst into song. The singing continued until they were all in the village lined up in front of us.
After another song, one woman stepped forward and welcomed us to the farm. She thanked us for coming and being interested in what they were doing to change their lives. Then she stepped back into the line and listened as Gwen explained our interest in their farm since Oklahoma is known as an agriculture state in the U.S.
Before we left, the director of Women’s Ministries for the Disciples of Christ Church presented the women with eight plastic lined canvas backpacks with spigots on them for hauling water. The PackH2Os as they are known were warmly received by these women that have been carrying water into the fields, as well as walking almost a mile one-way to a spring for clean water.
After lunch we returned to the drill site to see the progress. Our team continued to drill through clay all day and by day’s end we were down to 20 meters (66 feet). The progress is slow but steady, and our team is learning more each day.
Our team hopes that tomorrow we will see something come out of that hole other than red clay. So do we!