UN Aid in Congo’s Equateur Province

UN plane unloads election materials at the Mbandaka airport
UN plane unloads election materials at the Mbandaka airport

Following the decrease of rebel activity in the Congo’s Equateur Province, UN troops and service agencies now battle random banditry, poaching, a cholera epidemic and other effects of dire poverty in the vast rainforest province of the Congo. In this post we share some highlights of the UN efforts as reported on the mission’s web site http://monusco.unmissions.org.

 With the extension of the mandate for the world’s largest UN peacekeeping force for another year, there’s a much better chance that legislative and presidential elections will be held in late November this year. On a recent visit to the still ungoverned eastern Congo, MONUSCO’s (the UN mission’s official name) chief staff person Roger Meece declared, “I can assure you that everything is in place to provide security for the

"I've voted; have you?" coasters for voters in the late November elections
"I've voted; have you?" coasters for voters in the late November elections

upcoming elections.”  Security as the priority for the UN was further signaled by Meece’s commemoration on September 18 of the 50th anniversary of UN Secretary General Dag Hammarsjkold’s death in a plane crash during the early period of post independence conflict in the Congo.

In a now peaceful Mbandaka, the UN’s anti mines unit recently organized and funded the scanning of an area around the Mbandaka airport for buried ordinance.  Having declared the land safe, MONUSCO announced on September 6 that construction would begin on the construction of a new terminal for Mbandaka.

 Banditry and looting by armed former rebels continue to plague some parts of the province and UN investigators have accompanied Congolese police in efforts to maintain law and order in the villages of Ilenga and Bosenga not far from Mbandaka.  To the south, poachers hunt elephants and prey on villagers in the remote Salonga National Park and surroundings despite deployment of the Congolese armed forces (FARDC) with UN advisors.

 On the health front, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that Equateur was hit hardest by the cholera outbreak in Congo this year.  While cases are now on the decline, WHO figures show 1981 cases were treated in Equateur with 119 deaths in 8 of the province’s 20 health zones.

A $500 grant from Disciples/UCC Global Ministries bought desks for the secondary and primary school at Monieka
A $500 grant from Disciples/UCC Global Ministries bought desks for the secondary and primary schools at Monieka

 On the opening of the new school year in September, UNICEF promised to push Congo’s Ministry of Education to improve furnishings in primary school classrooms of those provinces where enrollment is below 75 % of the school age children.  According to UNICEF figures, 1.2 million children have been newly enrolled in primary school in the six targeted provinces, with Equateur still having the lowest rate of enrollment in the country.  One can hope that UNICEF’s efforts may also result in more regular payments for teachers in Equateur Province as well as outlays for classroom furniture.  Currently, Equateur parents have to contribute to a fund in each school to keep teachers in the classroom.

Return of a Native Son

 
 
M. Boetsa with sheaf of papers in hand stands among a few of his visitors

A long line of visitors waited for hours to speak with Mbandaka native son M. BOETSA  during his stay last summer.  Living next to him in the duplex housing at the “Maison des Missionaires” I had the opportunity to get acquainted with this esteemed native son and learn the reason for his return. 

During the colonial era, the Belgians had built in Mbandaka what they envisioned would be the first and only Institute for Tropical Medicine in Central Africa.  Independence scuttled those plans but a Belgian foundation now wants M. BOETSA to carry out the original vision of a medical research center in Mbandaka.  Having caught wind of those plans, the Congolese Ministry of Education has asked him to also consider assuming the post of C.E.O. of the University in Mbandaka.

For more than twenty years, he has raised a family and taught biology at the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris.  Raised in the Disciples church, BOETSA told me about his baptism at the Mbandaka III cathedral church and how his parents continue to participate in the Ikongo Wassa Disciples parish of Mbandaka.  When I told him of my friendship with Pierre Sangana, now resident of Indianapolis, BOETSA exuberantly described Pierre’s son Georges as one of the most respected surgeons in Paris. He also noted that Pierre’s daughter Aimee, now living in the San Francisco Bay area, had ignored his childhood crush.

M. BOETSA returned to Paris at the end of last summer to ponder the logistics of maintaining a home in Mbandaka and one in Paris.  He planned to return with his wife on his next Mbandaka visit and planned to again stay in the “Maison des Missionaires”.    His wife  had rejected the Ministry of Education’s offer of a large house in town in favor of staying next to the river and enjoying the porch’s cool breezes.

 

 

Moringa at Ikengo

Ikengo Farm Director Rio Bosala and visitors next to the Farm's Moringa grove

“And the leaves were for the healing of the nations…..”   (Rv 22:2)  Ten years ago Church World Service’s West Africa Director Lowell Fuglie began promoting the growth and use of the moringa leaf to combat malnuturition.  Today the tree is widely know across Africa as a drought resistant, fast growing tree used for treating a variety of ailments, including malnutrition.  A recent article on the properties of moringa observes, “It is commonly said that Moringa leaves contain more Vitamin A than carrots, more calcium than milk, more iron than spinach, more Vitamin C than oranges, and more potassium than bananas, and that the protein quality of Moringa leaves rivals that of milk and eggs.”

The bark, seeds and pods of the moringa are also used with the seeds providing a low cost water purification technique. According to the same article, “ The journal Current Protocols in Microbiology published a step by step extraction and treatment procedure to produce “90.00% to 99.99%” bacterial reduction. The seeds are also considered an excellent source for making biodiesel.”

Two or three years ago someone brought some moringa seeds with them on a visit to the Disciples farm at Ikengo.   The

Ikengo's malnourished infants may soon be given daily doses of moringa powder

resulting moringa grove caught the eye of Equateur Province’s Governor who exclaimed that he uses the moringa leaf for his diabetes.  And the Provincial health ministry is now interested in obtaining leaf powder for treating malnourished infants. 

A Mbandaka native son now Professor of Biology at the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris was fascinated by moringa’s water purifying capacity.  Wanting to see the trees, M. BOETSA accompanied me on my return to the Ikengo farm this past summer. More about the reason for his return to Mbandaka in the next posting.  For now, those interested in more on the amazing moringa tree can go to the Wikipedia article at:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moringa_oleifera

State of the Congo Disciples

    

Current Disciples President, Rev. Eliki BONANGA chose Palm Sunday to present an overview of the state of the “Communaute”, one of sixty plus denominations making up the unified Church of Christ in Congo.  On his lenten tour of Tshuapa River “Posts” of the Disciples, Rev. BONANGA spoke to over 800 parishoners of Yalusaka, a congregation in the Post of Mondombe 600 miles from Disciples “Communaute” headquartrers in Mbandaka.

Rev. BONANGA stated there are now 23 Posts founded by Disciples in the provinces of Equateur, Bandundu, and Orientale, and the city of Kinshasa as well as missionary extensions in the cities of Kisangani, Lubumbashi , Gemena, Boma, Bikoro, and Lukolela.  In a brief review of the Disciples 112 year history in Congo, he called on the parishoners to give thanks in prayer for the missionaries who died on duty in the Congo or in retirement in the USA. He then noted the transition from a missionary led to an autonomous church in the early 1960’s and the paramount importance now of local support of the church’s mission. 

Yalusaka parish of Disciples Mondombe Post following Palm Sunday worship

 

Relying primarily on the support of church members, Congolese Disciples have built schools, clinics and churches in significant numbers even during the turbulent years of the recent past.  Under the continuing adminstration of the Church’s central office of Education are 486 primary and secondary schools with 65,000 students and 2700 plus teachers.  In addition to 6 hospitals staffed by 12 Congolese doctors are pharmacies and clinics in all the Disciples Posts.  While the Congolese government is committed to health and education services through payment of salaries, local labor, church offerings and user fees  maintain the buildings and make up for delayed and inadequate salary payments by the state.

Tremendous growth of the Congolese Disciples is reflected in the fact that the Church consisted of 10 Posts at

Disciples Education Director Mr. BOFEKO and Bolenge Regional Minister Rev. NGOY meet with Ikalenganya parishoners building the village's first primary school. Children have been walking over twenty miles round trip to school.

independence in 1960.  Another sign of progress among Congo Disciples is the Church’s relative unity after a period of dissension resulting in the split of the remote Tshuapa River Posts.  A native of the Tshuapa Post of Mondombe, Rev. BONANGA appealed to the Yalusaka congregation to support the parish through their offerings, their tithes and community projects (e.g. a parish manioc field) to generate revenue.  Following Rev. BONANGA, four pastors prayed for the local and world church, including Disciples partners in the U.S. and Germany, for missionaries both dead and living and for social concerns both international and national.  The five hour Palm Sunday service ended at 2 pm, long after the Sunday lunch crowd has dispersed in the U.S.

NOTE:  Report of the Palm Sunday service is from Nathan Weteto’s blog originating from Disciples headquarters in Mbandaka.  Address is natana@tumblr.com  He concludes the report by noting there were among the 825 persons at the worship service 57 Bibles and 14 song books.  The several offerings taken up totaled around $70.

New Drumming on the Tshuapa River

 

Ceremony of Ordination of Rev. BOOLA

The Congo Disciples blog (read it in French at http://weteto.tumblr.com ) notes that women in the pastorate have brought gender role changes in aspects of the traditional culture as well as in the life of the church. Rev. Regine BOOLA of Bokungu, drumming in the picture above, and Rev. Suzanne INGOY of Boende were ordained last month in their home parishes with the Disciples President Rev. Eliki BONANGA presiding.

 Blog editor Nathan Weteto wrote this week: “according to tradition, only men can sound the “Lokolé, an instrument formerly used for communicating between villages (such as the telephone today)”.  Weteto tells us that churches in Congo have in recent years adopted use of the lokole.  And so an increasing number of women like Revde. BOOLA, “play the Lokolé as pastors in their parishes to call the faithful to worship”.

It is also cause for celebration during this special week that the photos accompanying this blog were received the day after they were shot in a remote area of the Congo.  I was astonished last Monday on seeing that Weteto was able to post them to his blog

Palm Sunday Yalusaka Parishoners Greet the Visiting Pastors After Worship

following the Palm Sunday worship at Yalusaka, by his estimate some 1000 kms. from Mbandaka.  The remote village is in the Mondombe Disciples’ post region, one of several posts on the Tshuapa River. All the Disciple posts along the Tshuapa have been pillaged and terrorized by successive waves of rebel armies using the River to make their way from eastern Congo to Kinshasa.

 The rebel looting has accentuated the importance and the difficulty of the Disciple posts’ providing the only medical and the only education services, both primary and secondary schools, for the people living along the Tshuapa. Surely Rev. BOOLA and Rev. INGOY’s ordination in two posts of the area promise an even stronger response to the church’s call to the local population to build more schools, clinics and hospitals.

Footnote to this posting:  Dr. Gene Johson, translator of the Weteto blog postings and responsible for Disciple medical services in the Tshuapa region for several years in the 1960’s and 70’s, informed me that Bokungu, nearest Disciple “poste” to Mondombe, has a cell phone tower and therefore may well offer internet service also.

Mbandaka’s Water Crisis

With average rainfall of 85 inches annually, one would think water would not be a problem in Mbandaka, capital of Equateur Province in the Congo.  But rainwater catchment systems are rare in the city of 700,000 plus persons and Regideso, the public water utility has been unable to upgrade its infrastructure since the original installations of the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Only 5 per cent of Mbandaka households are served by Regideso.  In the country as a whole, only one third of the urban population now enjoys running water; that figure has declined from 68 per cent of urban Congolese with tap water in 1990.  Outside Mbandaka, the only other city in Equateur Province with running water is Gemena and from 1990 to 2009 the system there did not function.

Bralima brewery, the lone industry in Mbandaka

 

This past summer in Mbandaka, my bathroom water barrel was kept full thanks to a large cistern on scaffolding just outside the window.  Regideso supplied the water for the cistern but only every other day for a few hours.  Were it not for the payments from the Bralima brewery (owned by Heineken) in Mbandaka, Regideso managers say they would be out of business.  Drinking water in plastic bottles was purchased for my household, a leading item in the budget.

Warfare in Equateur and in the eastern Congo has contributed to the decline in water delivery systems.  With only ten per cent of the estimated 5.4 million deaths in eastern Congo from 1998 to 2006 due to the violence, one wonders how many of the deaths stemmed from typhus, cholera, dysentery and diarrhea transmitted by contaminated water.

“Water, Water Everywhere ………”

While much of Africa suffers from a decades long drought, the Democratic Republic of Congo has no shortage of water. Half the African continent’s water can be found in the Congo. But much of the country’s water is not fit to drink.
 
 
 

 

women collecting water
Disciples President Rev. Bonanga visits the UNICEF funded water station at Bolenge. Several Disciple strong communities have benefited from the Church's collaboration with UNICEF on rural water projects

Fifty one million Congolese or three fourths of the country’s population do not have access to safe drinking water according to a report released this week by the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP).

The head of UNEP’s Congo office Mr. Hassan Partow noted, “the stark reality is that the DRC has one of the fastest urbanization growth rates in the world and this is not being matched with adequate water and sanitation service delivery”. The study calls for an investment of $169 million over a five year period to upgrade the water delivery infrastructure, especially in urban areas.

Rural Congo is just as threatened by unsafe water as UNICEF’s Congo Director pointed out on World Water Day March 22. Ms. Pierrette Vu Thi stated, “A child living in a Congolese village is four times more likely to drink contaminated water than someone in town.” Current statistics hold that 2 million children under the age of 5 regularly suffer from diarrhea, usually caused by contaminated water in Congo. This makes unsafe water a leading cause of death among Congo’s infants, whose mortality rate is over 20 per cent in

Ikalenganya village well. Probably safe as Disciples trained village health worker reported low incidence of diarrhea and infant mortality

many areas of the country.

Strongly recommended by the U.N. study are undertaking low cost solutions such as communal taps and rainwater catchment systems.

To read the UNEP report Water Issues in the Democratic Republic of the Congo: Challenges and Opportunities go to the following web address: http://postconflict.unep.ch/publications/UNEP_DRC_water.pdf

The 90 page report includes an in depth assessment of Regideso, the water supplier for urban Mbandaka and other cities of Equateur Province.