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Butoke update, July 10, 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today, July 10, 2009, Yahoo France has as major news that two lovely small children were abandoned in a Park in Paris.

I muse. One hundred and fifty years ago, in France, the Sisters of St. Vincentius had built small cradles where mothers could anonymously abandon babies. Abandonment was frequent; so was infanticide and abortion, and it was not news worthy, even though persons with a heart reacted either like the sisters, taking care of victims, or like the early feminists, propagating contraception. In fact, one of my own great-great grand fathers was an abandoned baby, given the name D’hier (yesterday’s baby).

Here in Kasaï, Butoke tries hard to manage a situation similar to the one in Europe 150 years ago.

·        Two convents of Sisters collect orphans and abandoned children in limited numbers, as they do not receive substantial donations, anymore. Butoke supplies the milk for all their infants. But they are reaching their limits for accepting more newborns.

·        We  (Butoke) accept orphans and abandoned children unconditionally. We hired two women to look after babies, especially newborns, thanks to special sponsors. But the newborn babies often arrive after 1-2 weeks without milk or food, and mortality is frighteningly high.

·        Yesterday, to our surprise, two children we hospitalized have been subsequently abandoned, left without contact or food. So we embrace them. This is the 4th time this has happened.

·         We have supported three cases where first the father walked out on the family. After a couple of months, the mother followed suit by walking out in turn, leaving 5 siblings ranging from 15 years to 4 years to fend for themselves. There has been no more news or contact. It is mindboggling, except that children are said to be a wealth, and wasting one’s own wealth is maybe a forgivable waste.

We currently have 30 children who were left without family links other than what we can provide. All those over 6 years old go to school.

 I look at the well fed babes left in Paris and remember the faces of the kids we received; many hungry, angry faces and fewer lethargic faces, and I search their happy, lively faces now and pray. I wish I knew a sure way to inspire adults to feel responsible to protect and educate at least their own children if not all children.

In that context, we talk to parents about spacing children and about contraception. We provide contraceptives to those who choose to try. We talk about the rights of children. But most adults have no concept of rights, especially for children and women. Human relationships are seen as either power relationships between men or property rights within families, especially towards women and children.

The rape of a girl is equated with a theft of dowry and punished by a commensurate fee to her family. Her feelings, her dignity, her rights are hardly a consideration, sometimes even for her. Recently in Luiza, Dr. Jean happened to observe at a chief’s house a negotiated settlement for the rape of a three year old girl. He was able to convince the parents and the chief that this was against the law and to see that the rapist was delivered to justice.

Children are routinely verbally abused by any adult. Women shower abuse on each other at the suspicion of the slightest fault and receive the same from men. Disputes over card games between youngsters sometimes lead to a general battle between clans and several deaths.  Hallucinations are accepted as realities willed by those that figure in the hallucinations. So they get abused, accused and harassed until they admit their “fault.” Children or women accused of witchcraft by pastors are harassed and abused in their churches. The great majority of children in the Western Kasai are abused and become abusers in their turn. How to break the cycle collectively?

We think that the story of Moses and Euro-Asian history provide some clues.

·         It took 40 years after physical liberation of the Jewish slaves to develop basic citizenship and nationhood, driven by the strong moral and spiritual leadership of Moses and Aaron, both having been oppressed and abused to different degrees, both still prepared to see their abusers suffer. But both with faith that God is One. His law is one and  invariable, demanding basic morality in our relationships to other human beings. No one can power play or ask favors with Him or with other human beings. No one is the property of anyone.

·        Europe and Asia have taken about 1800 to 2000 years after Christ to apply the same principles. Feudal systems with slavery were overturned by violent revolutions rejecting slavery, proclaiming emphasis on equity and human rights, later confirming progressively this emphasis through political struggles and cultural revolutions led by charismatic leaders.

All observers and local people agree that people in Western Kasai suffer tremendously. They are the most severely malnourished of Congo; they have a very short lifespan (average 40 years; only 1% of the population is over 55 years). They cry out to God in their suffering, constantly over the radio, but also each person in popular hymns you hear day and night, in the crying of children day and night Most people of Western Kasai are both oppressed and oppressor.

This dynamic, paradoxically labeled witchcraft, has been very well analyzed and represented in a film called Kerekou. The “witch,” called Karavan, has been tortured and has a perpetual suffering which she revenges by instilling fear, by creating nonsensical myths that prolong everyone’s suffering, by instilling lack of confidence in each other. Kerekou is young, full of questions on the why and how of events in his village and first seeks to combat the witch, but his grandfather leads him to help her out of her suffering even if it may risk his life and encourages him to continue to question reality. He liberates Karavan, even marries her, and finds that at the same time he has liberated all those who were like mummies, petrified in fear.

What can we do to liberate people of Western Kasai? Isn’t it a true collective conversion we seek? Churches have not managed to instill respect for the dignity of each human being. Historical churches do marginally better than the so-called African churches, as they, especially the protestant churches, maintain more polite exchanges, but they are labeled hypocrites, as vengeance is not uncommon.

Those of us physically present can pose many questions on the why and how, bringing people closer to reality; we can console, try to right individual wrongs, raise awareness about collective wrongs. We can set an example of not establishing power or property relationships with people. We can testify through our lives that we truly accept God and His law and that we love neighbor, self and God. Doing so, we will support and nurture the few adults that potentially can provide the right type of leadership. We will support and nurture children still not permanently hurt, for probably Moses and Aaron will be found by God among them.

We need to be perseverant and patient; the process will take more than our lifetime. How long? Who knows whether it can be done in 40 years? Or 2000 years? God alone knows, but our small contributions now will help determine the take-off speed.

Those of us far away from Congo and Western Kasai, can pray and try to understand the depth of the misery here and help through activities and resources.

To understand where we can intervene we can try to follow the geopolitics that foul up the whole situation, notably how war is maintained in DRC by delivery of precious minerals for weapons or money, how China obtained exclusive rights on minerals (information on this available from Dickens Warfield) and thus alienated traditional allies of DRC which may show already a new reluctance to give aid.

This reluctance is now covered by the excuse there is a lot of corruption. Yes, there is an amazing amount of corruption but not more than before. This new reluctance is playing havoc with UNICEF and other humanitarian aid, just when it is more needed because of the economic crisis and because of the massive numbers of Congolese (estimated at 100,000 in the last 9 months) driven brutally from Angola after robbing them of everything.

God first liberated the Hebrews from slavery, the greatest suffering, before tackling the 40 year task of truly converting them into citizens. God inspired in the brutal and cruel Middle Ages the Renaissance and the reform movement and the scientific quest among the Europeans and helped them to live with less suffering before releasing the revolutionary spirit of Égalite, Fraternité et Liberté, which we still are trying to incarnate.

We believe that it is necessary to help first overcome the suffering of the people of Western Kasaï: they need to find three square meals a day; they need essential health care available including health education to stop the horrendous child and maternal death rate and stop the wasted adult lives because of delays in care or intoxication in traditional care. They need education for all children that instills the quest of the how and why of reality rather than the learning by rote practiced now. Throughout all activities, we need to search to express equity and fraternity as well as liberate individuals to relate to God as our only master, with courage and truth.

This letter was stopped here for an urgent phone call by Dr Jean who is in Luiza assisting a UNICEF mission which has gone to check on the situation of the people driven from Angola. We estimate that since 1 October 2008 about 100,000 people have been driven away, under the most inhumane conditions: raping women, separating families, torturing many with imprisonment without drink or food for days on a row, driving them on long marches of several hundred kilometers, mutilating or even killing those that resist. We assist from our headquarters in Luiza but are terribly short of means. The UN sent a first mission early June calling for urgent help, someone from CRS Congo threw doubt on the numbers of people involved, so help has been postponed. Let us hope the new UNICEF mission permits a census to be taken while offering help, and permits the creation of reception centers, for most likely the movement will not stop before Angola feels cleansed from all Congolese, which are estimated to be about 400,000.

A brief summary of our recent activities:

Our collaboration with UNICEF

·        We received with a delay of 6 months the USD $242,844 to continue Water, Hygiene and Sanitation activities in three zones Bena Leka, Mueka and Tshibala

·        We have been waiting six months for major funding (signed and sealed) of nutrition activities in Tshikapa (USD 512,000 and Luiza USD 192,000, both most heavily touched by malnutrition because of the general economic crisis and the return of people from Angola.

·        We have been waiting 3 months for UNICEF funding for Water, Hygiene and Sanitation in Tshikaji ($ 20,000). This delay might also be part and parcel of the new reluctance to help DR Congo, but we are told funding might be forthcoming next week but much less generous than before, forcing a change especially in the basic model of latrines.

·        We are waiting for a decision to help the people driven from Angola with non-food items, value to be determined.

Collaboration with FAO:

·        We are waiting for tools and seeds for 80 families in the Kananga area. All in kind, estimated value USD 4000.

Activities with CIDA funding through Help the Aged this year CAD 228.655:

·        the Food security activities this season are concentrated in the hinterland of Kananga and Luiza. People have started preparing the fields, as this is the height of the dry season.

·        Our nutrition activities are in full swing in Tshikaji and Luiza (more information with Dickens).

·        Retraining of primary school teachers is being prepared for Luiza..

·        We continue the education on women and child rights and the care for rape victims.

We hope this long reflection and short perhaps too short activities report will help all to understand our present grasp of reality of your and our own role and the humble but firm hopes we have that the struggle we lead is in His service.

Yours in His love

Jean, Lazare and Cecile

Contributions to Butoke in Canada can be sent through Real Lavergne, Canadian International Development Agency, 200 Promenade du Portage, Gatineau Quebec, Canada, K1A  0G4.

 Contributions in the USA can be made payable to H. Branch Warfield, 13801 York Rd., V-3, Cockeysville, MD, 21030 marked “for Butoke” or to Maryland Presbyterian Church, 1105 Providence Rd., Baltimore, MD, 21286, USA, also marked “for Butoke.”  Contributions to Maryland P C for Butoke may be tax deductible in the USA. 

Contributions in the U K can be sent through Paul Evans, 5 Westville Ave., Ilkley, LS29 9AH, United Kingdom.