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Butoke update, Nov. 17 and Dec. 3, 2007


17 November, 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Past mid-November yet! Sorry for the delay in writing.

Yesterday and today, I found myself stupefied by some simple answers by some of our orphans. All are in school now; all for the first time in two years. Quite an adventure. Mani, the supervisor of our center, is also tutoring them and trying to interest them in their studies.

Pas and Jose, two of our AIDS orphans, seemed somewhat dazed and not very responsive at school and at home. The youngest had refused to wash up and go to school; the oldest had talked of suicide. I suspected it was the aftereffects of prolonged drifting during the disease of their parents and mourning. Trying to give them a chance to express their feelings, I kept drawing blanks. The oldest is 12 years and was quietly crying. They clearly have denied themselves the right to express feelings regarding the deaths verbally, maybe even the right to feel, as they have had to concentrate on day-to-day survival and have faced the accusation and beatings for being the “cause” of these deaths as sorcerers.

I tried to reorient their thinking on the future then, so I asked what they hoped to become and do in life. They gave me, all three, a blank stare. Serge, the 8 year old one, said I don’t know, the youngest, 7 years old, added “I want nothing”.  I sat their unbelieving but realizing with a shock they said the simple truth:  in their minds the future does not exist and the past hardly fares better. They live in the immediacy of now and its needs only. They feel not yet that they belong to us; they no longer feel they belong to their families that rejected them and threw them on the road. We will need all wisdom and love to reach out and truly touch their lives and souls so that they can recapture their past and future. Please pray for them and us that we find the way to let them come out of this imprisonment in the moment. We probably need also to take into account that many of those working with us still live the same imprisonment.

May the Lord guide us.

3 December

We have just entered December. Our orphans are starting to smile and speak out their needs, so I feel it is Advent for them and for us.

Among the kids we follow are two sets of orphans, but not counted in the center residents. With the first set of four the mama is still barely alive but the father died from AIDS months back without ever having modern care, only prayers in a church. They arrived after one month’s walk covering 250km. We had to buy clothes as father’s family took all clothes of the children and mama as they were designated by the pastor as having killed the father by witchcraft. We had to get the mama tested and treated.  Now we feed everybody and provide soap and anti-scabies as several of the children were covered with scabies lesions. Next we will send the bigger ones to school. The mother denies witchcraft on her side but accuses the husband of having used witchcraft.  Getting across that this is not witchcraft is hard, but they seem more or less to go along with the treatment.

We had started in April with sponsorship by Agnes Reid (USA) of three malnourished children Biuma, Odie and Badibanga.  Biuma will start school this week for the first time. Odie and Badibanga are doing fine but will wait one more year to start. We want to invite you to sponsor these orphans of whom we have taken charge of. It will be easy to assure that you receive updates on them and $35 a month can assure the basics for a child.

Here in Kasai it is the peak period of the “season of witches,” where many die from seasonal hunger, malaria and diarrhea. So we struggle on, trying to save as many as possible, by agriculture, by direct curative care, by referral to secondary care, by nutritional rehabilitation and education, by taking care of water and sanitation. The latter is a new activity which we developed since September with UNICEF support in the territory of Luiza. We will in the end have protected 60 springs, built thirty public latrines and 3000 family latrines. It is the biggest water and sanitation project in the province, but just a drop on a hot plate.

On the agricultural side harvesting has started for beans. Other crops will follow and by the end of the month hunger will hopefully subside.

This season we collaborated in a major way with the Congolese Military Academy which wanted to grow its own food. We provided seeds for 12ha. The military students did the sowing of 10 ha of beans so that the field would not only yield but become more fertile. They did a very disorderly job, throwing the seeds rather than actually sowing, and burning the field with excess fertilizer which was not needed at all. So Butoke did 2 ha as a demonstration without fertilizer. Weeding was not done by the military so again we demonstrated what should be done this time on the full 12 ha. The harvest should have started last week, but on the weekend many, maybe up to 100 military families emptied the field in one night taking even unripe beans and feasted on what had been meant for the military students. The theft is typical of what the military have been doing so far.   The initiative to try to feed based on one’s own efforts was refreshing even if it led into disappointment. Hopefully some lessons have been learned, so we want to discuss first with the authorities how they will manage the ext season before helping again for the next season.

The first evaluations of UNICEF of our work with them on water and sanitation are very positive, so they encourage we develop also a major nutrition action with them.

Our Tshikaji nutrition center would also develop activities for psycho-motor development of the children from one year of age onwards. This is a big step, as it will give the Kasai its first complete rehabilitation and awakening center.

The crying need of the Congolese forced to leave Angola has challenged us to open three more nutrition centers since September, one in Luiza, one in Tshikapa and one in Kamonia.

Since about 2 months, the Congolese forced out of Angola keep arriving in border posts such as Kamako 50-100 per week.  With our assistance MSF has established a treatment center near Kamako caring for these forced migrants. A good number are wounded or ill, women often have been raped, men have been beaten or even tortured. Each day after arrival 4-6 die, especially among the children and youth.

The worst malnutrition cases seem to be in Tshikapa, where people driven from Angola arrive exhausted into a miners town, after about 700 km walk with little or no food or water. Tshikapa itself has little and very expensive food, almost no amenities. The children that survived the walk develop kwashiorkor in great numbers.

In total over the four centers, we feed now150 malnourished children 5-12 times a day. There is some hope that by April 2008, UNICEF would assist us with these centers at least partially.

ADRA has supported us in 2007, launching the nutrition, agriculture and water and sanitation activities in the areas receiving the people forced out of Angola.  UNICEF took the relay for the water and sanitation and FAO assisted somewhat for agriculture.  MSF is helping with medical cases.  No organization is helping us so far with the malnutrition cases, but we need urgently all the help we can get before April and as UNICEF will support only partially, we will need other assistance even thereafter.

We wish you all a Happy Advent and hope to be in contact again before Christmas

Peace and Joy

Jean, Lazare and Cecile

Cecile De Sweemer MD DrPH

Consultante Butoke

2,av Malandji Biancki Kananga

Kasai Occidental, Congo


tel 00243997442720



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