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Butoke update, September 2007


Dear Brothers and Sisters,


We are at the 9th   of September, and Jean and his agronomists are racing against time to be sure all peanuts are sown before the end of the coming week. At the same time they are also seeking to prepare for the sowing of corn, soy, beans, which needs to be accomplished before the end of the month. The rains seem early and abundant and all pray there be no interruption of the rains and also no torrential downfalls. Unfortunately there is a generalized seed crisis for beans and soy, as the secondary season, where these are the two major crops, had bad yields in the whole province.


We were all set for a major expansion if we had had an acceptance of our new project with CIDA with Help the Aged in the lead and collaboration of AIM, CHF, CODE, ADRA, Oxfam (Quebec), and Terre sans Frontières. Unfortunately we have still no indication whether it will be accepted or rejected. Last year the major expansion of the Food Security Program used up better than 4/5 of the total funds available. So we are working hard to make the best with the seeds generated then and the funds that were remaining in the current project. Moreover, for the territory of Luiza we received 1.5 ton of seeds through FAO, for 850 families as this is where the Congolese displaced from Angola are landing.


This year the military camp close to Tshikaji is getting cleaned up, provided with electricity and refurbished as the Belgian army is providing support to prepare to reopen the military university there. The first task for the engineering brigade from Belgium is to train Congolese military technicians in rehabilitation, construction and maintenance of the campus.  The second important task is to raise awareness among the military that they are there to serve the people and to stimulate development. The Rector of the future University is General Kibongi who has decided to transform the campus into large agricultural fields so as to feed the students and faculty. He has worked 12 ha and Butoke has provided, corn, beans and peanut seeds for the first season on the understanding he will preserve seeds for the next round. We also assisted him to locate and buy appropriate fertilizer. This is encouraging as it will almost assure the soldiers future officers will be fed and crops of civilians around the campus will be safe as well, as the army is likely to truly change mentality.


Let us hope the police follows suit. They have been put on a weekly clean-up action where they themselves sweep the streets. Not bad at all. But so far no sign  that all understand they too should serve the people:  rough language and inconsiderate law enforcement against informal traders (mostly orphans and widows), even manhandling in public and destroying food in front of hungry traders and potential consumers seems still the vogue even though it seems the MONUC is actively questioning the authorities on this and we have spoken out against it on the streets. Memories of the dictatorship still intrude and silence even the best.


Our Community Nutrition Center is in full swing with more than 25 residents and almost daily new arrivals, mostly of children between 4 –7 years old with marasmic kwashiorkor, combined with very severe anemia going from 7 gr% to as little as 3gr%. Many also suffer from diarrhea and  dehydration. It is an ongoing battle to protect them from hypothermia, hypoglycemia, heart failure because of anemia, heart failure because of hypokalemia. The most deadly may still be the despair of the mothers expressed often in passively observing the child sliding into death. We were able for the first time to distribute some clothes due to gifts from some Belgian military engineers.


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 antiscabies 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.


The second set of  four we should soon find and take care of.  Both the mother and father died from AIDS during the week.  Both the families decided the kids were to blame, chased them away from home and closed the home. We are trying to locate the children and legally take charge. The children are between 4 –12 years old. It is too early to tell what little they still have and whether any need care themselves.


Some of you know we will in the coming days sign a protocol with UNICEF to protect 60 water sources and build 30 blocks of public latrines and 3000 family latrines in Luiza and Luambo. This like the FAO program is designed to ensure integration of the Congolese displaced from Angola. We have bought most of the essentials and started the transport to the sites at 220 to 300 km away. We have constituted the working teams (70 persons in 6 teams). We have started on model works that help to train everyone. People are truly mobilized to help as best they can. Water sources are everyone’s favorite, but we try to teach to chlorinate the drinking water as water borne diseases are frequent and endemic and moreover we have in nearby territories a typhoid epidemic and a shigella epidemic and each have already caused more than 100 deaths . Latrines are particularly prized in the urban areas and again teaching is needed on how to do anal hygiene and when to wash hands.


Both the FAO and UNICEF projects are very worthwhile as they serve some of the most marginalized, but have shown how hard it is for a local NGO to work with UN funds. Both FAO and UNICEF have demanded prefinancing by the NGOs. So there was only one other local NGO (BDOM Luebo linked to the Roman Catholic Church) that could muster the necessary finances….We managed to prefinance for $100.000 based on a subsidy by ADRA Canada and two loans and will generate that way finances surpassing $700.000.  In the planning for the next round of UN funds three local NGOs tried and failed but are now proposed as subcontractors each of about $20.000 to CARITAS, an international NGO. The game seems truly strange and calculated to put community based groups who cannot warranty sizable capital under international NGOs. It seems to participate in the ideology that big is better, but it also correctly reflects that development happens most smoothly where there is a partnership between local and external people.  Butoke is a somewhat reluctant player in this field, we do not want to favor dominance by external structures.  Above all we want to preserve the low administrative and support costs and decentralized management. We have scaled up but we are not sure yet where the optimum size lies for us and how much we can adopt targeted planning on strict timelines, as the UN demands, rather than management by objectives and problem solving as planning. More on this experience later.


September is also the start of the school year for most schools here. A teacher’s strike looms on the horizon if they are not paid by the end of this week.  Notebooks have suddenly become a luxury as some speculators emptied the market and prices rose fourfold.  Last year we supported 665 pupils and students. This year given all the claims on our finances we are limiting ourselves to the youngsters that have the greatest needs because of their familial context


We were lucky in receiving both a major gift of $10.000 and a refund of US taxes $4500 to permit us to continue the medical action. We continue to provide medical care ourselves, as well as through referral for emergencies and indigents even though we have still  debts particularly to the IMCK Hospital of Tshikaji.

Happily we received from a Belgian surplus stock some apparatus (sterilizer, examination table, radiography) and bought a fridge as well as small surgery material. All of it extremely useful but forcing us to invest in a better electrical circuit and a slight expansion of the building to make full use of them and serve more poor people while being able to avoid hospital costs more often. We hope and pray the project being considered by CIDA now will enable this fully.   Otherwise we might be like “a monkey with a coconut,” as our Cambodian and Lao friends say.


How can you help? Many ways. Please keep informed on Congo and Africa and inform others. Pray the people of Congo develop hope and a sense of development. Pray our teams that drive long distances on dangerous roads stay safe. Pray we increasingly overcome the fear of witchcraft and instead start building belief that God’s creation is good and spreading love abundant. Pray we do not burn out or succumb to a siege mentality; that the people that serve with us and those all of us serve see the Light and strive for the good of all God’s children.


We are very grateful for all the institutional and individual support. The institutional support is the mainstay of the Food Security and Nutrition program and the Water and Sanitation program.  We are very grateful for the sponsorships we receive as well as the regular or designated contributions. They are the mainstay of the programs of education and health. Special contributions that are not designated are put to good use immediately as we have people in need (patients, students, social cases) arriving in emergency all the time as well as waiting for an opportunity.


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 8 orphans we took charge of. It will be easy to assure you receive updates on them and $35 a month can assure the basics for a child.


In our Nutrition Center, we are soon building the kitchen, latrines and protecting the source we use based on a special contribution by Paul Evans and Marleen Tiemens (Britain) and probably labor by the Congolese military student engineers. Might it be possible for some of you to contribute to redoing the electrical circuit and putting in a heavier generator and expanded care rooms?


As you see, we dream of better times while being under siege by epidemics, hunger and sheer cruel incomprehension of illness and accidents, using petrol lamps or even a rare bulb to dispel a bit of darkness and measure the walls of darkness. Sometimes we are having fireworks to the delight of all but we continue to pray God’s day breaks and liberates the many in the dark.


In His love,


Dr. Jean Lumbala and Dr. Cecile De Sweemer


Cecile De Sweemer MD DrPH

Consultante Butoke

2,av Malandji Biancki Kananga

Kasai Occidental, Congo


tel 00243997442720