Monday, November 9, 2015

Trip to Kinshasa, DR Congo (November 2015)...

Two women carrying breads on their heads...
Quarterly I travel to four countries to attend the board meetings of four micro financial institutions in
Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and DR Congo. Among these countries, DR Congo is always the most challenging countries for a few reasons.

First, the travel itinerary is a challenge. I have to leave Kigali around 1:30am and spend more than six hours in Nairobi to catch the next flight to Kinshasa. To go to the Kigali airport, I normally leave home around 9pm so the waiting period is quite long. The return trip is not any better. I still have to wait for more than five hours in Nairobi to catch the flight back to Kigali and it arrives around mid night. So the travel itinerary is a challenge.

Second, the immigration process in Kinshasa is a challenge. I was held up at the immigration office because I did not have Rwanda's residence card for about an hour. It was all provided to DR Congo's embassy in Kigali whey I applied for a visa. Why would they ask for it when I already have a visa? Also, I was held up at the health control center because I forgot to bring the Yellow Fever vaccination card. It was my mistake that I forgot to bring it with me, but because of this, I was taken into a small office where up to six people showed up and expected me to pay a fine of $60 or more. This time, I was not prepared to pay no matter what and I told them that if I was not allowed to enter the country, I would rather return to Kigali. They let me go without collecting my fine, and my colleagues called it a miracle. This hassle, at least to me, seems a significantly improved procedure. So what would it have been like in the past? The immigration process is a challenge.

Third, the government officials have no control over people, thus are not respected and people are disorderly. Every step of the government process, government officials expect a bribe to process what they are paid to do. Their duty is a privilege to other people, in other words. Since people are not respecting the government and its officials, they do not respect and honor the laws either. Traffic signals are rare. Even at an 8 lane 2-way street, cars are making left turns without traffic signal. People are freely crossing such wide streets even over the concrete barriers in between. It is the same to workers in plain clothes or ladies dressed in skirts or gentlemen in suits. They all cross the streets, walking or running. Even children join the adults. What an un-exemplary education to them! I passed by four bridges for pedestrians and none, not one, was using the well-built bridges.

Fourth, the gap between the have's and have-not's seems so wide, making me sad. DR Congo is a country that has abundant natural resources that are sufficient to fee not only its own population of 70 million people but also the entire Africans, a report says. But the government's lack of ability, integrity and desire to do good to its own people, corruption is rampant and the result is chronic poverty for its people. Wars continue and people continue to be displaced. Women and children are the greatest victims. Who's responsible for this mess?

As usual, we spent time to discuss and decide on the future of OI DRC. We also had a dinner with staff. The sunset over Congo River was beautiful and breath-taking.

Sun setting over the Congo River...
This time, I spent a little more time in Kinshasa. Noteworthy was making a visit with two clients.

The first one was Regina. She started a micro library in a poor community in Macina, Kinshasa approximately five years ago based on a $500 loan from OI DRC. She faced doubts from parents in the community, but she has been able to convince them with persistent efforts and has now 43 students of 3-5 ages. They come to the 20 m2 tiny room to learn to read and write. They can read whatever books that are on the bookcases. All of them were worn and torn, but the children must be happy to read them. One of the directors, Jane Nelson, brought English books from the U.S. and donated them to the library. Regina, along with her husband and her nice, Cecile, were excited to have English books that will surely bring additional value to the little children. Regina collects $25 per trimester and has already paid off the loan.

Jane, Cecile and Regina

Before our second visit, we stopped by OI DRC's Macina Branch. Situated in the local market, it attracts and serves many clients. The branch was neat and clean, unlike the surrounding environment. But it was a bank.

The second visit was made to Daniel who runs a private school in one of the poorest communities in Kinshasa. The entrance to the village was a garbage dump site. Naturally the narrow road was covered with trashes. People walk on them and children were all exposed to them. Down the hill, the road turned to a soft mud that would obviously create a condition that would not allow for cars or motorcycles to pass. Most of the children were in bare feet. They were smiling but their surrounding was disturbing at best. Daniel started to expand his school 4 years ago when he received a $300 loan from OI DRC. At that time, his school has 200 students, but not has 480 students. The school has only 4 classrooms and students come in two shifts, morning and afternoon. Existing classrooms are in shabby huts or shacks, but OI DRC loan enabled him to build cement-walled classrooms. Currently, he has up to 8th grade but will continue to expand as the classrooms are built. He works with 9 teachers for primary students and 4 teachers for secondary students, plus 4 administrative staff. Students pay $100 per year for primary students and $120 for secondary students. Daniel said that many students are on the waiting list. I could sense a strong evidence of transformation impact to the people with a micro credit. On the way back, my heart was heavy burdened with what I saw.

Daniel and Clement, Branch Manager who first gave the loan
This is the school... with 4 classrooms
One of the classrooms in a shack
In front of cement-walled classroom being built (Nadine)
Sand-bagged stairs
School was off, but we saw some children
The entrance to the village... covered with trashes
On the way back, we passed through a local market and I was able to take snap photos as the car was passing by. Some came out nice and natural. But their living and working conditions were reflecting ultra poverty, making our hearts sad.

May the Lord bless the country with a good and strong leader to rescue people from disorderly poverty prevalent to the entire country! - Jeffrey