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Deb (far right) with several of the children of Theresa’s House.

My Experiences in Africa

I have visited the Theresa’s House orphanage three times: in 2012, 2014, and, most recently, this April. Until this trip, I had only seen the compounds in pictures.

The first compound is painted yellow and houses the girls. There are vegetable gardens and banana, papaya, and mango trees. There are also places for the children to run and play, including a swing set.

The buildings are made of blocks with cement covering them. It is very humid there, so a wooden structure would not be very good in this climate. Some walkways are covered with a flat roof to protect walkers from rain and sun. The compound is surrounded by a high wall for security.

Each morning at 6 am, I was awakened by about 150 chickens. The chickens produce eggs for the orphanage and the rest are sold to the community. The new bakery, Daily Bread, is cut into the corner of this compound and the store is open to the street. The workers at the bakery make sure there is no access for the customers from the store to the orphanage.

Common foods in Kinshasa include fried whole fish, chicken, fufu with tomato sauce, baguettes, chopped vegetables, rice, and beans. I’m sure you can guess what food I did not eat! I’m not used to something looking at me before eating it.

The older girls help take care of the younger girls, fixing their hair and washing their clothes. Now, they also help at the bakery. About 17 girls sleep there and Antoe, a nurse, also stays there. Other adult women either come as workers or volunteer there, sometimes staying overnight. Theresa’s sister, Kalu, visits three times a week and keeps an eye on the compound.

The second compound is painted blue and houses the boys (four younger boys and two teen boys), a security guard, and Mama Nicole, who watches the younger boys.

The living/dining room area is now a classroom for the younger kids. Eight of our boys and girls go to school there along with a handful of children from the community. The older kids go to a private Catholic school within walking distance. Even public schools charge tuition, so the cost of private school is not that much more and they are getting a better education. (The top two students at the school are from our orphanage!)

A door and window were added to the second compound to create a sewing store. Two of the older girls intern with the widow who runs the store so they can learn to sew. They also sew skirts for the uniforms for the girls at school. Customers come from the community to order clothing.

Overall, the two compounds are a very peaceful place to retreat. The gardens are beautiful and the trees provide shade. It is a refuge from the very busy, often dirty streets outside. Everyone does a great job keeping the compounds clean and there isn’t any garbage inside or outside the security wall.

The gardens and one of the compounds at Theresa’s House.

I noticed a few differences in the city since my last visit in 2014. The population of Kinshasa has grown 4% in each of the last few years and is now over 15 million — half of which are under age 22.

A lot more streets were paved and there were fewer traffic jams. Because there was less dust and newer vehicles, there was also less smog. The sky was blue and the sun felt intense being so near the equator. The stars were so clear at night! The sky had looked so smoggy and dirty before.

It is still very hot and humid there. I had previously been there in July and April was still the end of their summer and rainy season. When it rained at night and in the morning, it down-poured! While driving, we saw where a mud washout had killed 175 people last December.

There were some electric brownouts and blackouts. Sometimes, the electricity was low and the lights were dim, and sometimes the electricity was completely out for hours. The few rooms that had A/C didn’t work in either the brownouts or blackouts.

There are two new superstores near the compound that have a variety of food and other basics such as dishes, clothing, and toys. One store even had appliances and kitchen gadgets like toasters and coffee pots! These stores all had security to watch for shoplifting.

We were also privileged to visit with some girls that had exited and are adults now: Miriam is married, has a job, and is pregnant with twins. Julie brought her one-year-old daughter to meet us. Her husband owns a store that sells curtains and sheets. Carine came and cooked for us. Doucette sewed tops for Theresa and I and she led us in singing. We also met Alex, whom we helped with tuition, and his fiancée, Nicole.

The community in Kinshasa has been helping support the orphanage. One woman and her daughter brought $45 and another woman brought fruit for the girls to eat. The Assembly of God Church that we attended gave us money from their offering each week — one time for food for orphans and the next week for money for gas for us to get around.

We attended the church on two Sundays. They have helped find homes for some our existing girls and sometimes refer a homeless child to us as well. Theresa spoke on the second Sunday about the story of Job and that just because you are poor or have things taken away from you, God is not punishing you.

It was great to see all the people again and actually see the compound!

Fingers holding a heart

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