|The differences between the countries of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda are both striking and sad.
Rwanda is developing in every conceivable way (commerce, roads, buildings, water, fiber optic communications, etc) while the Congo is languishing and crumbling with their infrastructure falling apart with each passing year (electricity, water, roads). The only immediately visible growth is in wireless communications: there were no land lines for telephone or data, but almost everyone on the streets had a cell phone, and you could buy minutes for your phone from street vendors on nearly every corner.
Because of the Congo’s history of civil war, the military is ruthless and isn’t well respected. Consequently, if the you run across a soldier (and there were lots of them around), you could almost expect to get harassed for a bribe – especially if you didn’t look like you belonged in the country. We didn’t run into any trouble with them this time around, but the local missionaries there have had their share of trouble with them in the past. Even something as innocent as taking photos in public would attract their unwarranted attention. For most of the photos on this site, I gave my camera to one of the deaf guys and had him take the photos. The soldiers we saw either didn’t notice or didn’t care.
We took a trip down to Uvira, 4 hours south of Bukavu, to visit a CMD school for the deaf. The road trip was “fun”: for about $7 per seat, you ride in a Toyota minivan where the two standard seats have been replaced with 4 rows of tiny seats capable of cramming 4-5 persons per row. The local missionaries advised us to buy an entire row for ourselves (a particularly good piece of advice). Kathy Lindquist shared the back row with us, while Fezili, a deaf highschooler, sat in the row in front of us – with 4 other adults. I think I counted 18 passengers, a couple of kids, luggage, and a big bag of dried (yes, smelly) fish in the van for the 4 hour drive to Uvira. Thankfully it wasn’t too hot, but the fish certainly made us want to keep the windows opened as much as possible. Speaking of crumbling infrastructure, the roads in the Congo are so bad that it’s faster to cross into the country of Rwanda for part of the trip south. Sad.
The Uvira school is run by Pililo Amani, an energetic and devoted teacher. It was immediately obvious that these fun-loving students loved and respected him. Along with his wife and two other teachers (one of whom is a deaf graduate of the school in Uvira), they teach about 45 students. The school year hadn’t started yet, but that didn’t stop about 30 students from coming out to see us. Although they had never met us, they were thrilled beyond words to see us and the older kids instantly asked about “Mama Foster” who visited them 5 years ago. They were sad to hear about her recent stroke.
We spent the night in a Swiss missionary guesthouse a short walk to the east. Unlike the school, it was fitted for electricity, running water and waste water. But like Bukavu (and most of the eastern Congo), water and electricity weren’t reliable. The water did come on long enough for us to take a shower.
The next day we spent time with the staff discussing various issues the school is facing: uniforms, trade skills, educational materials, etc. One of the most exciting topics is the possibility of expanding the school to include secondary education for the deaf. Please pray with us about this possibility. Since there is no secondary school for the deaf, these students usually drop out of school once they graduate from primary school (6th grade). Those that want to continue face incredible odds trying to forge their way through a hearing school. Having a secondary school for the deaf would truly be a Godsend!
Please pray with us that we can open a secondary school for the deaf in Uvira!