Sunday, June 17, 2012

It's a long story.....

We begin with the end. These are three very special men who are holding up their certificates we presented to them during a closing ceremony at the completion of the project you will read about below. Eddy, on the left is our trusty site monitor, Percy in the middle is the school headmaster, and on the right is Jean, the contractor. If you could only meet these individuals!!

Now we'll tell you about this small project we started working on about a year ago -- one of those that I, Sis. Bingham, "Just had to do! " in spite of Elder B's reluctance. It started out well, except for some huge delays in the banking transfers, but we worked through those. We have talked a little about this project before on the blog. Here's the rest of the story. It is a small (you can't even visualize how small so we won't try to explain) handicapped school - where sewing, book binding, orthopedic brace construction, and basic literacy is taught to a handful of physically and mentally handicapped persons. Two of the students actually live at the school as they were out living on the street and the school headmaster just took them in. And when we say "live at the school" do not for a minute imagine that these boys have a bedroom or a bed or a kitchen or any other comforts that we take for granted. They have a roof over their heads. Period. But they are happy, and always have a smile on their faces when we visit the school.

We were (ok, I was) excited to do this project because it would provide some school supplies and materials, and also the construction of a shower room and latrine (like an outhouse) that were handicapped-accessible. Handicapped-accessible is unheard of here. These handicapped people would drag themselves over the dirt to the old latrine, rain or shine, and IF they happened to have borrowed the one and only broken wheelchair that one of the students uses, that chair does not fit through the doorways of the latrine or shower. So we will let your imaginations go from there. Oh, if you don't know, a latrine here is simply a hole in the ground. No toilet. A bucket of water is used to 'flush' the hole, maybe.

The project went bad when our partner, the non-governmental organization, stole or sold all the school supplies we had purchased for the school. Elder B had taken him shopping for these supplies (basic school books, sewing machines, orthopedic tools - about $2500 worth) and then delivered them to a storage room. Unbeknownst to us, the NGO made off with ALL the goods, and then he disappeared, never to be heard of again. So here we are with a half-constructed latrine/shower, and no partner to direct the construction, and having to explain to the school staff and students that all the new supplies are gone. The first contractor had already walked off the job, and we had to use one we didn't know anything about. But our dilemma was, who would manage the remainder of the construction work? Who was qualified? Elder B certainly is, but we couldn't be out at the project every day because we have many other committments. So we took a leap of faith and assigned Eddy, our Site Monitor, to manage the job, handed him an amount of money he had probably never before held in his hand, and said, "Finish the project and turn in all your receipts!" Eddy was awesome. The final cost of the project was, of course, much more than we had budgeted. (Wouldn't you know?) So he had his work cut out for him to figure out how to do the work and stay within the budget. He was so humbled that we would trust him to do the job, and he made it all work. We couldn't have done it without him. We are extremely pleased with the results. And the school people are delighted! At our small closing ceremony, Eddy gave a little speech. In his speech he explained, and did some demonstrating, how to use a real toilet. "Don't climb up and stand on it, you sit on it". (We take so much for granted!!) And then he demonstrated how to use the flexible shower hose -- instead of taking a bucket bath.
Do you see why we love this mission?

Below is the old 'shower room'.

This is our interpreter Dede demonstrating how to take a shower in the new shower room. (We love Dede!) The floor is gently sloped so the water runs into a drain under the shower chair. There is also a huge shower head above Dede that the person can use instead of the flexible hose. The black garbage can in the foreground is to hold water when the water company isn't providing water - then it's back to bucket baths, but at least they have a nice facility and a comfortable water-proof chair.

Below shows the beginning of the construction and the septic tanks in front of the shower and latrine. At this point I wasn't much impressed. Looked pretty rough.

Elder B walking past the nearly finished shower and latrine. Lookin' better!!

Below is the old latrine - the hole in the ground. No septic tank. Just a hold dug underground. When it is full, they cover it and move to a new hole.

The finished latrine, complete with handrails. Eddy also had to show the school staff and students how to flush the toilet. Would you say this is an improvement over the old latrine?

During the closing ceremony, Percy, the Headmaster, gave a little talk. What was very touching to us is that he himself is attending English classes 3 days a week at his own school, and he wrote and read his talk in English for Elder B and myself. You will notice that Percy is also physically handicapped. Can you see the smile on his face? He was very proud of his achievement in speaking English for us.

We love this mission! There are disappointments, even failures, but when we have the great blessing of being part of a project like this, all the bad and the sad are wiped out. We will never be able to express the feelings of our hearts for the great opportunity of serving our Heavenly Father and the remarkable Congolese people here in the Democratic Republic of Congo. As Elder Russell M. Nelson said in April General Conference, "Thanks be to God!"

We look forward to a new week and the adventures that will take place the moment we step out the door. May you all have a wondeful new week as well. We love you!