Tuesday, May 1, 2018

May 1, 2018: Supporting Labor on May Day

First and foremost, we remain +/- $5,000 short of the total we'll need to have completed *all* dreamed-of renovations to Kimbondo Orphanage in Kinshasa.  Your tax-deductible donations can still be sent to:

(Please note that in the coming days, we will no longer be a front-page-featured initiative at Lantern Projects.  We will continue to receive donations through this cite, but it would be helpful if you'd type a note indicating that your donation is meant for Kimbondo or "the Congo Toilet Project" or even just mentioning my name.)

One of the great collateral benefits of the construction at Kimbondo Orphanage has been that it has provided almost immeasurably needed work for Congolese people who struggle on a constant basis to feed themselves and their families.  The poverty and lack of opportunity that permeates Kinshasa is at a level rarely surpassed or even matched in the modern world. Reliable estimates suggest that as many 500 to 1,000 people *a day* arrive in Kinshasa, such is the unrest and desperation in much of the country.  Housing, jobs, and school desks exist for few of them and I--even in the comparatively secure and prosperous sectors of Kinshasa in which I lived--have numerous friends who regularly eat once a day and/or have to withdraw their children from schools for lack of funds.  And these are the people who are regularly employed.

The work at Kimbondo Orphanage won't act as more than a stopgap for those whom we employed.  But in Kinshasa, a stopgap is often vital.  Sadly, we know that this project provided the only employment this year for some of the men who worked to build this home for children and suspect that for others, the few hundred dollars earned likely resulted in a child staying in school, or covered a needed medical procedure.  Significantly, this didn't involve handouts; the men worked incredibly hard for their pay.  The "dignity of labor" is not simply a cliche from days gone by.

In a moment, I'll try to give a rough estimate of wages paid and number of workers.  But first a few photographs of Papa Bila (our contractor and the man learning to play ping pong on one of the tables your money built!) and the men he's supervised.  I had hoped to be able to attach names and provide a brief bio for some of these gentlemen, but Madlen is currently away in Europe and I wasn't able to accomplish this.

Madlen estimates that salaries amounted to about a third of the total cost of each of the building projects.  That would mean that about $9,000 made its way into the hands of local workers as we building the second set of bedrooms last year, another $5,000 this year as we renovated the bathrooms and another $2,500 as we gave one of the old bedrooms an overhaul. And if we are able to raise the additional $5,000 we need to complete the work, that would mean another $1,500 - $2,000 buying food and school supplies for area families.  That would mean about $20,000 directly into the local economy (plus the residual employment impact of some $35,000 worth of locally purchased supplies.)

As mentioned, the numbers are hard to pinpoint.  Some men worked for weeks on end, others were simply called in for an afternoon to help with a specific project. But a conservative estimate would say that somewhere in the area of 75 - 100 men earned at least a solid week's pay for their efforts.  And if one person brings, say $100, into a homestead in Kinshasa, it can be safely assumed that it will touch the lives of 6/8/10/20 times as many people, as the extended family system is deeply entrenched in Congo.

Adding to the "dignity" of the situation, Madlen reports that there has been an open air of pride and commitment to a great cause among the men who have worked to build a better life for these kids.  They care; they are proud that their efforts are helping to provide a place for a discarded twelve year old to rest her head.  They have worked strenuously and honorably--despite the challenges most of them face in their own lives--to ensure that an abandoned nine year old no longer has to wait an hour in the morning to use a foul toilet.

Language (and, to a lesser extent, cultural) barriers prevented me from getting to know these men to any meaningful degree. But I admire them greatly and am paying silent homage to them today, on May Day.

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