Sunday, August 5, 2018

Long Overdue Update--Exciting Video Footage

As anticipated, we've been a little quiet over the (Western Hemisphere) summer.  Madlen had to spend a few months in Europe attending to personal issues.  The work that could continue during her absence did continue. But mostly, we were in a holding pattern awaiting her return.

The latest video update, created by master cinematographer Dean Lindstrom, gives a clear insight into what is happening and what still, in an ideal world, might happen next. Dean created four brief clips that I compiled into 6:45 of fun.  It's not meant as an overview of the whole two-year-long project, but it does give those of you who have invested thought, emotion, or money into this project a nice view of the current situation on the ground.

In overall summary, we have raised essentially the full $62,000 needed to accomplished what we'd dream of accomplishing, plus a bit more. A reminder of what your compassion and cash have accomplished:

  • Two brand new, clean, bright, airy bedrooms with toilets and showers, which allowed the ~80 children at Foyer House to sleep in four rooms instead of two.
  • The paving of a dirt walkway that had been responsible for infesting the bare feet of the kids with truly horrid mango worms.
  • The creation of an expansive patio area in front of the building (which plays home to Kimbondo's first cement ping pong table!).
  • The destruction of arguably Sub-Sahara Africa's most odiferous and least functional communal bathroom and its replacement with clean, bright, sanitary toilets and showers.
  • The major overhaul of the two aging bedrooms including the construction of lofts in each room. (Note: the second bedroom should be completed by the end of August.)
  • A complete renovation of the hallways and the common area--light, bright, clean, lovely.
  • With special help from our friends at Cinnamon Path Productions and Theater, the kids and staff now have a brand new industrial strength washing machine and are no longer washing 80 sets of clothes by hand.  (The washing machine is housed in a purpose-built additional room.)
I regret that I'm not able to see it in person, having moved on to Bolivia.  But Dean's video updates and the regular slew of photos that Madlen send makes the difference clear.  I'm proud of them, proud of the workers, proud of myself, and proud of all of you for transforming the living experience of dozens of lives--a number that will surely grow into the hundreds as the years go past.

At this point, I feel like I've asked for a lot from others and am willing and able to fund the remaining touches (highlighted in the video) myself.  That said, if anyone out there has wanted to donate and not done so or feels compelled to contribute a bit more, Lantern Projects can still accept your tax deductible donations and get that cash to Kinshasa.

A final update should come in the next couple of months when the work is 100% completed.

You rule, kids.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

May 26: Funding Update

Man, we are getting close. We're not there. But we're close.  And we're going to make it.  But to make it, we still need folks to 

So, a quick look at the money situation...Phase I last year (a new building with two large bedrooms) was completed at a cost of $28,000.  Phase II-A this year (ripping apart the old bathroom and making it good) carried a price tag of a little less than $17,000, and that work is completed.  Our final renovations at Kimbondo Orphanage will consist of a major overhaul of the two older bedrooms (with lofts, big windows, and other upgrades) *and* purchasing an industrial strength washing machine was estimated to be completable for $15,000.  (One of the bedrooms has already been finished.) Thus, the entire eighteen month project, if completed, will cost about $60,000.

In short, we're 97% funded.  Another +/- $1,500 will bring this baby home and allow us to do all of the work that in our most crazily optimistic minutes we thought that we maybe could.

The most exciting recent news is that we have received the money needed to purchase an industrial strength washing machine for Foyer House.  Up until this point, the residents and staff have washed 75 sets of clothes per day by hand.  Earlier this year, Madlen elected to use some left over cement to add a small room to the back of the main building in hopes that she might someday find the resources to purchase and install a washing machine.

Enter Max Langert and Cinnamon Path Production Theater.  On March 22nd, Max wrote to me:  

Hey! I've got a kind of crazy, spur-of-the-moment idea I wanted to throw at you (and it totally may not come together, so there's that caveat).
I've put on a couple of variety benefit shows the last couple of years, getting performers together and donating some money to different causes (Autism Society, SAFE). I just basically got offered a free theater space in May to do another one if I can get something together.
And I quickly thought... hmm, if I can get some music and comedy acts together in time, maybe we could do a show for the Kimbondo Orphanage.
Would you have any objection to that? So it would be a modest thing with some mostly comedy stuff, but proceeds would go to the project. Set off any red flags? Is mid-May too late for the latest round of funding?
A bit of a whimsical thought, but the offer from the theater is suddenly on the table, and I like project-managing stuff. (sorta)
Let me know if you have any reaction, negative or positive. No pressure at all.

I did, in  fact have a reaction:  "Oh, hell yeah!  Mos def."

And Max went into hyper mode, lining up a slate of excellent local performers (which he enjoys doing) and firing up the PR machine (which he *hates* doing).  But once the ball got rolling, we had reason to believe that a night of music, theater, and comedy might net us $500 - $1,000 toward purchasing the fifteen hundred dollar machine.

In two direct payments, Max and Cinnamon Path Productions Theater added $1,415 to our account.  Within the next couple of days, we also received two random and unexpected Austin-based online donations amounting to $300, which were almost certainly stemming from the benefit.  Thus, Max's "crazy, spur-of-the-moment" idea on March 22nd has allowed Kimbondo to purchase the washing machine that will make 75 young lives (and the beleaguered staff's "older lives") easier, more comfortable, and more sanitary.  

And we are so much closer to completing the entire project, putting the final touches on what is poignantly known across the Kimbondo Orphanage compounds (which houses some 500 - 700 abandoned kids) as "The White House".

Bravo, Max. Thank you performers.  Thank you friends and anonymous folks who came out to support the kids of Kimbondo.  I can only offer my continued assurance that the money is doing exactly what you are promised that it will do and that Madlen, the contractor Papa Bila, and our other friends on the ground in Kinshasa will continue to monitor the process carefully and make your money count.

Madlen returns to Kinshasa in July. By that point, all work should be completed, save the renovation of the second old bedroom and the purchase and installation of the washing machine.  Because we are so close to the goal, I've given the okay to purchase the supplies for the final touches, so that we can fend off the ever-possible spike in inflation and be ready to have the work 100% completed by August.

I'll close by posting some photos provided by Rene Renteria Photography of the "Washa for Kinshasa" benefit held last Saturday.  I'm sorry that I can't match names with faces, as I was in far off Santa Cruz, Bolivia that night.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Benefit for Kimbondo Orphanage, Saturday, May 19--Austin, Texas

My good friend Max Langert and Cinnamon Path Productions Theater are staging a benefit to help this project.  Entitled "A Washa for Kinshasa", the proceeds will go toward procuring an industrial strength washing machine. Currently, the battle to wash 80 sets of clothes a day by hand is...well, challenging.

Here are the details:

Saturday, May 19th 8pm – 10pm, $15 donation requested
Ground Floor Theatre
(512) 827-9474

Award-winning music, comedy & storytelling: a stellar lineup for a fantastic cause

  • Featuring Jomo & The Possum Posse, Her Dinosaur and other special guests, including:

    Ava Love Hanna
    Christine Hoang (with Leslie Lozano)
    Tristan Mercado
    Carlton Wilcoxson
    Joey Zimmerman

    Help us pay for a new, industrial-strength washing machine for 75 abandoned children. Currently, the overworked staff oversees the HAND washing of 75 sets of clothes a day.

Friday, May 11, 2018

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.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

April 17: Breaking Walls to Let the Sunshine In

Usual first thing first...we still need +/-$6,000 to complete the Foyer House at Kimbondo Orphanage Renovation.  

                         DONATE HERE

So far:

  • New bedrooms built?  Check.
  • Bathrooms in new building? Check.
  • Paved the parasite-yielded dirt walkway? Check.
  • Remodeled the dining room and hallways? Check.
  • Constructed a laundry room and a storage room? Check.
  • Funded lofts and a major renovation of one of the two old bedrooms?  Check?
  • Finished the old bedroom renovation and loft?  Working on it.
  • Funding for second bedroom renovation and lofts?  Still not funded.
  • Industrial strength washing machine.  Still not funded.

Help us and/or spread the word to others who might help us:

As for the bedroom renovation, Madlen has the funds and is overseeing the following:
  • the installation of lofts, since ~20 kids are sharing each room
  • new floors and walls
  • installing huge air- and light-producing windows.

We'll update photos as the work develops. But I just received this incredibly cool slow-mo assault on the dingy old walls and a photo of the new windows that were just installed.  I don't think it takes a lot of imagination to picture the difference this will make when the work is completed.  And again--we hope to be able to do this with both bedrooms.

And the new windows...feel the light and smell the breeze!

Saturday, April 7, 2018

April 7: The Beginning of Phase II-B

First and foremost, the usual--we need your continued generosity.  After fully funding the toilets and the dining hall renovations, we are now about $7,000 into funding the $14,000 that we'll need to renovate the old bedrooms and purchase an industrial-strength washing machine.

Yep, those donations are US tax-deductible.

In short, we've all accomplished a lot since this foggy notion first formed a year and a half ago.  The 80 abandoned kids living in two incredibly cramped rooms and sharing a single (really foul) toilet stall are now living in four bedrooms--two of which are light and airy--and sharing three toilet stalls and, as of next week, sharing eight.  Luxury living?  Perhaps not. But across the whole Kimbondo compound--which houses close to 800 childred--our Foyer House is known as "La Maison Blanche"..."The White House".

If you've not done so, please take a few minutes to watch Dean's video tour of the work:

In this post, I'll summarize what's happened so far, including some before and after photos.  Next time, I'll focus upon what more is to be done.

From Phase I: January - March, 2017

The Paved Walkway

A paved walkway may not seem like a big deal.  But given the relative dearth of shoes at Kimbondo, the kids spend a lot of time barefoot and the dirt pathway was exposing them to a handful of simply ghastly parasites. I have a couple of photographs and decided not to use them.  But this is a huge, positive change.

The pathway also extends into a large patio area:

The New Bedrooms
These were the focus of last year's $28,000 project.  When Madlen first showed us around Foyer House, they were sleeping 75-80 children a night in two bedrooms.  They were completed in less than two months time and with less than a 10% overrun from the initial budget projection.

Believe it or not, this is the crowding situation *after* the two
new bedrooms were added!  Double the bodies to get a sense of
the original situation
Last year's phase of the project added these two bedrooms and also two small bathrooms.

From Phase II-A: January - April, 2018

                       The Bathrooms 
Before the completion of last year's phase of the project, the 75 residents were left to share a single working toilet stall in a miserably damp, airless, and dark bathroom.  The plumbing was shot and the air hung heavy.  Just as we committed to funding the bathroom renovations, raw sewage began to bubble up out of the ground, as the thirty year old septic tank finally lost the ability to hold its burden.  The smell, which I am thankful to have missed, is said to have permeated the entire Foyer House compound.  Three large trucks were required to remove the contents of the tanks and take it to be treated.

We are proud to announce that the residents of Foyer House at Kimbondo now have a new, bright, clean, and sanitary with beautifully tiled showers and six toilet stalls.  We have turned this:

Into this:

I think it's hard to capture in a still photo--and the olfactory improvement cannot be at all--but it should be clear how much more pleasant the second pair of photos are.  (It's not just a photographer's trick. The first pictures are dark because there was virtually no light, save a hundred watt bulb, in the old version.)

The Dining/Living Room and the Hallway
So, it wasn't part of the original Phase II-A plans, but Madlen  and Dean made the on-the-ground call to perform an aesthetic upgrade to the remaining part of the house, namely the dining/living room spaces:

It used to look like this

Now it looks like this

So that the kids can do this

As for the hallway, the walk from the dining area to the bedrooms used to look like this:

It now looks like this
With the $16,800 raised (an accounting for the money raised and spent is here:  Cost Overruns That We Are Proud Of) we also added a rudimentary storage room and a room at the back that we hope will house an industrial-strength washing machine.  Oh, and a 

concrete ping pong table
Word is that the ping pong table is a major hit.  At about $100 a pop, I just might spring for a few more out of pocket.

So, What Now? (April - July?, 2018)

Phase II-B--The Old Bedrooms
Phase II-B came in at $16,800.  We have one more major undertaking (and a modest bonus addition) that we still hope to add.  We finished the first round of fundraising with roughly $7,000 leftover.  

In order to fully renovate the old bedrooms (including beautifully tiled floors and walls and lofts that will house more beds), we'd need to lay out an anticipated $6,500 each, for a total of $13,000.  Given that we have enough in pocket for one of these bedrooms, three days ago, I gave Madlen the green light to complete one of them before she leaves Congo for three months.  If we have the rest of the money (or something close to it by July), we'll do the same with the remaining bedroom.

Furthering Madlen's reputation as one of the more action oriented people I've ever encountered, the "green light" from *three* stinkin' days ago has already yielded this:

Amazing...someone needs to write a book about this woman.

Oh, and the bonus addition?  An industrial strength washing machine.  Currently, the overworked staff washes 75 sets of clothes each day by hand.  There are better uses for their time.  Projected cost:  $1,000 - $1,500.

So, Phase II-B, which will finish the complete makeover of Foyer House at Kimbondo Orphanage in Kinshasa, D.R. Congo will run between $14,000 and $15,000.  We have already raised $8,000. We have another $7,000 to go.

The new (and final) thermometer will make its appearance in the coming days.