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.  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.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

April 1: A Video Tour of the New Foyer House at Kimbondo Orphanage

A million and six rounds of applause for Dean for filming this so nicely.  I was overwhelmed to watch this today and (predictably) have so much to say about it.

But for now--for once--I'm going to let someone else do the talking.  Or something else...

Still lots to do--we have two bedrooms to renovate and will have to get back on the fundraising train soon. But for now, we can all step back and appreciate that we've done something good.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

March 28: Cost Overruns That We Are Proud Of

As always, I'd be a fool not to begin with the donation link.  We'll be continuing to accept donations for the foreseeable future, though the exact link will change on April 1st.

With any sort of construction project, cost overruns are the major fear.  A quick web search can yield any number of warplanes that cost a few billion dollars more than anticipated.  Boston's infamous "Big Dig"  was slated to cost $2.8 billion, but came in a half decade late at $14 billion (and $22 billion including interest paid).  When we undertook the first Kimbondo building project a year ago, I was skeptical that we could really build two brand new bedrooms, two small bathrooms, and a sprawling outdoor patio for the original estimate of ~$25,000.  

In fact, Madlen and crew were able to get all the work done in less than two months (and with a few additional flourishes) for $27,000--despite the rampant inflation and non-existent infrastructure of the Congo.

In our current Phase II Projects, we have run into a couple of unexpected costs.  But we are very proudly giving a transparent accounting of virtually every dollar spent.  (I say "virtually" as the type of accounting that we aim for in the United States isn't quite possible in a place like Kinshasa.)  I'll start by inserting the spreadsheet I was sent today from Dean and Madlen which indicates all expenditures incurred to date (now that the bathroom part of Phase II has been funded) and indicates where the overruns occurred.

Click to Enlarge

Our initial estimate was ~$12,500.  You'll see that the final cost was $16,733, or about $4,000 more than we anticipated.  These overruns can be loosely divided into two major categories--ones incurred by choice and ones foisted upon us.  We'll get the Foists out of the way, since no one really likes to contend with Foists.

There is one major and a couple minor areas of Foist.  The major one is that we had not anticipated the costs of removing (safely and environmentally soundly) over two decades' accumulation of sewage. As often noted, the septic tanks had been overflowing.  It turns out that three trucks (@ $380 each)  had to be hired to transport the sewage from the premises and for each truckload an additional $120 was needed to treat it. Not much to be done about this $1,500 expenditure.  The minor unaccounted for costs included between $300 - $400 related to purchasing and installing doors and $350 to pay the local project manager, a Congolese man named Papa Biya. This man has been a miracle worker at Kimbondo for years and was also the primary doer behind the first project.  I am no authority in the matter, but I am very convinced that this is a very, very fair additional payment for all that he's done.

The rest of the cost overruns were of choice and were the result of on-the-ground decisions made by Madlen and Dean.  From today's email from Dean:The additional costs result from the wall tiling and floor tiling of the dining/living room, the wall tiling and floor tiling of the hallway, the construction of the back porch, the construction of the laundry/clothes storage room on the back of the house, and the costs involved in removing the old sewage.  In addition, since we had the workers and materials there, we are constructing a cement ping pong table in the front of the house that will provide recreation for kids not only in Foyer, but also the other houses in the orphanage.

In short, the decision was made to add the following to the initial part of Phase II:

  • the wall and floor tiling of the house's dining room/living room (which have apparently made a huge differences in terms of aesthetics and sanitation)
  • the building of a back porch (which involved roofing sheets and electrical wiring)
  • the addition of a clothes storage and laundry room (which will, we hope, soon house an industrial-strength washing machine, eliminating the need to wash 75 sets of clothes by hand).
  • the construction of a cement ping pong table!

The bottom line is that we ran into about $2,500 more in costs than we'd expected, and added about $2,500 in additions to the original plans.  (Some of this is offset by Price Rebel Madlen getting a major discount on the tiles that we used).  I'm not able to see it myself this time, of course, but I have complete faith in the decision making of Dean and Madlen.  Once more from Dean:

I know that this has gone beyond the original toilet project, but the result has been an almost new looking house that is very functional and has such a nice feel to it, both with looks and smell!

And adding to the poignancy, Madlen reports that Foyer House is now known across the 700+ resident compound as "La Maison Blanche"--"The White House".  I know, right?...

So, here's where we stand:
  • The bathrooms (and the add-on projects--laundry room, renovated dining area, back porch, and ping pong tables) will end up costing ~$16,700.  I am waiting for confirmation, but it's my understanding that this work will all be completed within the next week to ten days.
  • Thus far, we have raised $18,651.  Thus, the first part of Phase II has been fully funded.  It's done. Thank you.
  • We are currently sitting on a surplus of ~$2,000.  I know of an additional $1,000 that has been pledged, plus a few other sources of anticipated revenue that will likely add up to at least another $1,000. 
  • The second part of Phase II involves dramatically renovating the older Foyer House bedrooms.  While these two bedrooms are functional, they are worn down and still very crowded (despite now housing 40 between them instead of 75 a year ago).
  • Madlen is proposing two versions.  One would introduce light- and -air-producing windows and a general overhaul of the room as it exists.  She's giving a six thousand dollar estimate.  We are already a third of the way to covering that expenditure, and as noted above I have reason to feel confident that another third of it is essentially secured.  If worst comes to worst, I'm committed to making up the difference with money left by Bob and Gay.  The old bedrooms will at least get a nice upgrade.
  • But the dream?--Doing all of the above and also installing lofts, essentially doubling the number of beds available and increasing the living space.  The price tag to that looks like an additional $6,000.  This may be beyond our means. But maybe not.  We are about to embark on a final round of aggressive (oh, that sounds wrong--make it "assertive" fundraising) to see if we can entice some new donors and procure additional help from the old ones.
I'll use these photos again--and provide much more info about Phase IIB--in a later update. But it seems appropriate to close by providing an indication of how cramped the older Foyer House bedrooms are.  Mind you, these kids are more than simple "victims".  They laugh and love and enjoy life, despite the hard hands they've been dealt.  But space and resources are scarce and Madlen is very clear how much it would mean to them to enjoy a bit more comfort.

We've made something good happen here. From Madlen, Papa Biya, Dean, and the workers on the ground, to close friends of ours of whose donations we are aware, to the dozens of other names behind generosity of which we are not specifically aware, I feel like we've formed a fleeting community of good will and resistance against some bad forces out there.  

I'll close with David Byrne's most finely tuned words:  "Never for money and always for love".

Oh, and fuck fascism.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

March 23: Moving to the Home Stretch

As always, the donations URL up front:

In between finishing up a hectic quarter where I am in Bolivia and preparing for a family trip to Macchu Picchu, I've struggled to keep up with the news from Kimbondo.  But the general word from Madlen is that the work on the bathrooms is progressing at a good pace and that they could possibly be open for "business" within a couple of weeks.

To recap the general state of affairs, our last update from Lantern Projects had us at $14,578.  I've also just received word that a donor from Ireland has sent $2,000 directly to Madlen in the Congo, meaning that our new total is...

I could get ahead of myself and let on that I have reason to believe that the total is soon to top $20,000.  A theater company in Austin is talking to us about putting on a benefit performance.  And we also know of $3,000 that has been promised, but not yet received; so it's best not to count the proverbial chickens before the equally proverbially hatching.

Madlen and Dean are promising a full financial accounting this weekend.  We do know that there have been a few additional expenses, some incurred by choice, some foisted upon us.  The choices involve an industrial strength washing machine and turning the dining hall from a dungeon into a palace. (I exaggerate here quite a bit, of course. But I was charmed to learn that the residents refer to last year's new bedrooms as "La Maison Blanche"--"The White House.")  The foisting comes courtesy of the precarious nature of the Congolese franc and the unexpected (and unwelcome...and unpleasant, I'm sure) need to transport three huge truckloads of sewage accumulated over the decades to a place where it could be safely disposed of.

Until I receive the financial accounting, I can only say that the bathrooms are safely funded and that we are able to move on to renovating the older sleeping quarters.  That job is expected to cost about $12,000 if we do it as we want to do it, and about half that amount if we need to settle for something less grandiose (but still very useful).

Until then, I'll leave you with the latest photos, a series of Befores (on the left) and Afters (on the right).

These first two show some work completed using last year's funds.  The area around Foyer House consisted of dirt.  In and of itself, this wasn't a problem, but as most Kimbondo residents don't wear shoes regularly, this let to a horrible parasite entering the feet of many residents.  The new patio protects against this and also gives the kids a more comfortable area to sit, to study to play.

            Still waiting on the sink installation. But it should be clear that once
              that happens and the final touches are completed, this will be a lot
              more pleasant.

               Old shower area and new.  Hoping to have the pipes for the showers
                 installed by the first of the month.

              The toilets a month ago and the toilets today.  'nuff said.


                     No before here.  But the dining hall was long a crumbling black 
                        cement floor and the walls hadn't been painted since...well, in a
                 bloody long time.  It not only looks much nicer and (I'm told)
                 now boasts a fresh, clean smell, but in between meal times is
                 converted into a sanitary and comfortable study area.

We'll have the updated financial report to you as quickly as we can and, ideally, some new photographs of the, even more ideally, fully-functional new bathrooms.  We will also be providing a look at the work yet to be funded--the renovation of the old bedrooms.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

March 17: And on to the Bedrooms

Guess it makes sense to start with the URL for making a donation, right?

We're happy to announce that our confidence was well-placed and we have raised enough money to cover the bathroom renovations at Foyer House at the Kimbondo Orphanage in Kinshasa, D.R. Congo.  As many of you know, +/-75 young people have been sharing two toilets stalls and living amidst pools of overflowing sewage.  Project manager Madlen took a leap of faith and borrowed the money to get started on the project and it the progress has been quick and efficient.  The latest project is that the bathrooms--six new toilet stalls, big windows, attractive tiling, modern sinks and showers--may be open for business by the first of April.  (And the sewage pools--they are already a grim memory from the past.)

Let's have a look at a couple of before and after shots:


(Note not just the floors and tiling, but also the air and light that the larger windows will provide.  Oh, and the plumbing works.  And the olfactory effects should be taken as a given.)

Using the money that we have raised so far, we've decided that we can afford a related add-on to "Phase I"--the construction of a small annex that will house an industrial-strength washing machine.  We think that will run about $1,200, which will leave the funds raised so far essentially exhausted.  

A washing machine will go here
So, it's on to Phase II. Foyer House currently has 40 young people sharing the two older bedrooms. They are crowded, run-down, and starved for air and light.  

The Old Bedrooms; Sleep ~20
For about $6,000 - $7,000 we can add huge air- and light-producing windows and ceiling fans and give the bedrooms a major structural and cosmetic makeover. For double that, we can add lofts, which will create new beds and free up a lot of space.  More details to come.

Monday, March 5, 2018

March 5: Some Early Work

The ever-present reminder: Donations are accepted here:

Confident that support would start rolling in when our fundraiser officially opened, we okayed some spending of funds and commencement of work before we had actually gathered any money.  With $1,800 received over the first weekend (and--not quite a spoiler alert, but a hint--strong reason to be confident that this dollar amount is soon to grow dramatically), our confidence served us well.

In order to combat the ever-looming threat of inflation in the D.R. Congo, Madlen did some massive purchasing of materials and hired work crews to get started.  Here's a few looks at the situation on the ground:

Yeah, this is raw sewage.
And this used to be a toilet.

And this is how you attack decrepit bathroom plumbing.

And this is the first shipment of cement that will make it all better.
And this is the beginnings of a new septic tank.

And here is a much later stage of a new septic tank.
 And somehow Madlen and the workers got this far in about a week.  We have a long way to go until this part of the project is funded (and much farther if we hope to be able to renovate the old living quarters). But our confidence has paid off and Madlen will continue borrowing money in Kinshasa to complete this bathroom ASAP, feeling certain that we'll be able to raise the money to repay the loan.