Thursday 11 January 2024

Congo Kinshasa : Without love, there is no life.

Without love, there is no life.

Mama Karine came to the centre with her 3 month old nephew. A happy, healthy little chap. Sadly they'd buried his mother the previous day.

Francis Hannaway 

Karine said that she'd tried to breastfeed the baby herself, but it hadn't worked. We sat Aunty Karine down with a baby's bottle and some milk. We sweetened the milk a little to make it more like mother's milk. They lived a good distance from us and she had her own children to look after. We gave her some money and a tin of milk, explaining how to make the milk, to always be ready to feed on demand, and to feed throughout the day, even eight or nine times. We explained how to make milk from soya, or peanuts, and to return to us if she had any problems. At four months, we could start adding a little of our cornflour, peanut and soyamilk porridge.

Karine spoke very confidently that she understood and she'd do everything for her sister's baby.

Aunty Karine with healthy 
3 month old orphan baby boy

A week later, one of the sisters from the convent came along on her motorbike. Let's call her Sr. Lisa. She asked me if I could help an orphan. I explained that it wasn't our policy to help orphans; we would only give advice. I agreed to give her a tin of milk-powder, and instructions on how to make soyamilk. Sr. Lisa was very knowledgeable and said she'd manage the situation. The child's carer then arrived and it was none other than Aunty Karine. Although she'd come along without him, it was the baby we were already helping. I asked if she was following our instructions, and she confidently replied that she was. Sr. Lisa and I were both satisfied that they were looking after the beautiful baby boy properly. Sr Lisa told me that she'd decided on a name for the baby, she called him Joseph. 

The sun went down and the crickets started chirping, and Aunty Karine set off for home. The palm trees in the little path next to our house swayed, as a warm breeze chased away the day's heat. One or two frogs croaked hesitantly. There was a sense of calm. Sr. Lisa started up her bike and off she went. I went back inside knowing that everything was alright.

Two days later, Sr. Lisa returned with Karine on her motorbike. Karine was holding a small bundle. She unwrapped it to reveal  baby Joseph's face: pale, lethargic, eyes sunken into his face like a skull! I literally gasped.

"What happened?" I asked, incredulously. "Did you feed him at least eight times a day?" She said that she had, but looked embarrassed.

An adult can go for several days without sustenance - but a baby needs a constant flow of the fluids and nutrients contained in his milk. I shook my head; this didn't look good at all! 

It was already evening. We hurried across to the Catholic hospital, next door. Dr. Gibril set up an infusion to replace lost fluids. He didn't think it was too serious. My own thoughts were that they often try to rush things. This can lead to shock. The doctor's argument is that they needed to act before it was too late.

I asked Karine if she'd brought the two baby's bottles we'd given her. She hadn't.

Sr. Lisa set off to their house to collect them. I went back to my house to wait. Judith's nephew, Justin, a young man whom we'd been nursing, sat in our yard. I told him to let me know when the bottles arrived. In the meantime, could he boil some water on the fire and fill a thermos flask - which he did. 

Darkness fell, once again. I waited impatiently, turning over in my mind what could have happened. If the child doesn't finish the first bottle, you wait half an hour and try again. Surely, she must know that. She has five children of her own, she must know what she's doing. Then again, they were most likely breastfed. It's her first time with a baby's bottle.

An hour went by, a strong breeze blew, carrying a little light rain, which soon passed. Karine's house is 10 km and the dirt paths are difficult.

After another hour, I stepped outside. No sign of Sr. Lisa. I phoned her. Where are the bottles?

She told me she'd sent them ages ago and that someone at our house had already received them.

I walked across to Justin. He smiled and said he didn't want to bother me so he'd taken them over to the hospital. I couldn't believe it. There's no logic here with anyone. I said, "Are you crazy? What will they do with empty bottles?"

I marched back to the hospital. Fortunately, the transfusion hadn't quite finished, but I still felt that he needed his milk.

I quickly took the bottles back to prepare the milk. I gave the made up bottles to Karine and her husband, who'd just arrived, to feed baby Joseph throughout the night.

It was as much as I could do. It was already 11pm. I returned home and went to sleep.

The next morning I hoped to have good news. We often see remakable change after a fluid infusion, but that wasn't to be the case.

I turned on my phone and found a voice message from Sr. Lisa. The little baby boy had died, at 2am, and they'd already gone with his body.

I felt numb.

I questioned myself about what I couuld have done differently. Certainly, we could have taken the baby fully into our charge. Unfortunately, we don't have the capacity to receive orphans. Sadly, Basankusu is overwhelmed with them, and we just wouldn't cope with the expense. We'd be inundated - and a good number would be permanently abandoned to us.

Sr. Lisa sent me photos of a tiny coffin being made. I'm very sceptical of funerals here. No help when someone's sick, but a beautiful coffin and a huge meal when they die. Perhaps I was a little hasty this time because it was the convent workers who made the coffin. They made a good job of it. But I didn't attend the funeral. 

While she was at the funeral, Sr Lisa asked about the circumstances for Joseph's demise. It seems that Karine and her husband went each day to their vegetable garden in the forest. They left the baby with their other children, with instructions on how to feed them. From what we can gather, it didn't happen. What is certain is that there was no love towards baby Joseph. Without love negligence happens. Without love, life cannot be.

Rest in Peace. 

Friday 22 December 2023

Congo Kinshasa: An everyday tragedy in the Congo!

I don't even want to share this story.

I'm in Kinshasa, Congo's capital. 

We have a tiny flat here, for the times when we're passing through, or taking a break. 

Kinshasa is a dirty, chaotic, dangerous megacity of more than 17 million people. The roads are in poor condition and the overuse of cars and taxis means lots of traffic congestion. There are some small buses and shared taxis, but most people pack themselves into minibuses, 4 rows of 4 to a seat, plus two with the driver. The very few traffic-lights there are are usually ignored. Accidents are frequent; emergency services, non-existent. 

When we first moved in here, on the 2nd floor of what will become a medical centre, Judith's cousin, Gracia, and her two teenage children lived next door, in a larger flat. We share a common balcony area which overlooks the yard below. Gracia moved out when the rent went up and Jenny and her husband moved in. Jenny also had a teenage daughter from her husband's previous relationship. We got on fairly well with them and their friends, who often spent time at the flat. 


This morning, Jenny was sorting out some clothes to dry on the balcony railing. Papa Charles, the watchman, asked us to go downstairs to chat with Mama Jumo, the building's owner, about the rent. 

It wasn't long afterwards that Meghan, leaving the flat to go to university, passed Jenny in the yard with a bucket of clothes ready to hang on the line. 

At 9:30, Meghan said goodbye to Jenny and set off. 

At 2 pm I went to collect our laundry from the washing line downstairs, because it had started to rain. I passed the bucket of laundry that Jenny had left under the clothes line. I thought no more about it and carried our dry laundry back upstairs. Not long afterwards, Meghan sent me a messsge, telling me to collect our laundry from the line because the rain was torrential where she was. I told her not to worry, because it had already stopped raining here. 

At 4pm I heard a commotion on the shared area. It was shouting! it was crying! It was wailing! AfterJenny had left her bucket of washing, she climbed onboard a packed minibus, which had carried her and her brother-in-law towards the suburbs near the airport. They were on their way to a prayer group. Suddenly, they were involved in an awful accident! The minibus rolled over. Both she and her brother-in-law were cut to pieces and were killed instantly along with a lot of other people! 

We didn't know at the time, but it had happened not long after we'd seen her at 9:30am, around 10 o'clock.

At the scene of the accident, people gathered around. The market thieves and pickpockets descended. Jenny had died instantly, her head and legs ripped from her body in the carnage. Nevertheless, one thief stole her phone. He didn't stop there. He found Jenny's step-daughter's number and called her, describing in detail what had happened.

Others who died couldn't be identified and so family members still don't know. 

Jenny braiding Stage's hair earlier this year

Eventually, the story spread, and by 4 pm friends and family had returned to Jenny's flat. 

The tradition here is to let it all out. To shout out in anger. Why did this happen to me! Who sent this evil to me! And to cry in grief! To wail! To let everything out! 

When 30 women come together like that, right outside my door, it's frightening. Thankfully, Meghan is representiing me. She'll sleep on the veranda with the other women. Tragic!

Thursday 23 November 2023

Congo Kinshasa: an uncomfortable night reveals a tropical danger

I couldn't sleep. 

I felt bloated. Nothing seemed to resolve the problem. I imagined having an indigestion disguised heart attack, cancer, or the need for a surgical intervention. I laid on on side, on my back, on the other side. I made several visits to out Turkish style toilet. The pain was across my lower ribs - across my spleen, stomach and liver. A dull, tight ache.

Francis and Judith Hannaway 

Judith brought me a glass of water the first night, and 2 paracetamol. I slept. The following day, I consumed the maximum amount of paracetamol, as well as drinking multiple cups of sweet, milky coffee. The bloating didn't go away. Pain across the lower ribs! For two days I hardly ate. 

The next morning I took my first of three de-worming tablets. The change was SO remarkable that I've eaten loads today, and even had a beer.

Worms are picked up as eggs from contaminated food. Perhaps, someone carrying them didn't wash their hands before touching food.

The eggs enter the stomach and intestines. As they progress they develop into spaghetti-like worms that produce thousands of microscopic eggs, each day! The eggs pass from the intestines to the blood supply, eventually emerging in the lungs. They cause irritation and emerge in phlegm as the patient starts to cough. The eggs emerge in the throat and are then swallowed, only to develop into thousands more egg-laying worms! The cycle repeats. Eventually, the intestines fill with worms, get blocked and the body goes into shock. Death often follows.

I obviously had this parasitic infestation. I could sense it, report it, get treatment for it. I didn't go into shock and die like Fr Patrick CCIM did, 30 years before. I took the pills and survived!

Tragically, for our malnourished children, the story's different. They're too young to speak. The parents are often ignorant of the low price if treatment (20 pence!). The days of bloating, lack of appetite, abdominal pain, go unnoticed. At least 75% of our malnourished children need treatment for worms. The parents are oblivious.

That's why we desperately need your donation to combat these infections in a country where we're the only option!

Make a donation to Francis and Judith's Malnutrition Centre (click) 

Tuesday 21 November 2023

Congo Kinshasa : Ex-soldier, Papy, dumped at our house in a critical state!

 ==£300 needed urgently!==

We sat down to breakfast. Judith is still a little worn out from her river journey. "I've still got a headache," she said. "There's a new child waiting outside, but I've already sent someone to take them for a checkup at the hospital." The hospital is a small affair and just next door. Judith sat with me at the table and I filled our cups with hot water from the thermos flask. Breakfast had become more enjoyable since Judith's two weeks away. As well as sacks of beans, rice, milk-powder and all the things we need for the malnutrition centre, she'd also managed to source some breakfast goodies! Orange marmalade for my bread is a rare treat, and hot-chocolate makes a real difference! "Don't take too long," she added. "You promised to take that parcel across to the convent for Sister Marie." I nodded to acknowledge what she'd said. "Oh, and Papy's come to see us."

"Papy? Papy?" I thought for a while before asking which Papy it was.

"You know, he was our watchman before."

Yes, I remembered him now. His girlfriend had come to stay with him. He'd been fine. An ex-soldier; very quiet, but serious in his work. She'd caused all the trouble and then they both suddenly left.

I finished my breakfast and picked up the parcel. I walked past Papy on my way out of the yard. He was sitting, slouched on a plastic chair near the gate. I said hello, but, true to his manner, didn't really notice a reply. I continued on my way.

Francis Hannaway with Papy

It was already 8:30 and starting to warm up. I arrived at the convent and, after a nice chat with two of the sisters, made my way back.

The sun was now too hot and my shirt was absolutely soaked with sweat! I called in to see Fr Christiantus. After half an hour cooling down in front of an electric fan, he took me in to town to see his new shop.

We sat for an hour with a bottle of beer each, while he showed me all the motorbike parts in his boutique. We finally got back to my house at 1 pm where Judith was waiting.

Fr Christiantus with Francis Hannaway 

"Papy came because he's ill." she told me as we walked in. "I had him sent to the hospital and the doctors have just sent this note." The writing wasn't too clear but very noticeable in the middle was "appendicitis".

I asked how he'd got here if he was so ill. I thought back to my morning greeting - the reason he hadn't replied was because he was only half-conscious. "His neighbours carried him here," sighed Judith. "He doesn't have any family, his girlfriend left him... and it doesn't look like he has any friends. So, his neighbours dumped him with us."

Fr. Christiantus joined us for lunch. "If you've had trouble with him in the past," he said, "and if he dies during the operation, you'll be accused later."

"No," said Judith. "We didn't have any problems with him at all. He left because of his girlfriend."

"What do you want to do?" I asked her. "He needs an operation, and he needs it now. What shall we do?"

Judith wasn't happy. "This hospital's expensive. Maybe we can do it cheaper with Dr David."

Fr Chris went home while Judith went across to the hospital. She soon came back, saying, "They want 250,000 Francs upfront." (That's £80!)

Normally, we pay our hospital bill at the end of each month, but I remembered that operations need a "kit". A "kit" includes all the scalpels, syringes, swabs and whatever, they need for a particular operation. We decided to go ahead.

The total costs will be around £300.

Papy doesn't have a fixed place to live. He drifts around looking for work. After his operation, some of his brothers (well, brothers-in-arms!) arrived from Djombo, a sizeable village, 8 hours upriver. They'd all been soldiers together during Bemba's war and settled where they were, when it ended. Thinking they'd come for his funeral, they were happy to see he was still alive. They stayed three nights, sleeping on a mat next to his bed in the hospital.

Urgent donations are still needed to cover his costs. 😊 Details on my page.

Judith donated a towel and some soap and persuaded me to part with some clothes (although most of mine would swamp him!)

He'll be in hospital for a couple of weeks - that's why we need to raise funds. 

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Sunday 7 May 2023

Congo Kinshasa: missing children return to the fold

We moved our malnutrition centre to a new house; it’s quite close to our home. The parents turned up with their children with the notable absence of little Ruth, 5, and Julie, 8. Ruth had been missing for several days but her parents did finally return with her. It was the fourth time they’d absconded. When she arrived, she’d lost even more weight; she was in quite a state, needing to get checked again at the hospital. But at least they’d turned up!

Judith Hannaway at the centre 

Judith chatting with a neighbour
at the new centre 

The one who remained missing, was little Julie. We knew that she lived close to the new centre, so I set off with Judith, to find her. We asked the stallholders in the street and they’d send us this way. We’d arrive at a house thinking she was there, and they’d send us another way. The sun was hot, no breeze. Eventually, we gave up. 

Poor Ruth had lost even more weight
and was in quite a state

On the way back, a young woman waved to me from her front garden. 

“Hello! Have you just returned from Kinshasa?” 

She said she hadn’t seen me for a while, so assumed I’d been away. I asked her if she knew Mama Chantal and her daughter, Julie. She did. They lived opposite!

She left me to mind the house and the wares she was selling: twists of sugar, salt, cakes of locally made soap. Judith went with her, but when they returned they told me that Julie had suffered a crisis and been admitted to the sisters’ medical centre about a mile away. The sun was even hotter now, but I was determined to see her.

I marched to the medical centre, but they were not there. Despite my hat and bottle of water, the walk back became a challenge in the sweltering heat. I was doing too much in the tropical midday sun. The rest of the day I stayed indoors drinking water.

Two days later, Julie turned up! They’d been to visit family in another village. Julie, happy to be back, held out her hand for me to shake. She was soon wolfing down everything we gave her.

Julie was soon wolfing down everything
we set before her! 

I checked on Ruth, who has her own room, with her mum. 

“She doesn’t like the food,” pleaded Mama Chantal. 

“I can see that,” I replied. “And she doesn’t like me, and she doesn’t like our centre. But, don’t forget, Ruth’s not your boss, you’re her boss! You have to make her eat. We’ll give her warm milk with a little sugar, every hour.”

Mama Chantal told me that she likes omelette as well. I made sure she had it, as well as her other food.

I was very pleased that both little girls had returned to the programme.

Saturday 6 May 2023

Congo Kinshasa: trolled for a light-hearted post!

Judith and I are in our 9th year of treating malnourished children, here in the rainforest town of Basankusu. It's tough going: extreme heat, having to watch some children decline and die. Even though we've saved the lives of over 5,000 children, we've seen over 100 deaths. Donations are extremely hard to come by and so we live a frugal life. No car, I walk most places. My nails, lashes, and eyebrows are my own, no tattoos. No designer this that and the other, we often wear the clothes you gave to the charity shop.

Marie - interested in horizons new

So, between  the serious bits, like trying to get a blood transfusion at midnight, for a 3 year old, we try to have a bit of fun. Sometimes I post light-hearted things on here. It helps engage with potential donors. And it's fun. It lifts our spirits.

Yesterday, Marie, my niece through marriage, moved in with Letie at the new malnutrition centre. She's helping with general chores. She's 18 and very pleased when people compliment her looks. Like many girls with poor prospects, she dreams of marrying a rich man. (feminism is in its early days here!) She asked me to post her photo and to say she's looking for a rich "mondele". "Mondele" means any white person. The idea of countries is vague; the general term for developed countries is "mpoto".

It was fun, positive and a lovely distraction from our oft upsetting work. I felt happy and relaxed.

The first comments were from supportive friends. These friends have given moral and financial support over the years.

"Marie, 18, is Judith's niece. She'd like to marry a rich European." 

"So would I!" replied one friend. 

"Me too!" replied another. 

Imagine how deflated I became when I started to get flack! 

Trolls are online bullies. They've never commented on the work we do. They've never sent words of encouragement. They've never sent a fiver for our funds. But - after almost 9 years - they put a damper on the bit of fun Marie and I were having. 

They're supposed to be friends! The moral police, telling me what I can and can't post. No donations in all these years of hard slog, nothing. The funny thing is, one of them only ever appears on facebook in bikinis or very skimpy clothes. If I criticised that I'd be attacked again. Who are they? Incels? 

Marie - levelling the path at 
the malnutrition centre 

We live in the real world full of social connections, friends, fun-times, sometimes we  clown about. I can't help thinking it was an ageist thing. 

I've just come from our great-aunt's wake. I called in at the centre on my way home. Marie was drawing water from a well. 

She doesn't have a phone. She doesn't have Facebook. She doesn't speak English and struggles with French. It was a bit of fun. 

"Put it back on," she implored. "I want everyone to see my beautiful photo - and try and get me a rich "mondele!"

Friday 5 May 2023

Congo Kinshasa: using a steps counter in Basankusu

I set my phone’s steps counter to start, and strode out towards the malnutrition centre; it’s about 3 km. I was soon joined by Jacques, a bricklayer who’s building a house for a friend. We chatted along the way, passing youths in smart white shirts on their way to school. I called in at the convent, where I normally say hello to Sr. Marie-Therese and her team of seamstresses. Today, she wasn’t there – so I bid farewell to Jacques and continued to the centre.

Carrying firewood

Things are getting busy again at the centre. Fifteen children, in various stages of malnutrition, sat down to eat. Most were at the end of their treatment and would soon leave the programme. Two little girls were notable exceptions.

When 8-year-old Julie first arrived, we thought she wouldn’t last the night. 

Judith gasped. “Our funds are so low, we’d be better off helping another child with more chance of recovery.” 

I agreed, but suggested we give it a go.

The other child was 5-year-old Ruth. Although she only showed moderate signs of malnutrition, she soon went downhill because her mother disappeared three times with her to faith healers.

Today, Julie was busy tucking into her beans and rice. The change in her was incredible.

Ruth was nowhere to be seen. 

“They’ve disappeared again,” sighed Judith. “They’ve given an address, but no house number! We’ll send a search party this afternoon.”

Papa Simon kept me company for some of the return journey. He’s paralysed down one side and has made his living by cutting grass with a long jungle-knife. He told me how his bamboo bed had collapsed and he needed £5 for a new one. I’ve known him for years and try to help when I can.

Suddenly, I was surrounded by about 15 chirpy little schoolgirls on their way home from school. A girl in a blue frock smiled up and said, “You’re Papa Francis, aren’t you? And your wife is Mama Judith!” They were so full of beans, laughing and chatting as they accompanied me, that it lifted my spirits. I stopped worrying about little Julie and the absent Ruth,

“How old are you?” I asked. “I’m 4,” came the reply. I told her she couldn’t be 4 if she was already in school, - and then ensued a lively discussion amongst them all, like a flock of chickens who’d just been thrown some grain, about how old each one was! What a treat to see healthy children, going about their daily lives!

Now I was close to home. I saw a woman and her teenage daughter sitting at the side of the road. They’d been to their forest garden and were returning with a heavy load of firewood. The sun beat down and they were having a rest. The woman asked me to take a photo. Imagine having to carry such a load before you can start cooking!

Eventually I arrived home and checked my steps counter. It hadn’t worked!