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? 

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!

Thursday, 5 January 2023

Congo Kinshasa: Happy New Shoes!


“What will 2023 bring us?” I asked Judith. “Never mind that,” replied Judith,  ”the owner of the main centre wants his rent! Put your walking shoes on, withdraw some money from Huang’s store and take it to the centre. After two days of non-stop rain, the roads are extremely muddy.” In 2014, I invested in a pair of shoes. After wearing flip-flops, prising my feet into good supportive shoes felt uplifting, and would carry me across the bumps and crevices of the eroded dirt tracks.

My shoe when it was new!

Huang’s shop is about a mile away. The sun was out now and it was getting hot. I took the money and set out to our feeding centre. It was 2 miles uphill and the sun was now relentless. Sweat trickled into my t-shirt, but my shoes held the muddy road well.

At the centre, I chatted with parents of the few resident children there. I gave Judith’s sister the rent, tightened my shoelaces and strode out towards our house.

Francis Hannaway
with Judith's sister, Leticia

The roads are always full of people: women carrying huge baskets of firewood, school children in their smart uniforms, men pushing handcarts full of bricks. People said hello, but I didn’t want to break my step. A quick “Hello!” in reply and I kept going.

Perhaps Judith will have a cold drink for me when I get in, I thought. I saw our house ahead and, curiously, heard my steps being echoed. With every step I took, it was as if something was tapping underneath one shoe.

Judith greeted me at the door, but there was no cold drink.”Because of the 2 days rain, I’ve got no charge in my phone, neither have you. Go to the Catholic Procure and get Fr. Christiantus to charge them.” I showed her my shoe. Part of the heel was detached; it was only a bit, I’ll buy some glue. Off I went – it’s only a 10 minute walk. Dark clouds rapidly appeared in response to the baking heat, and large spots of warm rain started to fall – and something else. This time like someone clapping in time to my steps! I looked down at my other shoe – the whole of the underside of the shoe was slapping the bottom of my foot!

Fr Christiantus Nna

Fr. Christiantus laughed and gave me a pair of house slippers and a lift home.

“During 2023, I’d like to buy some new shoes!” I told Judith, on arriving.

“Never mind that,” she said, “ I’ve made a list of what we need …” And with that she gave me a list of everything that’s worn out over 8 years of running the centre: cooking pots, spoons , plates, cups, buckets …

So, here’s hoping our New Year gets off to a great renewal! Happy New Year to you all!

Congo Kinshasa: Tiny Tim at the malnutrition centre


It always amazes me how early advertising for Christmas begins, and that’s long before Advent has even started. Advent is when we take stock of how we live, in preparation for the Nativity of Christ. Even so, we’re already buying presents and decorating our homes. We might start to watch some classic films, like A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens … and perhaps that helps us in our reflection.

Judith and Francis Hannaway

In the story, set in snowbound Victorian England, Ebenezer Scrooge is a character we’d like not to be associated with.  But we might be left feeling uncomfortable in recognising some aspects of our own selfishness. The Ghost of Christmas Present shows Bob Cratchit and family trying to enjoy Christmas. Tiny Tim, a very frail child, is with them. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows a different scene. Tiny Tim has passed away. Scrooge is urged to change his ways, to improve his life by loving his neighbour, in this case, the family of his underpaid worker, Bob Cratchit.

As it happens, here in the Congo, at the malnutrition centre, we accepted a little boy called Tim, Timothé in French, and yes, he was tiny. All the children are frail, even the plump ones  because of the swelling. As we’re always short of food stock, Judith asked me to make a special push for funds.

“I’ve heard that during Advent people in Europe like to buy presents,” she smiled. “I’m sure people will support Timothé’s treatment.”  She wiped her hands on her apron after stirring a huge pan of beans, sweat from the midday sun glistening on her forehead. The heat in the rainforest is relentless, even in December.

Our “Tiny Tim” was very underweight. He didn’t walk with a crutch like in the story, but had difficulty standing. His swollen feet were painful and his left eye was almost closed because his face was also swollen.

I took some photos of him with his family to post on social media. Two months treatment on our feeding programme, including medicines, would cost around £250, Not only that, we also have another 30 ‘Tiny Tims’ at the centre. Sadly, the spectre of Christmas Yet to Come is only too real here; we’ve lost 5 children since September. There have been certain times when we’ve become dangerously close to running out of food to feed the children, as well.

“Christmas shopping in Hull, York, Bridlington and Middlesbrough is in full flow,” I told her. “It’ll be difficult to distract them from that!”

“Like Ebenezer Scrooge,” she continued, “he spent time in reflection. He bought Tiny Tim and his family a turkey. He got his life in order.”

Scrooge was left with a choice, his life wouldn’t continue to be just about himself, but it would include some social action. What better way to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christmas!

Wishing you all a peaceful and reflective Advent – from Francis and Judith.

In the words of Tiny Tim, “God Bless us everyone!”


Congo Kinshasa: Judith's Flight

I finally had a short break in Middlesbrough, and when I got back to Kinshasa, Judith was keen to get back to Basankusu, to buy more stock and survey the work at the centre. I had to stay in Kinshasa for a few weeks to get another 3-month stamp in my passport. Judith called a few contacts and secured a place on the 16-seater plane going to Basankusu’s palm-oil plantation. Mentioning her headteacher father’s name was enough to secure a seat. The plane would go directly to Basankusu. 

Judith Hannaway

Then she told me that she was giving away the seat. “Don’t worry,” she smiled, “I’m giving it to the General Councillor for Mill Hill Missionaries – he’s just arrived for a visit. They’re going to get me on another plane the following day!” 

Fr Philip Adede MHM, was pressed for time; he needed to get to Basankusu in a hurry. And so off he went. Judith got a call the day Philip went – “your new flight has been cancelled”. Now, she was stuck. Fr Patrick Lonkoy MHM had welcomed Fr Philip, but, having also been left behind, would now find another flight with Judith. 

Eating in a Lebanese restaurant the evening before
Fr Philip's (2nd from left) flight to Basankusu

They arranged a flight the following morning, Saturday, at 6 am. It would take them to Mbandaka. We often fly to Mbandaka; it’s at the point where the Equator crosses the Congo River. After that, to get to Basankusu, it’s necessary to travel by river for 36 hours Still half asleep, they both arrived at Kinshasa Airport. At about 10 am the flight was cancelled – but not to worry, it would go the next day. Judith’s brother lived nearby, so she stayed there. 

The next morning they were told – “0h, we don’t fly on Sundays!” While all this was going on, there was a national fuel shortage – not just for cars, but also aviation fuel. Perhaps that was the problem. Monday’s flight was postponed to Tuesday. People were starting to get angry, not least of which was Judith. Tuesday’s flight was postponed till Wednesday. 

Fr Gregoire, a Basankusu priest, arrived to take a flight on Wednesday. That flight also didn’t go. Fr Patrick was starting to panic. “Fr Philip is returning via Mbandaka – I need to be there to help him.” He asked about another flight, and, after paying something extra, was on his way. 

Fr Gregoire and Judith reluctantly reclaimed their cases and went back to Kinshasa. They were eventually offered a place on Saturday morning, a full week after the first attempt. There were to be 2 flights. Fr Gregoire was placed on the first. Judith was left again. The other passengers got very angry, and started banging on the counter. They pushed forward and there were scuffles with the airline staff. People tried to climb over the counter to see the manager. The police came in! It was chaos. The flight was cancelled. 

The 16-seter plane which took Fr Philip
directly to Basankusu

We don’t know if the fuel shortage was still a factor; there’d also been torrential rain in Mbandaka. But it was more likely to be the fact that the passengers had become a safety risk. 

Sunday morning, Judith finally flew to Mbandaka. Fr Philip and Fr Patrick were able to return on the same plane. Fr Gregoire was waiting for Judith – and on Monday morning they set off for Basankusu by river, arriving, exhausted, early Wednesday morning. 

Wednesday, 5 October 2022

Congo Kinshasa: A second opinion saves Brigitte's leg!

 The doctors looked concerned. Mama Te-te had taken her 4 year old daughter, Brigitte, to hospital because she hadn’t been right for a long time. “She’s got severe circulation problems,” said Dr. Philippe. “To alleviate that, we’d like to amputate one leg.” Mama Te-te was speechless. Her lovely, chatty little girl? Cut off a leg? It can’t be true!

We weren’t really happy with that and decided to send her to Kinshasa for a better diagnosis. A scan of her heart wasn’t available in Basankusu. 

Brigitte during her treatment

Judith and I were already in distant Kinshasa. We arranged for a riverboat cabin, to go 300 miles to Mbandaka, where there are regular flights to Kinshasa, a further 370 miles. The boat would leave on Thursday. Well, perhaps Saturday. No, come back on Tuesday!

Te-te and Brigitte found another boat - a 20 foot wooden canoe with an outboard motor, which was carrying goats. The river journey lasted 24 hours. 

It was the first time that Te-te had been to Mbandaka. It had tarmac roads, normal cars, instead of the handful of 4-wheel drives of Basankusu. She felt like she’d arrived in a big city – so what would Kinshasa be like?

Our friends put them up for a couple of days, and guided them through the small airport. The next thing they knew they were in Kinshasa. 

Te-te was in awe! “How do people get down from those high-rise blocks of flats?” she asked. There was much to discover.

Judith went with them to the hospital. They did some blood tests and gave some antibiotics. They made an appointment for a scan and x-rays on the other side of Kinshasa, at the University Clinic. 

On the morning of the appointment, Judith took a motor-bike taxi, just before sunrise, to collect Te-te and Brigitte from where they were staying. Suddenly, 2 machete wielding bandits sprang forth. They had no idea she was carrying £500 to pay for the hospital tests! The driver put his bike down and both he and Judith pelted the thieves with stones from the road – causing them to flee. They just managed to race away on the motorbike when a bigger group of bandits came rushing to help their friends! But Judith’s driver had already sped past them. The hospital fees were intact and the scan went ahead.

Over the next few weeks they had other appointments, more medicines were given, and a diagnosis was arrived at. 

Brigitte was suffering from TB, which is completely treatable, and some other deep rooted infections. She has a genetic condition, which she’s had since birth. It’s called Sickle Cell Disease; blood cells get broken because they’re misshapen. It can cause pain and tiredness. She’ll need looking after all her life with frequent doctor’s visits for infections and even transfusions. 

The good news is that Brigitte didn’t need to lose a leg! What I’m looking for now are sponsors to help Brigitte to supplement her diet and medical fees each month.