Democratic Republic of the Congo - The Mokili Ya Sika work camp

It was through the Youth Ministry that Mokili Ya Sika was opened to young people from the South Europe/Africa province. The distance, the cost of the journey, the length of the activity (three full weeks) might well have discouraged the participants, above all in the present crisis situation. Nevertheless, two young Spanish women, Margarita and Ana Vicente, prepared throughout the year so that they could come and, with us, share in the work and the joy of serving. Each of them managed to save so as to pay her air ticket. Ana, who is very gifted for handcrafts, sold very lovely dolls that she makes to order. Margarita worked week-ends in addition to her usual employment. To us, they were an example of courage and devotedness. Margarita is a member of the lay group ’Tesoros Comunes’ in Barcelona; Ana Vincente, who recounts her experience below, is a member of the Gospel study group led by Lucía Uceda, Little Sister. 
 
When it was suggested that I describe our experience I didn’t stop to think and I agreed to do so. Now, after almost two weeks back in Spain, it is still difficult to put into words the unbelievable experience of our month in Kinshasa. 
 
As soon as I arrived home people inundated me with questions about how it had been, how we had got on, what the country was like etc. There were so many things, which I summarised as: "Something very distinctive, very different from what we have here but also very different from what I had imagined about over there." How is it possible to tell of all I had seen there with the affection I feel each time I think of that month? I don’t know where to begin. 
 
Right from our arrival in the Congo everything was different. It was night, we got into the sisters’ car and set out. People in the streets, a lot of people around little fires in front of the houses, between the cars, within the darkness… All I had been able to read about Kinshasa as a preparation for the journey bore no resemblance with what I could see before my eyes every day. When I was talking with my family I couldn’t describe the smell of Africa, the smell of the smoke, the colour of the sky, the nature of the streets, the dust on our feet … it was like living in a TV documentary. It was the first time that I had travelled abroad so far and for such a space of time, and I can say that I left a little part of me in the Congo. 
 
The work with the children was incredible! During the morning we were with the younger children (6 to 9 years) and in the afternoons with the older ones (10 to 12 yrs). We began with songs and they all participated enthusiastically in the activities. Then there was a more formal hour for mathematics and French… and another more playful one: manual work, games, theatre etc. 
 
At times it was difficult to adapt to the way of doing things there: a different culture, a different language, a different mentality and, of course, a different way of teaching, a different upbringing. In addition, I was faced with another obstacle: the language. The official language is Lingala but in the community everybody spoke French and at first it was difficult to make ourselves understood. Gradually you begin to realise that there are many other languages that make communication possible: the language of the eyes, of smiles, of gestures, of embraces, the language of music, of play, of affection etc. Everything was easier that way. Both the children and the Congolese sisters made great efforts so as to understand me and so that I would understand them, that I would feel at home and welcome – and they succeeded wonderfully. 
 
The differences between us were obvious: the skin and hair colour were only some of them, there was also the way of thinking. At times I used to think that, even though we might be using the same language, we still would not understand one another because we had different concepts in our head and this difference was the richness of the whole work camp. 
 
The life in community with the sisters also opened my eyes to new horizons, it was a continuous learning process. I have said it several times and I reaffirm it: "They are made of different material!". I was astonished by their closeness, their understanding, their patience, their affection, their welcome; they hardly knew us and yet we were already part of their family. Each morning we rose for the prayer that accompanied us during the day. We went to mass, saw to the usual household tasks and then went to the school where we received the most sincere smiles in all of Kinshasa. 
 
The children there are also special. I could hardly understand them, and yet that made it even better. Knowing that I was not going to under-stand them they used to come looking for a kind of complicity and I think that, because of my youth and closeness they were also looking for affection. 
 
In the school they were looking for a place where they could be children, where they could learn as children, play as children, do colouring as children and forget for a time their responsibilities as the older ones. The girls who had to look after the small sisters or brothers used to bring them to the school so as not to miss the classes. This gave me a lot to think about. Here in Spain any child would do anything to miss school for a day… over there, they would do anything to be in the college and even, at the end of the classes, we had to "throw" them out of the "house" because there was nobody to take them out of the play car where they all got in together. These are things that make you think.
 
I did not ask them what they would like to be when they grow up: footballers, astronauts, dancers, artists, writers or whatever. How can you study if the public education system doesn’t work? How can you be a writer if nobody teaches you the vowels? How can you be a dancer if your are hungry? The reality over there is a different reality. 
We also visited various projects run by other congregations: a mental health centre, a centre for those who have a handicap and a centre where street children and child soldiers can find refuge and be reinserted in their own families. For me, as a student of Child Education, it was the situation of the children that had the most impact on me, the one that caused me most suffering and touched me most deeply. I can still see the expressions of the small children in the school, those of the older ones, some expressions that I saw among the street children, the child soldiers and I hold in my heart their talents, all their potential, their enthusiasm, their affection, and also the doubt about their future. There are so many things to be done there! 
 
I end with some thoughts of Eduardo Galeano that accom-panied me during those day and which I make my own: "Our mission there was something tiny… It did not put an end to poverty, it did not do away with underdevelopment, it did not nationalise the means of production or exchange, it did not expropriate Ali Baba’s caves. … But, it did unleash a joy in doing something that has led to actions. And, ultimately, acting on reality and changing it even a little bit is the only way of proving that reality can be transformed." 
 
Ana Vicente