Naptime at St. Kizito's!Read More
Running an orphanage in a country still reeling from decades of war, each month brings highs and lows, small victories along with crushing disappointments.
Little Isaac arrived earlier this year, barely a month old. Isaac’s mother had died while giving birth to him in their remote village 35 miles outside of Bunia, and his grandmother was too poor to feed him. She traveled all day over bad roads to deliver him to the orphanage, knowing it was his only chance at life. The sisters accepted him without question and began filling his tummy with formula, but they noticed something was wrong. Isaac’s head was swelling, the result of hydrocephalus, where fluid builds up in the ventricles of the brain.Read More
Congo has many resources - and one of them is sunshine. In addition to being the source of a vast amount of the world's minerals (competition for which have sadly too often led to conflict rather than necessary financial stability for the Congolese people) the DRC is a sunny place to be. In order to make sure that the St. Kizito Orphanage has power all year round, the community is working on adding solar panels that can provide a free, sustainable source of power.
If you look closely at the photo, you'll see that our newest building (the children's house, added recently thanks to your generosity) is now enhanced with several new panels that can keep the lights on all night long!
We're excited about this new development and look forward to adding many more sustainable features to the orphanage in the coming months. Of course, if you have any technology folks in your network please send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org - we'd love your help!
Earlier this year, the CKI family suffered a great loss with the death of Pastor Marrion P’Udongo. In addition to being a dear friend, he was the soul of our organization, possessing both the tenacity and cunningness to make things work in extremely difficult situations. As journalists like to say, he was one hell of an operator, and he will be missed.
As many of you know, Marrion had been sick for a while. Back in 2010, he suffered renal failure that required a kidney transplant, which hundreds of his friends and supporters helped make possible through their generous donations. But the donor kidney never quite worked, causing him years of pain and discomfort. After it finally failed, we were in the process of helping him receive another donation, this time in India, when his health deteriorated to the point where doctors could do no more. He died just hours after flying back to Africa, his wife Julienne by his side. He was laid to rest in Bunia, where his heart had always been.
For most of his adult life, Marrion worked as a circuit preacher, traveling out from Chrisco church in Bunia into the scattered villages of the vast Ituri province. He often traveled for days to preach a revival, enduring washed-out roads, bad weather, and militia that preyed on travelers. During Congo’s long war, Marrion moonlighted as a fixer and interpreter for international journalists, guiding them beyond front lines and checkpoints otherwise impassable. In a war where tribal affiliation marked you for murder, Marrion traveled freely. The hardest militia commanders and child soldiers knew him and trusted him. His presence carried calm and reassurance, the promise of God’s mercy, and peeled back the insanity for brief moments.
His humanitarian work during the war was immeasurable: he counseled scores of women and girls who’d been raped and helped them find doctors, convinced many child soldiers to surrender and rehabilitate, and clothed and fed prisoners and provided them lawyers. In one of his most remarkable moments, in 2003, he sheltered nearly a thousand of his congregants during ethnic pogroms in Bunia and led them safely to a United Nations base.
Not only does Marrion leave behind the children at St. Kizito, whom he loved and championed each day, but also his wife and four kids of their own. To help Julienne pay expenses and send the kids to school (tuition isn’t free in Congo), we’re taking donations here.
And as always, we continue to raise money for our kids at St. Kizito, funds that provide them with a healthy childhood and education so hopefully they grow up to become the next generation of Congo’s leaders. Because as Marrion liked to say, “It’s not enough to just preach about heaven. We must know how to help people live while they’re still on earth.”
Across the globe, families are celebrating the harvest season and giving thanks for an abundance of food. At the same time, 795 million people around the world do not have enough nutrition to lead healthy lives, a shortage that particularly impacts babies and children.
Malnutrition is particularly significant in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) where it is estimated 23% of children are underweight. This challenge is especially felt in areas impacted by conflict and displacement when farming is limited and food scarcity rises.
At Congo Kids Initiative one of biggest goals is to ensure that the children of St. Kizito have healthy meals so that they can grow strong bodies and minds. Planting gardens and maintaining livestock are some of the ways we’ve invested in long-term, sustainable strategies to ensure our busy kitchen is full of great food. For little ones, who aren’t ready for solid food, we need other options.
At no period is nutrition more important than during the first 1,000 days of a child’s life (from conception through the second birthday.) Poor nutrition at these ages can lead to stunted growth, cognitive impairment, and long-term learning challenges.
Because babies cannot eat solid food, in the early years, breastfeeding offers a wonderful (and free!) way to eat for health. But orphaned infants are dependent on access to enriched formula with nutrients to ensure that they are prepared for life! In the DRC, what we take for granted - easy access to formula - can be prohibitively expensive. That’s why Congo Kids Initiative is working hard to provide steady access to formula the St. Kizito babies so that we can welcome everyone who needs our care.
In this season of abundance, we invite you to join us in #GivingThanks on #GivingTuesday to ensure that children in Congo share in the celebration!
Click here to give $10 or more today and make a difference in a child’s life.
Statistics provided by the World Food Programme and UNICEF
As a follow up to Congo Kids Initiative’s back to school September focus on education, we thought it would be helpful to share a bit of background about the work we support at St. Kizito Orphanage in order to understand the broader issues children face in the transition out of conflict.
War impacts not only combatants, but also everyday citizens who need access to food, shelter, and medicine. Conflict-related displacement destroys infrastructure and educational systems, making it difficult for societies to rebuild once peace finally arrives. As always, it is the most vulnerable members of society who are the most impacted by violence, very often this means children.
As a result of living through decades of war, many of the residents of St. Kizito have known a large amount of destabilization in their short lifetimes. Older children, both boys and girls, may have had direct combat experiences and younger ones have all been impacted by indirect consequences of war. It is estimated that over 5 million people have died in the DRC due to conflict, roughly half of those are believed to have been under five years old according to SOS Children’s Villages Organization.
The St. Kizito team works hard to focus specifically on the needs of those experiencing the effects of conflict. While residing in the orphanage, children are given large doses of love and a chance to regain a childhood filled with learning and play. For older children who have missed years of education, the school offers opportunities to discover the joys of learning for students of all ages. As conflict subsides, every effort is made to reintegrate residents to their home communities. Follow up monitoring is done to be sure that once children return home that they have the support they need to be successful.
The back-to-school campaign launched in August has been an extreme success! Everyone at CKI and at the St. Kizito school are extremely grateful for all of those able to contribute to the campaign. The funds raised will being going towards the daily needs of the St. Kizito school to help kids get ready to learn with strong bodies and school supplies! Every dollar helps the orphanage, clinic, and school function properly and allows the children to maintain their lives in Bunia. We thank those who have chipped in and welcome those who want to join in with a donation of $1 or more by clicking here!
This month at CKI we would like to focus on understanding conflict within the Congo that led to the need for CKI. War in the Democratic Republic of Congo has a long history with roots in colonial exploitation and competition for resources by neighboring countries. Multiple elements contribute to its complexity and can make the current situation hard to comprehend without further learning. We believe that by understanding this vast, beautiful, and resource-filled country and its rich culture the CKI family can better assist in the creation of sustainable futures for its children. We also feel that lessons learned from Congolese who are building peace and stability in their country offer us tools that can used around the world.
To assist in this effort to educate, CKI has created a lesson plan, presentation, and literature guide. We are looking for schools or organizations that wish to learn more about the Congo and CKI. If you or anyone you know would like to arrange a presentation or take advantage of the resources we have created, please contact us at: email@example.com.
As children return to school for the next step in their education, it seems fitting to introduce the education occurring at the St. Kizito School and two of the children benefitting from the Congo Kids Initiative Education Fund.
Within the St. Kizito School, there was a desire expressed from students to continue into higher education. As Michael Hrzic, one the founders of the Congo Kids Initiative Education Fund, says, “ In talking with the older children at the orphanage, I realized that they truly need options to get outside so that they could learn to take care of themselves and others.” Thus, The CKI Education Fund was then created.
Early funding was secured to launch the program with two students, to be selected by the St. Kizito school teachers. Seeing great potential in Josephine Neema and Juve Ngave Brigitte, two female students, they the teachers named them for the pilot program. Neema and Juve both chose to enter into medical vocational school, as they were given the opportunity to choose the path in which they were most interested. Through this fund the women are guaranteed paid tuition within their chosen field with the sole condition that they must pass their exams.
Neema and Juve were also provided with a mentor, Elyse Pifwa. She has provided guidance and support throughout their first school year and acted as a connection between CKI and the students. This support is key so that Neema and Juve know they have support through all of these new experiences.
One of the first, and most interesting hurdles that the students had to tackle was the significant travel time to the university, which is quite far from the orphanage. Instead of letting this discourage them, the girls and the mentor came up with the solution of driving a motorcycle to school, which CKI was able to purchase. The first lesson after high school for both of them was learning to drive a motorcycle, making the commute to school easier and safer!
Recently, CKI received letters from the students describing what they had learned during their first year at university. Neema chose a medical path in laboratory work and Juve chose a path in pediatric medicine. In her letter, Juve expressed that she is now able to consult a child that is sick and provide him with treatment through taking his or her temperature, putting in a catheter, inserting an IV drip, and give injections into muscles and veins. Neema wrote that she is now able to take a blood sample, to perform malaria and tuberculosis tests, to check the group and rhesus of a blood sample, and check the hemoglobin of a blood sample. Both Neema and Juve have made significant progress and are currently focusing on their exams that occur in September. They thank the CKI Education Fund for the support it has provided to them.
CKI has committed to continuing this college experience for Neema and Juve – and to expanding the opportunity to other residents at St. Kizito Orphanage. We hope that you will join us in this effort. As one Chicago supporter expressed, “After learning about the St. Kizito Orphanage, and hearing about the older girls aging out of its care, we decided to contribute to the CKI education fund in order to support scholarships for these strong young ladies. As we have benefitted from generous scholarships over the course of our American educations, we are happy to be able to "pay it forward" in a way by helping these students on their journey.”
In keeping with the “back to school” theme, CKI is launching a “Back to school” fundraising campaign to help us support St. Kizito at every level of their studies. For further details, visit the Congo Kids Initiative Facebook Page or http://www.congokidsinitiative.org.
Last year we embarked on our first international collaboration in which students at the Norwegian School of Creative Arts (NKH) in Oslo and photographer Marcus Bleasdale created the photography project, NKH for CKI – Foto for Kongo. The project idea was to take the powerful medium of photography and use it as a platform to support CKI.
This year a new class of students has continued the project at the NKH campus in Bergen. Considering the size of the project and because the class is composed of only 8 students, it was a major learning curve for everyone involved. Sunniva, one of the participating students and head of the communications team, said that by sharing the work with each other and understanding the vitality of teamwork they were able to succeed and achieve their goal of supporting CKI and the children.
Since the inception of the project in Bergen, students have organized workshops, drop-in portrait sessions, and company partnerships. In their most successful company partnership they were able to make a deal with a local gym; the gym donated all of their proceeds (from an entire day!) to Congo in exchange for photos of their gym members in action.
In addition, the students organized and installed an art exhibition that took place on January 29th. The exhibition featured 48 photos and drawings, all of which were for sale and had been donated by students of the photography and illustration classes at NKH, teachers, and local artists. All in all the students were able to raise a total of 16.000 kr (1,895 USD) for CKI through the exhibition!
We’re excited to watch NKH for CKI continue to grow and we look forward to seeing how the funds raised by the project will support children in Congo. For more news on what’s currently happening with the project and to see where it’s headed next, make sure to follow NKH for CKI on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
The Congo Kids Initiative Team
Thanks to the support of the Congo Kids Initiative global community - Brigitte and Neema, two St. Kizito residents, are attending college this fall! Both young women are attending ISTM Nyankunde (High Technical Institute of Medicine). Brigitte is studying nursing, and Neema is training to work as a lab technician.
As St. Kizito's children grow up, an important part of CKI's work will be to ensure that they have the professional skills to lead sustainable and healthy lives.
Brigitte was also raised by the nuns of St. Kizito after both parents passed away. She says she hopes to repay all those who helped raise her by returning to the orphanage once she graduates. Brigitte aspires to be a nurse or possibly a doctor.
Neema was brought to St. Kizito orphanage when she was seven years old after her parents passed away. There the nuns cared for her and sent her to school. Neema was always a very bright student and, with CKI's financial support, she was able to complete secondary school. She looks forward to continuing her education to become a lab technician.
Meet Elysee Pifwa
She is our coordinator in the Congo, currently helping arrange the transportation for Neema and Brigitte to get to college each day. She has previously worked with a variety of other NGOs, providing social services, addressing domestic violence, and helping children who have been through trauma. We are very lucky to have her on our team.
As every parent knows - making sure each child has a clean, dry, warm bed to sleep in each night provides a key start to the day. Thanks to the support of Congo Kids Initiative family, all of the children at St. Kizito now have a new bed!
Pastor Marrion and helpers figuring out how to get these great gifts home! Logistics in the Congo are a fine art and the St. Kizito team are always up to the challenge.
After the mattresses are home - Sister Catherine and the residents tackle the installation with a smile!
Amazingly, we have collected over 56.000 kroner (so far) for Congo Kids Initiative since launching the project! Last week we worked on our individual photo shoots and two of our students arranged a photo session for babies and children in our studio at NKH. We had 14 children show up on this day making it a huge success! Photographers, parents and children were happy with the photo shoots and excited to show their support of our project in this way! We are very grateful to all who showed up this Saturday to get their pictures taken!
We’ve also been working on planning the exhibition next week. The arrangement will be promoted on social media and displayed on posters in our local area. We hope to see as many of you as possible! The purpose of our exhibition is to sell printed images, taken by the students, that will hopefully end up on the walls of living rooms in and around Oslo. Marcus Bleasdale will also be conducting a speech about Congo and the project we are undertaking. We are keeping our fingers crossed that this will help increase the financial support to the orphanage.
Public response continues to increase and we even have an upcoming interview on the project at www.fotografi.no (http://www.fotografi.no/arkiv/foto-kongo). It has been fantastic to see how many people have shown their support of the project through social media. Just look at all these selfies that people have tagged with #fotoforkongo!
CONGO KIDS INITIATIVE announces our first international collaboration:
NKH for CKI - Photography for Congo
A photography-project by students at Norwegian School of Creative Studies in collaboration with the renowned documentary photographer Marcus Bleasdale (National Geographic / VII agency) and Congo Kids Initiative.
The project "NKH for CKI - Photo for Congo" is now underway!
After an inspiring meeting with documentary photographer Marcus Bleasdale in May 2014, we decided to start a project that would financially benefit people in need in the area and we chose to collaborate with The Congo Kids Initiative. The organization is gathering funds for the orphanage, St Kizito, in Eastern Congo.
We decided that through photographic work and activities related to photography as a communication and medium, we would endure a project that would help raise money to this organization and the orphanage as such.
First and foremost it was important for us as photography-students to use the knowledge we have and produce photo-related work in order to contribute to this project. The project supplies both funds for the orphanage, but also it provides us with a deep understanding of running and managing the project, work experience as photographers and a valuable insight in both the history of, and the challenges of The Democratic republic of Congo.
An important part of the project is to raise awareness and knowledge of the project it self and what Congo Kids Initiative is working on.
In addition we need to communicate how people can donate and contribute into this project. The general idea is to swap our knowledge of photography and our service as photographers with donations from the people we photograph or teach. We have created various accounts on multiple channels in social medias like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. This way we can reach out to as many people as possible and it gives everyone an opportunity to show their commitment. We have also created a hash tag: #fotoforkongo, which we hope can contribute to getting the audience to feel included in this important project. We are campaigning both verbally and socially in addition to the channels online in order to create as much awareness as possible on this project.
We are using Facebook and Twitter to post important information about events we organize to collect money, document the work we do along the way and regularly remind the audience what the money goes to by linking to www.congokidsinitiative.org.
The first week resulted in 259 people liking our Facebook page and we aim to double this by the second week of the project. We have sent press releases to several Norwegian newspapers and are lobbying to get them to spread the word even further on our project. We have obtained sponsors for a sales exhibition that also marks the end of the project (for now) and so far (the first week) we have raised almost 30 000, - Nkr (4 000 USD) and this is before we have started swapping pictures for donations.
Marcus Bleasdale has been supporting us and have on several occasions shared his images, knowledge and experiences from working in Congo as a documentary photographer and this has given us a even greater motivation to do everything we can to help the best we can! We look forward to addressing all challenges in the coming weeks and hope to reach as many people as possible to provide Congo Kids Initiative the attention they deserve!
When the project is finished, we have a plan to challenge departments to NKH in Bergen and Trondheim to follow up the work and take the baton so that Congo Kids Initiative will get further support and attention in the future.
Do you feel Challenged?
2nd Year graduates (Photography)
Norwegian School of Creative Arts (NKH)
The constructions for the infant center are fully underway. We are thrilled to see that the building process is moving along smoothly and the youngest members of the St.Kizito orphanage will soon have a beautiful home to be safe and grow up in. Thank you all who supported us. We'll keep posting images as the construction moves along.
As Christmas approaches in eastern Congo, the caregivers at St. Kizito orphanage in Bunia are overwhelmed. In the past three months, twelve newborn infants have arrived from surrounding towns and villages, all in various stages of dire health. Two were born premature and needed urgent care. Three others had been abandoned and left to die. One child, Esther, was discovered in a pit latrine, still attached to her placenta and covered with insects. Villagers rushed her to the orphanage clinic, where today she’s making extraordinary progress.
However, thanks entirely to the heroic sacrifice of St. Kizito’s director, Sister Catherine Wadhiko, all twelve children are doing better. The young nun from Aru insists on personally caring for the children around the clock. At night, they all squeeze into her tiny 10x12-foot bedroom. Five of the smallest and most vulnerable infants, including Esther, sleep nestled beside her in bed, where she feeds them throughout the night. The other babies sleep on mattresses along the floor.
Because her fellow nuns are busy caring for St. Kizito’s other 66 children, Sister Catherine trained one of the older orphans, Bridgette, to help with diaper changes and nighttime care. But she insists on feeding and bathing the infants herself, plus administering their medications. If she must leave the orphanage on business, it’s never for more than an hour. She sleeps when she can. “This is my calling,” she’s said on many occasions. “I’ve dedicated myself to God and these children.”
We’re dedicated to helping Sister Catherine in her mission. This holiday season, we’re trying to raise the funds to complete a new building that can accommodate our new arrivals, plus the ones that are certain to come. Just this week, six people were reportedly killed when Ugandan-backed militia attacked a village in southern Ituri.
The new building will house a nursery big enough to hold 22 babies, plus rooms for additional staff, and an indoor toilet. Half of the building is already finished, but if we can raise our goal of $6,200 we can provide a safe home for St. Kizito’s tiniest residents.
We hope that in this season of celebration you will join us in building a future for St. Kizito’s children by clicking here and making a donation!
The Congo Kids Initiative Team!
School is starting all over the world - and nowhere with more importance than at St. Kizito. The school is full (it's currently operating on double shifts!) of children whose youth has been marked by violence that most of us cannot imagine. However, the orphanage school provides a unique opportunity to reclaim and relish childhood, replete with lessons, tests, and games.
Of course this means all of the challenges of studying and tests and getting there on time every day - no small challenge in a city plagued by power outages and roads that regularly wash away. For St. Kizito, it means operating a school without consistent electricity, books, or internet - and often for free. One of the major goals for Congo Kids Initiative is to ensure that school facilities are improved so that the next generation of children can grow up in a successful and peaceful society.
Our leaders in this endeavor are the nuns and their students, who start every day with a smile and an eager hand up - leading the day with curiosity and spirit!
Running an orphanage takes a resourceful heart. No one exemplifies this more than St. Kizito's headmistress, Sister Catherine. Always willing to take in a child who has no parents and whose community cannot step forward, she is the one who is called when there is a crisis. Recently, her bravery and that of the nuns she works with was called into action for a very small baby who were born prematurely when her mother died in childbirth. Sadly, this is an all too common occurrence in Eastern Congo, and other countries without adequate medical care for pregnant women, and the results are devastating for the entire family.
In the US, or other more resourced countries, this little girl would have been whisked into incubators and would have spent weeks, if not months, in very sterile environments. However, there are no incubators in Bunia and the child had no family left.
Enter Sister Catherine. With constant monitoring and 24-hour care, she and the nurses at the orphanage clinic have created their own neo-natal ward. Of course everyone will be relieved when Congo Kids Initiative is able to raise funds for an incubator and funds for a visiting pediatrician, but in the meantime, with the patience of those who know that sleep is optional when the stakes are this high, and one beautiful girl is off to a beautiful start in life.
All over the world kids on a Sunday afternoon play football. In the US it's called soccer, but beyond that – it’s all the same thing. St. Kizito’s orphanage is no different. On a recent visit we got a chance to play a pick up game and learned a lot. One thing that’s pretty fun to realize is that the nuns who run the orphanage are always game. And I mean GAME. Not only do they make sure that the dozens of children in their care, from tiny newborns to teenagers off to college, are healthy, fed, and educated, they also make sure that fun is part of the daily curriculum. Between the little toddlers taking their first running steps on the field to a nun who found practicality the key (yep – that means lifting up your skirts just a bit!) the afternoon was fun for everyone – probably my husband Michael and I most of all!
Of course, a quick peek across the road to the “big” field just proves how good you can get at this game if you play locally. The community was gathered for what was clearly an ongoing series of games that get very exciting – we were lucky we were only getting beat by nine and ten-year olds!
That said, the most heartwarming part of the day was after the game when you really meet the community. All throughout the afternoon people come to visit St. Kizito’s. Young couples who stopped in on their way from church to visit children. Neighbors whose own situations preclude adding more family members and yet who do all they can to ensure that the children of St. Kizito know they are party of the larger Bunia community.
To make a team it takes a village.