Nan Dale is Action Against Hunger's Chief Executive Officer. She has had a distinguished career in the international humanitarian field, as well as in public health, child welfare and juvenile justice.
A Spirit of Sharing, Alive and Well in D.R. Congo
A brief note from a place called Popokapaka, a town only 120 miles east of Kinshasa but a 12 hour drive away. The road to this town of some 16,000 people alternates between wavy ruts of deep sand or red clay, frequent water obstacles and twists and turns through impossibly small passages, some a mile long.
One hopes another vehicle won’t be coming from the other direction because it’s impossible to imagine how either could back up to let the other pass; yet, one hopes for other vehicles because it’s impossible to imagine not breaking down and being stranded in one of these passages forever. Jacques, our driver, almost made it seem easy.
Popo – as it is known around here – offers a superb picture of our work, of why it matters and of how one can become so captivated by it all. Everywhere there is beauty and hope – and, crushing despair – all at the same time.
Last night said it all. We arrived late and as our small base is full the Country Director, Anne, and I are staying in a place owned by the church, with clean, bare rooms and thin mattresses but a total sense of welcome and safety. The sisters run a nearby orphanage and we decided to drop in and thank them for their hospitality and see the orphanage. We arrived at dinner time. And, barely there three minutes when one child after another approached – some shyly, some full of giggles – to offer us their dinner plates of beans. This was no practiced gesture; it was just children sharing what they had.
You may recall that ACF has recently posted a video we refer to as “The Sharing Experiment” that shows two children - one with and one without a sandwich. The children are alone and don’t know they are being filmed when they discover this situation. Every time, the child with the sandwich rips it into two and offers half to the other child. Occasionally, I’ve had people tell me the scene must be staged, that kids wouldn’t really do that. Well, if they could have been with us last night at the orphanage, they’d never doubt the natural instinct of children to share ever again. It’s the adults who have forgotten how to do it, not the kids.
The rest of my visit showed what can happen when we share expertise and some modest funding with the residents of Popo – first off, you get clean drinking water for 45,000 people! You get improved health and you give people dignity and time to attend to more important things than trudging miles for water, clean or not. I’ll see the nutrition programs later but first I wanted to see the water project we’re installing thanks to funding from Pentair International and charity: water – with help from UPS on transporting the pipes and valves. This project – like all our water projects – has elected water committees to manage the projects and ensure long-term sustainability.
I met one of the committees near the spring that is the source for the water that will be piped to a water tower, chlorinated and then make its way through nine kilometers of piping donated by Pentair to 36 tap stands, managed by 36 water committees. This is not for Popo alone – the entire project spans many other villages and a total construction or repair of 160 tap stands.
It was enormously gratifying to see the project taking shape and to hear the pride expressed by the committee members I got to meet. They all spoke enthusiastically about how access to clean water will transform their communities - no more hours spent walking to the river to fill up and carry back heavy jerry cans, and how this will especially help the children who often must do this before school at dawn. And, from our staff I heard the gruesome stories of the crocodiles in the river and the very real worries of mothers who fear their children may never return from their trips to fetch water.
I know how much good this pipe line (really, a “lifeline”) will be to this town. But the future, I suspect, is not what’s in the water as they say – but what’s in the orphanage. Now if only we could bottle that irrepressible spirit of sharing that springs forth so naturally from the orphans of Popokabaka, we could really change the world.
Tell Us What You Think
How does it make you feel to learn how naturally generous kids can be? Do you think the spirit of sharing is alive and well?