It has been a year since our daughter Michelle left Beijing due to COVID-19, only to be locked down in our Canadian home on her arrival here. This winter, Michelle picked up where she left off last year by shovelling the snow from the driveway of our neighbour Gwen. (Yes, husband Mike sometimes helped too.) We had struck a deal last year with Gwen that she would pay us for the shovelling while we would forward the funds to Congo. https://bensincongo.com/2020/03/07/snow-shovelling-for-kalondo/

Recently, Saasita told us about a woman named Kahindo Vusuvuseka Marguerite who was in hospital at Musienene just south of Butembo. Marguerite is a native of Kalondo. She was widowed and was still traumatized after the recent death of her husband. Now she was getting ready to deliver her fourth child, knowing that her prospects as a widow in Congo were bleak. Saasita was there to help out.

We suggested that a good use of the funds being supplied by Gwen for snow shovelling would be to support Marguerite. Gwen agreed, Saasita agreed and it was quickly arranged to send USD $200 to Saasita for delivery to Marguerite.

Marguerite gave birth to a healthy baby girl and has decided to name the baby Gwen in honour of her benefactress. Thank-you Michelle and Gwen for making this happen!

The Italian Ambassador to the DRC, Luca Attanasio has been murdered while on a fact finding mission on behalf of the UN World Food Programme. His Congolese driver and another Italian were also killed. Their unescorted convoy of seven people in two cars was attacked 15 km north of Goma.

There are questions being raised about the lack of an escort. The convoy was originally kidnapped and all passengers were taken into Virunga National Park, a dense forest notorious for hiding rebels. During a rescue effort by a patrol of park rangers, the ambassador, driver and bodyguard were shot.

Early reports indicate that the FDLR may be responsible, seeking to profit from a paid ransom. This is a Rwandan Hutu group known to be in the area that has caused trouble in Congo since the Rwandan genocide.

In January 1993, French Ambassador Philippe Bernard was killed during riots in Kinshasa sparked by troops opposing former President Mobutu Sese Seke.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-56151600#:~:text=Italy’s%20ambassador%20to%20the%20Democratic,near%20Goma%2C%20a%20statement%20said.

The following photos were received directly from Kijiji Cha Amani.org.

https://www.kijijichaamani.org/rumour/XmHCtf/the-convoy-of-pam-carrying-the-italian-ambassador-has-been

The Kivu Security Tracker (KST) has published a report on the new mapping of armed groups in eastern DRC. In total, they have identified 122 different armed groups, and they have published a description of each of them. The KST is a joint project of the Congo Research Group and Human Rights Watch.

https://kivusecurity.nyc3.digitaloceanspaces.com/reports/39/2021%20KST%20report%20EN.pdf

In recent years, Drs. Philip and Nancy Wood have been alternating between time in Toronto and time in Bunia. You can likely guess which season of the year they plan to be out of Canada, but this year their departure from Toronto was delayed due to COVID-19.

These absolute saints have dedicated their entire lives to helping Africans through their advanced medical training, Philip from Cambridge University and Nancy from University of Toronto. They have fled from civil war in Liberia and sheltered people from tribal slaughter in the unrest during the Nyankunde Massacre. The Toronto Star completed an article on them in 2012 and they are still going strong. https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2012/08/20/congo_a_40year_mission_for_toronto_doctor_couple.html

Philip and Nancy created the following video on their recent return to Bunia. Brenda and I stayed with the Woods in 2008 and 2011, while helping them with projects at the hospital. (We first met in Beni in 2006.) This 3.5 minute video is a remarkable refresher of many familiar sites. The lab has new microscopes. My biggest takeaway from the video is the increase in cars in Bunia, even requiring a traffic cop! Downtown Bunia looks to be much more bustling, and the roads are paved! It was always notable how Uganda had cars while Congo had scooters or small motorcycles, but that has now changed.

The following photos were taken in 2008 for a comparison to the video. The first photo is the main street of Bunia looking from the CME lab near the MONUSCO HQ and looking towards the market area. The area still had UN soldiers on guard duty behind barbed wire. Barbed wire and soldiers were everywhere. Today, I understand the barbed wire to be gone yet there are still > 16,000 UN soldiers in Congo. It appears to still be an ongoing employment subsidy project of the UN to finance developing world soldiers.

Saasita has selflessly supported fellow Congolese for many years. She makes our support for the Kalondo health clinic and multiple projects possible here and here and here and here and here and here , promoted healthy hygiene practices in the face of Ebola and COVID-19 and has been involved with many other projects we haven’t posted about. The world needs more Saasitas.

Saasita was recently faced with a serious medical issue that required immediate surgery. We were privileged to provide her with the needed funding so she could access the medical treatment she needed.

Thankfully, she is making a strong recovery. She messaged: Hello dad, I don’t know how to thank you anymore, you saved my life. Today I am in good health, since the day we made the intervention the problem has disappeared. I am strong now despite the convalescence .

Road construction between eastern Congo and various access points in Uganda is set to commence next week. The economic importance of these roads will be significant for both countries.

According to the bilateral agreement with DRC, Uganda will contribute 20% of the total cost of the project estimated at USD $334.5 million, as a measure to boost trade between the two countries.

The roads being built include; Budiba Bridge across River Semuliki with Rwebisengo-Budiba-Bunia Access Road (78Km), Mpondwe/Kasindi-Beni Road (77km), Nebbi-Goli-Bunia Road (197km), Goma-Rutshuru-Bunagana Road (100km) and Bukavu-Goma-Butembo-Beni-Bunia Corridor (758km).

Bens In Congo first reported on this project between DRC and Uganda in November 2019. https://bensincongo.com/2019/11/17/important-road-agreement-signed/ In October 2020, a similar deal in principle was struck to also advance road construction linking South Sudan with DRC and Uganda. There aren’t many roads labeled as “good” in these 2015 maps! (Click to enlarge)

The following video was recorded in 2011 as we travelled south from Bunia to Butembo. As part of a massive deal to obtain Congo resources, China agreed to pave selected roads in the country. The video demonstrates a beautiful Chinese road as you approach Beni from the north (obviously a “good” road per the map). Beni to Butembo is one of the most scenic roads in the world but it has to be travelled at < 25 km per hour (at the most!).

This link is an excellent resource for detail on DRC roads. From this link, you can easily access excellent information for various infrastructure in DRC and other developing nations. https://dlca.logcluster.org/display/public/DLCA/2.3+Democratic+Republic+of+Congo+Road+Network

Dorcas Mbambu has always been good with reporting the use of funds that have been provided to her.

In early 2020, we had provided fresh funds for the sewing project, just in time for COVID-19. Funds were needed to refurbish some equipment but also to hire a dedicated worker who could market and manage the output. COVID-19 limited these plans as originally envisioned, but it led to new opportunities. 250 face masks were produced and sold for USD $1.00 each. In addition, 100 vests and 156 uniforms were sold. These numbers are well below full capacity, but they provided additional profits and employment with wages for three people. From the profits, chickens and cages were purchased as well as food for the children.

Butembo has seen Ebola, unimaginable violence, and now COVID-19. Once some normalcy returns, our hope the sewing project will provide sewing life skills, employment, profits from the sale of goods produced, and purpose.

The orphanage continues to meet a huge need. Dorcas explained that the recently arrived babies shown above were picked up beside the corpses of their parents. Violence in the region continues to rage. 150 have been killed since December 11, 2020. 67,000 have recently fled their homes. The vast majority of tragic news is continually underreported in our media.

The updates provided by Dorcas summarizes spending but also the funding received by the various supporters from around the world. If you are in any of these countries, please consider a donation that can be directed to Congo. A little certainly goes a long way! Here is a list:

CMS Ireland – https://www.cmsireland.org/

Semiliki Trust (UK) – https://www.semiliki-trust.org.uk/

Congo Aid (Australia) – https://www.congoaid.org/

Congo Church Association (UK) – https://www.congochurchassn.org.uk/

On December 28, 2020, ADF rebels filmed themselves attacking the small village of Loselose, east of Beni, near Bulongo just past the Semuliki River. Loselose is an agricultural village producing cocoa, papaya and other crops.

I’m told that the Congo army (FARDC) recaptured the village an hour later. The video is just under 5 minutes. It verifies the unprofessional nature of ADF as they seem content to fire bullets rather indiscriminately.

This video and incident was verified by Kijiji Cha Amani. https://www.kijijichaamani.org/rumour/p87sG2/during-the-loselose-attack-the-adfmtm-terrorists-hoisted-the-flag

YouTube and Google would not permit the uploading of this video. I had no problems using Rumble, which I will use going forward.

Rebels have terrorized the defenseless people of Kalondo for some time. We just learned that at the Kalondo medical clinic marauding rebels had stolen the battery which supported the solar energy system. This small system provided basic but needed lighting.

James was able to co-ordinate with Saasita to replace the battery. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that China controls the battery market in east Africa! Saasita promptly delivered the battery so the clinic could enjoy some limited power.

As a thank-you, the locals provided Saasita with bananas. Hopefully she had some help getting them back to Butembo!

James Kataliko has been able to visit Shasha, near Goma, to review Project Kesho Njema. This project is based on the provision of 11 goats (9 female) in late January 2020 to the Kihunde speaking community on Lake Kivu. Recipients of the goats are expected to return a baby (kid) goat to the elders who will then repeat the process by delivering the goat to a new recipient. The elders keep a breeding or stud goat and ensure compliance with the recipients.

There are now 3 baby goats with 3 more on the way.

Kesho Njema translates as Tomorrow is Better.

Here is the original post on the project: https://bensincongo.com/2020/01/28/a-new-project-kesho-njema/

The inspiration for this project was based on an earlier project with chickens “Kuku yangu, tenga yayi” “My chicken, give me eggs!” https://bensincongo.com/2016/02/28/my-chicken-give-me-eggs/

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