The week after the Churchwide Assembly in CAR (see the last blog entry), Willie Langdji and I stayed in the Bouar area to work with the Humanitarian Aid team (funded by Lutheran Disaster Response) as we completed the mid-term project evaluation. The project has many facets: delivering medicines and vaccinating children; building or repairing spring boxes; building houses; peace and reconciliation; trauma healing; and computer training. This entry focuses on the first three of these.
Some of the traditional practices used in CAR do not promote the best crops and do damage to the environment. There are reasons, of course that they have become traditional – they work for some
things. For example, burning fields in the dry season may eliminate grasses that can be used for thatching, but it makes hunting easier… AVPE is EEL-RCA’s program that has already been working with village teams to improve crops and protect the environment. They have extended their reach with the humanitarian aid and also provided seed to some groups since the fighting destroyed what people had – or crops were left to rot when people fled. Paul Daina, Director of AVPE and his coworkers are also setting up demonstration fields to help groups work communally and to improve farming techniques that they use.
The plan is to build 600 traditional houses. People work in teams which share tools. They make and fire the mud bricks, provide the wood and straw for the roof and the labor to build the houses. The project provides cement for the foundation and wood for the door and window frames as well as two doors (one for the front door and one for the master bedroom. Each house has a living room and three bedrooms.
The project got off to a late start for a variety of reasons. Now the rains are starting again and it is a push to complete 325 houses already started. (The others will be built when the dry season returns.) These houses are along the road from Bouar to Bohong (70 km. north). The teams started closer to Bouar, but it turns out that the house in Bohong itself are being build more quickly. Some of that has to do with the availability of masons and other skilled laborers. It also seems that there are more young men who are building houses – taking advantage of support to get a house sooner than would otherwise be possible for them.
This region was chosen because many houses were burned and/or destroyed during the fighting over the past couple of years. Bohong itself was particularly hard hit – I would estimate that about 75% of the houses were demolished – not just burned, but walls attacked so that one brick no longer stands on another. As we walked around, it seemed about 50% destroyed which provides hope since now there are new houses. Here is one picture showing a newly-constructed building surrounded by destruction. What courage of the people who have come back and begun the rebuilding process. Could I do it? Could you? To return to the place where your house and life were leveled to the ground and start to rebuild? May God be with them in this process.
Here are a couple of other pictures of houses – in process or with proud owners and humanitarian aid team members in front of them. The original design called for larger windows. Prospective owners are concerned about security and asked for small windows that will not permit someone to crawl through. Since most life happens outside the house and people use houses for sleep only, they wanted only ventilation which the smaller windows provide.
Another part of the aid project is repairing or building spring boxes (or wells). A spring is where fresh water wells up from within the ground, but the resulting pool quickly becomes dirty and
contaminated unless a concrete pad and pipe are build. The PASE/WASH team also puts a roof on the spring box and, when possible, pours a concrete slab to the side where women can wash clothes. Whether the team builds a spring box or a well depends on the spring and surrounding area. Victor Ndolade is the engineer who checks out what is and what is needed. Here are some pictures of one spring box. (In one picture you can see that even the small girl is washing one of her own garments, learning the process!) The team builds steps made from sticks or dug into the dirt so that they can be easily repaired in the future. I know it is normal for water to run downhill, but it sure makes carrying containers of water (on your head) hard work!
Catherine Naabeau is the director of health projects for EEL-RCA. Through her children under five years old got vaccinations. She also bought medicines with the aid money to restock two health posts – at Forté and Mbotoga. This picture shows Catherine with the head of the health post in Forté. The next picture is the welcome we got from people in Mbotoga – lots of singing and dancing with joy.
The road between Garoua Bouali is paved and travel is (fairly) easy. Going north of Bouar the 70 kilometers to Bohong and the additional 25 km to Mbotoga, the roads are rougher. Some seem flat, but once the rain has started, you can easily see the often huge pot-holes. (I call them lakes.) This picture was taken from the back window of the Land Cruiser (over the spare tire) on the way back to Bouar. It took over two hours to go 70 km. – meaning an average of about 22 miles an hour.
Flat tires are not unusual. In fact, tires here still have inner tubes because they are easier to repair. At Forté the pick-up got a flat tire and it turns out that the jack broke! It would only move an inch or two and then fall back into the lowest position. The truck held doors to be delivered for houses. As Antoine and Mathias tried to change the tire, they attracted a crowd of kids. Later in Bohong, kids followed us (esp. me the white person) around. In both cases we were better than TV!
The day before we left Bouar and the day after, the leadership team gathered to collect statistics, evaluate what worked well and plan next steps. Here’s the team in the ELCA guest house: (L-R) Catherine Naabeau, Victor Ndolade, Antoine Mbarbet, Mathias Votoko, Patrick Kélémbho, Willie Langdji, Susan Smith, Paul Daina.
Saturday, May 2, Willie and I drove from Bouar to Garoua Boulai with stops in Gallo and Baboua to visit people (and my house). We also stopped briefly on the side of the road in Bardé to greet Abel Service, Director of the Village School Program. The new school there is ready for its roof and the contractor has the materials, but the parents have been dragging their feet about getting the latrines dug. The Director is now visiting the parents more often to make sure they hold up their end of the deal. So, students should be using this new building soon!
Building and rebuilding brings hope. Here’s hoping that the Forum currently being held in Bangui among delegates from many areas/groups will bring a lasting peace and the date for elections in the country.