Canadians deployed on Op CROCODILE help Congo’s war orphans

September 15, 2020 - Defences Stories

Author: Lieutenant-Colonel Sébastien Campagna, OP CROCODILE ROTO 39-40, United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO).

While deployed on Operation CROCODILE, the contingent had heard of an orphanage in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo, that had been receiving help from Canadians, but people had lost track of it. By chance, a member of the organization realized that we were Canadian and told us about the orphanage run by the NGO World Orphans Kids (WOK). Philippe, the person in charge, explained to us that he took in street children, commonly known as “mai bobo,” so that they did not turn to crime or, even worse, get recruited into armed groups to become child soldiers. He didn’t have space to house all the children because the orphanage floor was made of volcanic rock and there were no beds. Philipe relied on members of the local community to house the children overnight. During the day, the children would go to school and receive at least one hot meal.

 The first visit to the orphanage was on January 19, 2020 and to our surprise, we were enthusiastically greeted by kids who were curious and happy to see the people they had heard so much about! They were even waiting for us with a Canadian flag signed by the members of the 2013 contingent. We delivered soccer balls and candy to the orphans, to their great delight.

While visiting the organization’s office, we were again surprised to see pictures of Canadian military personnel from previous rotations. From then on, we made a commitment to help the orphanage. 

Thanks to private donations, mainly from family and friends, we were able to purchase and deliver food staples and school supplies. The children were particularly thrilled with their new chalkboards.  

Caption

Major Samuel Pelletier helps local workers mix cement to make a new floor for the school (February 2020, Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo).

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The goods that were donated on Sunday, February 23, 2020, in Goma by Canadian MONUSCO soldiers to war orphans receiving support from the World Orphans Kids (WOK) centre.

We wanted to make a more permanent improvement to the organization’s facilities. Mainly thanks to private donations, we were able to redo the floors of two classrooms so that the children would no longer have to walk on volcanic rock, the desks would be straighter, and the rooms could be used as emergency dormitories. On February 23, we set to work redoing the floor with our Congolese colleagues. At first, they were a bit skeptical about us being there, calling us “muzungu,” which means “foreigner,” until we took off our shirts. They were surprised to see “muzungu” working side by side with them. A lighthearted atmosphere prevailed as we carried out the rest of the work together, and we even exchanged a few jokes.

In March 2020, COVID-19 began infecting the Congo population. At first, not everyone understood our cautious stance because there was some doubt about the real danger of the disease. Having seen the poor hygienic conditions and high population density in this city of two million people, we understood the risks to the local population as well as to ourselves from working alongside each other. Nevertheless,  orphans’ plight, prompted us to find safe ways to continue helping them. By using our local staff, working through intermediaries, and adhering to strict health protection measures, we managed to carry out our biggest - and in this global pandemic situation, certainly the most important - project to date: building a sanitary block. All this was accomplished with  the help of Boomer's Legacy Foundation which was established in honour of Corporal Andrew Eykelenboom who died in the line of duty in Afghanistan in 2006.  The goal of Boomer’s Legacy is to empower deployed Canadian Armed Forces members by raising and providing charitable funds, thus helping them to help others through humanitarian assistance projects around the world.

Caption

The orphanage’s sanitary block in February 2020 before renovations.

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The sanitary block , including toilets and showers, after renovations in June 2020.

We returned to the orphanage in June, equipped with our protective masks, to continue the renovation work. Thanks to the support of the Boomer's Legacy Foundation, we were able to build toilets and a shower for the orphans, which contributed to a significant improvement in their quality of life. The completion of this project will help give these children a better chance at life, and will hopefully leave a positive Canadian mark on the local community.

Project leader: LCol Sébastien Campagna
Col Stéphane Dumas, Op CROCODILE Task Force Comd
Major Peter Cooper
Major Samuel Pelletier
Major Mathieu Proulx
Major Ross Bradley
Sgt Michel Jolicoeur, 3 CDSG

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