He wanted only to care for his family – and he paid for it with his life.
“Congo was in war”, remembers Michael.*
“Dad wanted to defend our little petrol station when the armed men came. He feared that we would starve without our little business”, tells the 17 year old boy. When the father realized that it was too dangerous to stay in Sake, he tried to flee the little town in Eastern Congo, and join his wife and their eight children who had already left to find a safe place. But it was too late. Michel never saw his dad again. Somebody killed him.
With the help of HEAL Africa the boy is learning how to live without a father, how to stay honest even if his hungry stomach is driving him crazy. Michel has been in the HEAL Africa’s orphan program for the last four years. The hardest thing for him was to accept that he would never know who killed his father and where his grave was. In the late nineties, when Congo suffered terrible fighting, dead bodies were often buried quickly and in unmarked graves. Families were left alone. Mothers prostituted themselves to get the means to feed their children. Many women were raped. Human values were abandoned.
“Can you imagine what this means for children?” asks Noella Katembo who is leading the orphan’s program at HEAL Africa. She watches Michael with warmth saying “I have a boy of the same age. I know how desperately those young men need to see good models”. Noella has worked for HEAL Africa since 2003. What she is doing is not just a job to her;. Noella suffers if the children are suffering and she blossoms if the young people she works with manage to live in dignity.
Michael is struggling very hard to do so. His mother has been sick for a long time. He never thought about why his mother got ill. But Noella knows that the reason was also a tragedy of the war: “A mother will do everything to feed their children,” she says. The mother has AIDS.
Michael is not alone. HEAL Africa is caring for 1385 orphans. One of them is Justin. He lost his father in 2002. He died in the hospital of high blood pressure and diabetes. After that his mother became sick, too, and she could not go to the market any longer to sell vegetables. So the family ran out of money and Justin hat to quit school. The HEAL Africa staff in Sake heard about the boy and took him into the orphans program. Now he is 19 years old and it’s him who is caring for his mother and his four older brothers and sister. “I am the only one who went so school” he says proudly. Now he is starting a little shop with other orphans. Every day after school he goes there to earn some money.
Justin and Michael dream of attending university. But so far there is no way to finance their education. For Noella it is hard to see that. “If those boys had a chance for further education they could make a career, support their families and even contribute to the development of Congo”, she says.
*all names of orphans changed