Mission Home Complexity

Although living in the Mission Home complex is a blessing, it can also come with its ups and downs (in fact the smaller complex the other couples live at has more consistent power and water than we do!).

When we left for Likasi and Kolwezi the water pump had gone out. That meant that even though we had water, we had no water pressure. That’s ok for those living on the ground floor–at least they get some water, even though you can’t get a shower you still get water out of the taps. Upstairs where we live above the Mission Office we get nothing!

When we arrived back at the Mission home we all looked forward to power and water, etc., as the pump had been fixed. However, the next day we were getting no water or water pressure. I thought the pump had failed again, but it turned out that we had no water! The city water had failed for several days and our large water tanks had run out also. So none of us had water to do anything. Fortunately we keep emergency bidons of water in the house for just such and emergency (to take bucket baths and flush toilets).

We have a good well on the property but the owner keeps buying cheap pumps that continue to burn out, so we didn’t have that option either. The last resort (that we have used numerous times before) is to buy water. A large water truck comes to the complex and pumps water into the tanks. This will last a few days (as long as the guards don’t forget and begin to water the lawns and wash cars, leaving the water to run!).


These are the tanks for the complex (that feeds 4 homes, two apartments, the office and the depot), also the large generator (that powers 2 homes, two apartments, the office and the depot), and the small white back-up generator for the Mission Home when all else fails.


here is the water truck parked on the street feeding water to the tanks.

As you can see, we have to have back-ups for our back-ups so we can keep working. And we have it so good here! Most missionary apartments have little or no power (so we install solar panels to at least give them light at night and enough power to charge their phones and emergency lights), and most have water to the property, but not into the house (there is never enough water pressure to give them water into the house, so they fill bidons or buckets with water and carry them into the house to use–bucket baths every day!). Some have to carry water from a distance or buy water, as there is no water even to their yards.

Water and power, the two things that drive most economies, and the two things the Congo has the most problems with. If you want to help Africa, they have food, they have clothes, they don’t have power, water, or basic roads and infrastructure–all of which usually take lots and lots of money to solve, and even more money to maintain.

Unfortunately, much of the aid coming to the Congo (and I assume other areas of the world for that matter), eventually goes to waste due to the second half of the equation: maintenance. Wonderful water and power projects go in, but then, in time, fail and become unusable due to lack of maintenance (a result of lack of knowledge and money to provide the maintenance). Let me give you some examples:

When we lived on Tinian in the Northern Mariana Islands they powered their islands with diesel generators. The one on Tinian was pretty good as it was installed to power the casino on the island. But the one on Saipan, next door, was built just after WWII. They have no money to buy a new one and have to hire foreign workers to run the plant because few on the island have the knowledge to do it. The same would be true for any other technology brought to the islands–it would be brought be foreigners, run and maintained by foreigners, or not at all.

When we traveled aboard the USNS Mercy (twice) one of the biggest projects accomplished by NGOs from the ship was to fix all the broken pieces of equipment that had been donated to governments and medical clinics, only to become useless due to lack of money and training how to fix the things they received. In place after place there were medical equipment, generators, and other specialty equipment that had been donated by caring people–simply sitting idle in a closet or hallway because something had broken and they did not have the knowledge or money to fix it. So a group from the ship would come and fix the equipment and attempt to train someone on how to maintain it. But over time the same thing happened–the equipment would break and no one would know how to fix it, or the part would be too expensive, so the machine gets stored or scrapped.

Every country we have served in around the world (six and counting) have had the exact same problems: power, water, lack of maintenance/money.

For example, in Cambodia we installed solar powered water pumps in the new wells we dug in an attempt to provide sustained water without maintenance. There is a deep well, an electric pump, and a storage tank. The solar panel runs the pump which takes the water from the well and fills the tank. They can then use the water from the tank. These solar wells will run maintenance free for some time…but eventually will fail due to the same problem: no one knows how to fix them and/or has the money to do so!

The LDS Church has seen and recognized this problem and has  now instituted a rule regarding major projects that insists upon a portion of the funds used to build the project to be put in a bank account for maintenance (say 10%). Time will tell how well that will work. It is a great idea in theory, but one never knows until you see it in practice whether or not it will work.

For example, the large LDS water project in Luputa is beginning to fail due to lack of proper maintenance (for both the same reasons–no one knows how to fix the problems, and if they did know, they do not have the money to fix them…). The church tried to solve this problem by setting up a ‘water committee’ to charge and collect fees from those using the water. The fees were charged (about 5 cents per bidon of water) and collected by the water committee. The money collected was to be used to maintain the water project. And it worked for a while…but now the money has disappeared.

It is a constant battle and discussion among NGOs and governments who desire to aid those in need: how do you help people in a way that will be sustainable? It is an obvious adage that you must help them help themselves (teach them to fish rather than giving them a fish)…but how does one actually go about doing that?

Another adage is appropriate here: you can lead a horse to water but cannot make him drink! No matter how much aid we give people, if they cannot develop the knowledge base, desire, and economic ability to continue the programs and aid they have been given, the situation will always return to where it was before.

The Congo is making great progress. We see it here every day. But it is very slow, and does not, perhaps cannot, match the progress of those around them. As a result, the aid that is given to them (and others) must be done with a lot of understanding and foresight.

One solution is to match any aid to the knowledge base and economic level they are already at. In practical terms this means that you do not bring new technology into the country if they do not already have the knowledge base and economic system to maintain it. For example, you do not build a ‘modern’ building and/or facilities that they cannot hope to maintain (whether due to lack of knowledge or lack of money). You build them a building with local material, using local means and methods that they have the knowledge, material, and money to be able to maintain once you are gone.

Now, this is common sense, but may not feel very good to altruistic people. If all they can afford and know how to build are simple adobe buildings, and we simply aid them to build more of the same, are we doing them any good? Or, if we don’t give them modern medical equipment, or other technology, how can they progress? Don’t we want to lift them up rather than keep them where they are?

But what is the alternative? Spending millions of dollars on buildings, facilities, medical equipment, etc., that in a few months or years simply becomes unusable due to lack of proper maintenance? How does that help them in the long run? And in the meantime we have spent precious resources that might have been used for other purposes that would create long-term results.

Quite a difficult conundrum, don’t you think?

Western homes sit empty (2)

Just a reminder of the difficulty of helping those in need: a subdivision of beautiful western style homes that were built to pull a village up and out of their poverty. Millions of dollars and time was spent through the simple, yet powerful desire to help. Yet ALL of these homes sit empty. Why? Because the villagers  choose to live in their mud huts, in the same way they have been living for thousands of years. The new homes make them uncomfortable–they don’t understand how to build them, how to maintain them, and they do not fit their lifestyle. An incredible waste of time and money, that was spent in the most honest and loving way by people who simply wanted to help.

But wanting to help, and spending money and assets to help, is not the same as actually helping! If you cannot find a way to help people that will create long-lasting results, then why do it?

Two small projects that we have seen work here are:

1) providing foot-powered sewing machines and training to local women who create clothes for their families and then sew clothes to sell. It doesn’t cost much and is self-sustaining. The machines can be purchased locally and they can be repaired locally.

2) Crocheting bags out of plastic sacks. This is a project started by Sister Wright and has continued with great success here in the Congo. Women are given crocheting hooks and taught how to turn plastic sacks (very plentiful and cheap here) into beautiful handbags. Again, simple, self-sustaining, and available locally.

Bag ladies 1

A few Relief Society women showing off their handywork.

A new couple from the States, the Davis’, are here on a humanitarian mission. One of the interesting projects they are developing is a small foot bridge. When they gathered with a group of church an community leaders and asked them what the LDS Church could do for them, their answer was a little surprising. It wasn’t power or water or some large project that we in the states might ‘assume’ they needed and wanted…it was a simple foot bridge. There is a small stream that divides two communities that need to be crossed daily. At this time they are using the back of an old flat-bed truck for a bridge. As the wood has since rotted, they have to tight-rope walk across the steel frame to get from one side to the other. a new foot-bridge would be practical, simple, and easily maintained…as well as having a profoundly positive influence on two large communities that would use the bridge every day.

The key to the Davis’ success in this process was refusing to ‘assume’ anything about the people they want to help. Instead of coming here and ‘telling’ the local people what they were going to do (such as put in a well, or build a building, etc.), they asked them what they wanted! What a novel idea! Perhaps the NGO that built all of those beautiful homes that now sit empty might have had a different result if they would have gone to the Elders of the village and asked them what they wanted, instead of assuming what they needed, or imposing upon them what they thought they needed. Instead of empty homes they might have been able to give them something they still would be using today.

OK, I’m off my soapbox. We are having a great time, and sharing this wonderful experience with others who have consecrated their time, talents and fortunes to be here (the senior missionary couples pay their own way to come here to serve!). And even though it is difficult at times (think no power and water), it is a small sacrifice to make for the life-changing experience one receives. No one leaves the Congo unchanged!

Terri and I will be leaving all too soon (end of September?), leaving space for others to come fill our shoes. Why not YOU !?

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