By Kristen Miller
COKATO, DASSEL, MN Two years ago, Good Shepherd Free Lutheran Church and neighboring churches came together to collect shoes and other items to donate to an orphanage and school in the Democratic Republic of Congo through the non-profit organization, Hope Centers for Children of Africa.
That effort continues today with the focus being on collecting silverware.
“We’re trying to promote good public health,” said Glenn Mork, a member of Good Shepherd Free Lutheran Church and director of Hope Centers for Children of Africa. Currently, the typical way of eating food there is with one’s hands, that, in many cases, aren’t sanitized.
“The goal is that no child eats with their hands again at the center,” Mork said.
In April 2011, Mork spearheaded an endeavor by getting the churches involved. It included collecting and shipping 19,000 pounds of farm and medical equipment, French text-books (the primary language), pallets of 5-gallon pails, and 1,300 pairs of shoes to the DR Congo. The shipment was sent in November 2011, and arrived in March 2012.
The destination of the cargo was Bunia Children’s Hope Center, where 700 orphans live, many of whom lost their parents during the 10-year war or from disease, Mork explained.
In 2004, the center began caring for orphans, and it has since grown to where it now operates a clinic, school, and farm.
Widows soon became a part of the equation also as the center placed children with women who lost their husbands under similar circumstances, Mork explained. The center now assists the women with micro-loans for business development as a means to better provide for their families.
To become self-sustaining, the center grows its own food on 150 acres of tillable land that has been purchased at a discounted rate. Crops include maize, which is the main source of food; soya, edible bean, and peanuts, which are harvested twice a year. The vegetables include cabbage, tomatoes, two types of onions, carrots, green beans, sweet potatoes, and cassava, which are harvested three times a year.
Farming is extremely primitive and labor-intensive, Mork explained, which was why there was such a need for farm equipment.
Mork met the cargo in DR Congo when it arrived last March. Traveling with him from the area were Craig Anderson, Tom Constenius, and Steve Nowak.
Jean Pierre, the center’s agronomist, was “awe-stricken” by the farm equipment and the mechanized way of planting crops.
The equipment included a field cultivator, row cultivator, and John Deere planter. It not only provided relief from back-breaking work, but it also increased the harvest, according to Mork.
It’s important that the farm equipment is smaller, so that the equipment can cross the Shari River bridge, Mork explained, adding that for the corn picker, there was only 6 inches to spare as it crossed.
On Mork’s last trip, which was just over three weeks ago, he taught the farmers how to use a row cultivator to clear the weeds between the rows, in an effort to increase yields.
Out of all the farm equipment that was delivered, however, the tool that brought the most excitement was a corn sheller, despite it being about 100 years old, Mork commented.
The workers must shell each ear of corn by hand, so even a hand-cranked sheller makes the job much easier, he said.
On the next shipment, which is set to ship in April, will be a two-row corn picker and two trailers to pull behind to collect the corn.
“The largest killer in Africa is unsafe drinking water,” Mork said.
In an effort to provide a means for safe drinking water, 5-gallon pails were donated to make water purification systems, Mork explained, since their main source of water is the nearby river.
The clean water initiative continues with this next delivery, which will include a metal mold to be used to make hundreds of bio-sand water purifiers, Mork noted. The mold is being manufactured free of charge by Millerbernd Manufacturing in Winsted, where Constenius works.
These systems will be even more effective than the previous water treatment systems, Mork noted, in that it will take less chemicals and therefore money to maintain the systems. It will also provide the villagers access to clean water, and not only the people who live and work in the center.
“Our goal is to have safe drinking water wherever they live,” Mork said of the orphans.
The shoes were quite possibly the most popular items brought to the center.
Through Good Shepherd’s shoe drive, more than 1,300 pairs of shoes were donated to the center.
“I had so many shoes stored in my garage, the shelving was starting to cave in,” Mork commented.
Mork said he has learned since then to have the container available before he starts collecting donations.
As the group was unloading the shoes from the container, Mork noticed a heel on the ground that he thought must have ripped off one of the shoes.
“One pair didn’t survive,” he commented.
Then, he realized a man was standing near who was barefoot.
The heel had ripped off his old shoes.
“Immediately, I was able to put shoes back on his feet,” Mork commented.
Many of the children had outgrown the shoes they were wearing or the straps had broken on their flip-flops, making it difficult to walk, Mork explained.
The donated shoes were lined up like a department store, 500 pairs at a time. The children were also lined up outside, waiting to come in and find a pair of shoes.
First, 10 to 15 children could go in and pick out one pair of shoes.
The girls would take their time, trying on 10 to 15 pairs before choosing the right one. “They were so careful on what to take,” Mork commented.
The 245 widows then came through along with their own children, and then the center’s staff and families.
“There was so much appreciation,” Mork said.
Donations currently being collected
This go-around, Good Shepherd Free Lutheran Church is asking community members to look through their kitchen drawers to find any silverware to donate to the center.
More shoes will also be accepted, as Hope Centers is working to build a second center in a neighboring village later this year.
People are also being asked to donate kitchen rugs.
Drop-off sites include Good Shepherd Free Lutheran Church, Broadway Hair Fashions, or other participating churches.
Mork is also looking for rows of barbed wire for farmland that needs to be fenced in, in addition to an electric welder to use when tractor equipment breaks.
To donate these items, contact Mork at (612) 310-2395.