Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Linden Willms tells Multicultural Friendship Group of his visits to Kikwit, Africa

Linden Willms
Toni Lucas - Pincher Creek's Linden Willms shared his experiences from his time in the Africa, spanning over 40 years of trips, at the Pincher Creek Multicultural Friendship Group (MCFG)  potluck dinner on March 25.  He has been visiting Kikwit in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in central Africa since 1974. He originally went on a mission for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) for an agricultural project.  He has visited this same area three more times in the last 6 years.  Willms said "Every country in Africa is unique, and the Congo is very unique."  Originally Willms went because MCC sponsored agriculture development projects in the Congo.  Willms and his wife Del spent five years in the Kikwit area trying to help the people hands-on through teaching agriculture and animal husbandry so the locals would be able to take over the project when they left.

The project included cattle, poultry, and milling local corn and peanut crops for poultry feed.  The idea was that if all phases of production were covered locally the system could become self sustaining.  He explained how he felt about this set of projects, looking back through time.  "It was a good idea, from the outside."  He explained that once the resources and the protection of the originating agency is removed a project in many parts of Africa often is not carried on.  He said he wished he know the magic formula to make projects work, and thrive.  One of the flaws he pointed out with the project he was involved with was as simple as the roadways are not maintained, making it difficult to get goods to market..  He said another problem is that those in power can seize property with little or no recourse for the people affected.  Even though his project did not survive,  he said he is not bitter about the time he spent there.

"These people have grown up in an environment of suffering."  History and geography have shaped the present culture. "It was one of the earliest colonization of Africa.  When white oppressors left, black oppressors took over over, so nothing really changed."  He made a simple statement that was chilling, about how the world works when the governments are up for hire to the highest bidder.  "In Africa, wherever there is wealth, there is blood."  Much of what we would consider government responsibilities, like road work, education, and health is ignored as unnecessary by those in power.  "I would think the Congo ranks as one of the most corrupt governments in the world, and sadly, it's the citizens who suffer."  He gave examples and statistics that one does not expect to see in the modern era.  He said he is dismayed about malnutrition, child mortality and a life expectancy of 40 years, which has not changed significantly since his original visit in the 1970s.  Access to clean water is still an issue.

Yet there are startling contrasts.  Even in poverty  people have the latest in smartphones.  He said despite the culture of corruption and entitlement there is good in so many of the people. One of his worries is in what he calls 'The Great White Savior' mentality.  "There is a spirit of dependency there that I don't think is helpful." He doe not see a solution as it is hard to empower from within.  Few there have much to work with, and the local economy does not really support regular jobs.

He said what brings him back time and time again is the people.  He has made friends and he is heartened by the way kindness and caring is cultivated among people.  He said the people in the area have great faith in religion, are very celebratory of any and all accomplishments, and are incredibly hospitable. "It is a whole different lifestyle, and way of life. those who have next to nothing still share what they do have."

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