Life in the DR Congo

Visit to the Village of Kabyasha

I am sitting here in the village of Kabyasha in the shade of an old tree, surrounded by children who have the clothes on their back and little else. This rag tag group of kids range from infants to children of around 12, with the older taking care of the younger. Though they have nothing they play, laugh and fool around as if they don't have a care in the world. Some have little toys they have made out of bamboo, others have a bicycle tyre they push around with a stick, and still others dress up in banana leaves as they act out some story. They seem so full of life compared to our children! Maybe it's just the novelty of the new guys in town. They don't see many white folk out this way so perhaps we are something like a circus!

Most of the older children are still in High School, just across the compound. They get out of class and make their way over to us in an orderly fashion to say, "Bonjour!" The teaching here is done in French, though many of the adults struggle with French and instead use their own tongue. This might be Swahili, Lingala, Bemba or any one of "who-knows-how-many" local Bantu-based dialects, depending on the location of the village. English speakers in these villages are very rare indeed.

Classrooms a very basic. Almost all have a good roof on them and some windows (no glass), but as far as furniture goes there is none apart from some form of seating for students. Primary school children usually sit on a wooden or clay brick "form"—sometimes there is not even that. Secondary students seem to do better and sit together on a combined chair/desk (usually metal). The classrooms all have a large blackboard at one end for teachers to use. There is no lighting at all, so I'm not sure what they do in the wet season when the clouds are over!

And what if you want to go to the loo in the village? If they have one it will be a long drop — a VERY LONG DROP! This one was 4-5m deep and you must be able to squat well as there is no seat (or toilet paper unless you take your own).

Life in a Village

Luanza was founded in the late 1890’s by 23 year old Scottish missionary, Dan Crawford. From 2002 through to 2010 there was a lot of fighting in the area and over half the village was either killed or had to run away. Rebel soldiers finally agreed to leave in 2010 and the village is now returning to normal.

The village people in the countryside live in small homes made out of mud bricks. Many people make the bricks themselves and then build their own house. The roof is made from layers of long grass that are stacked thickly to keep the rain out. Only very wealthy people have corrugated iron on their roof. There is usually only one door for the house and many have no windows, so it is very dark inside. Many houses have only 1-2 rooms but some houses are bigger. Cooking is done outside in case the house catches fire! No houses have electricity, so if they can afford it they buy candles to help them see at night.

Each family is big to start with, though almost half the children who are born in the villages die before they are 5 years old. There are lots of diseases and not always enough food, especially if the parents get sick. Despite this sickness and poverty, the children seem very happy and friendly. Many children only have one pair of clothes each—two at most—and no shoes. They like to play soccer a lot and make soccer balls out of plastic bags rolled up tightly and held together with string. The children also make their own toys out of pieces of wood and branches, old bicycle parts, leaves and pretty much anything else they can scavenge. No children in the villages have toys from a shop unless maybe they are children of the chief.

What do children in the village eat? Most families eat twice a day—lunch time and tea time when the sun goes down. Some poorer families only eat once a day. The main thing people eat here is a floury mash made out of either manioc or maize. This floury mash is called fufu. It is sort of like a paste and is eaten with your fingers. It tastes like our mashed potatoes but without the salt and butter, and it is also quite gritty.

For vegetables most people eat boiled manioc leaves, some beans, or something like cabbage or lettuce. If they have chickens they sometimes eat them, and also eggs from the chickens. They also eat dried fish (which smell very badly!). On very special occasions they will eat goat meat. Most people will only eat meat once or twice a month. For sweet food there are bananas and sugar cane, and some villages have paw-paw.

Going To School

Most children in the DRC do not go to school, either because there is no school close enough to go to or they cannot afford to pay the school fees. The government does have schools in the bigger cities, but there are usually no public schools in the villages, where most of the people still live.

If there is a school in a village it is usually run by a church like the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, or here in Katanga Province, Mission Garenganze (an Open Brethren Church Mission). School fees are kept as low as possible in order to help as many students as possible go to school, but even that is too expensive for many families.

The government pays the teachers' wages but pays nothing for books, reading materials, furniture or anything like that. As a result, no schools that we have seen have any furniture in the rooms apart from desks or seats, and none have libraries. Students do not have any textbooks to learn from.

All school buildings are made from bricks and have concrete floors. Some schools are well kept and tidy while others are not so good and need repairs. There is no electricity so there are no computers or anything else that uses electricity. The teacher uses a large blackboard to write on using chalk. There are no white boards and no photocopiers. Most students only have one book to write stuff down in.

Primary school classes sometimes have large numbers of children crammed into them — up to 50 children in each room, especially up to year 8. In the year 4-6 classes it is not uncommon to see 4 children sharing a desk that was meant for 2. High School students usually have better conditions because there are less students in a class. Many children only go to primary school and then go to work.

At break time most children run around outside or play games. There are no toys to play with and no adventure playgrounds. Some schools have a playing field for soccer but there are no concrete playing areas for other sports. Each school often has only one soccer ball, so children make their own balls out of scrunched up plastic bags and string.

Teachers are on pretty low pay and often have to make do with nothing but their knowledge as many have no access to textbooks or other resources. They need to travel to a main town to get their wages as these are always paid in cash. Most teachers stand during teaching time and many rooms have no desks for teachers to use. The principal in most schools has a very modest office!

Feeding A Family

In New Zealand, most people have a job and earn money that they can buy food, clothing and shelter with. Even if you don't have work, the government pays you enough to live on so that you won't go hungry.

In a typical village in the Congo people live from day to day. Very few people have a paid job, and the government does not give out any money to live on. It is not too difficult to build a simple house out of mud or dirt bricks, but how do you find clothing and food? What would you do if you needed food and clothes but had no money?

In the village, almost everyone has a garden. Each family grows their own food and most try to grow more food than they need so that they can sell some to others who have money. Most families in the village also have a goat or some chickens. Some villages also have pigs. The goats and chickens roam around the village and eat whatever they can. People can tell who owns the animals by various bits of string or cloth tied to the animal, or by the colour or patterns on the animal. Most people only get to eat meat once or twice a month. The rest of the time they eat only vegetables.

Goats are one animal you do see almost everywhere! That is because goats can take care of themselves and they can eat almost anything! The other animal you see a lot of is actually a bird—you see various breeds of chickens outside many houses.

There is no electricity in the village, so there is no way to freeze food or keep it cold to stop it going rotten. That means food must be either dried to use later, or used fresh.

If the village is near a lake, people go fishing in very small boats that they make themselves. The boats are made out of hollowed logs. A lot of the fish that is caught is sold to others who have money, and some is dried in the sun so that it can keep a bit longer.

Lots of smaller fish are sold after being dried

A Bigger Dried Fish Anyone?

So how do people buy clothes? They usually sell any spare food they have so that they can buy other things. People who grow extra vegetables sell them to people that have extra fish to sell, or other people who sell bricks or who sell sugar cane, or grass thatching used to make a roof.

What happens if the weather is bad or if you get sick and cannot plant your garden or go fishing? That’s when things get really tough. Many people go hungry if they get sick because they cannot spend time in their garden or go fishing. Sometimes people only eat once a day when this happens, and sometimes they eat nothing at all. If the weather is bad then no one in the village can grow food and they all go hungry.

Some organisations that help feed these large homeless groups until they can go home again are World Vision, Oxfam, and Unesco.

Aren’t you glad you live in New Zealand where you have clothes and food? Even people who are very poor in New Zealand do not need to starve or go without any clothes.

What Happens When People Get Sick?

When we get sick in New Zealand we can always go off to the doctor if things get nasty. Very few villages in the Congo have doctors (unless you count the witch doctor of course!). For many people this means travelling over 100km by either walking, or on a bicycle, in order to get to a clinic. If you are very sick it will often mean that someone will need to carry you.

There are some very nasty conditions here that people suffer from. I will list them below and perhaps you can find out more about them?


This is a very nasty disease and there are many patients in hospital here because of it. If Typhoid is not treated early on it can be very hard to cure. It often ends up making holes in your stomach intestines, which means that things you eat and drink leak out and cause infection. If this happens your stomach looks very big because it is full of liquid that cannot get out.


This disease is also very nasty and is carried by mosquitos. When the mosquito bites you the disease gets into your bloodstream and gives you all sorts of problems, including very high temperatures. Many people die of malaria. The best way to protect yourself from malaria is to sleep underneath a mosquito net so that the mosquitos can’t bite you when you are sleeping. Fortunately the mosquitos we have in New Zealand do not carry the Malaria disease!


This is not a disease but a lack of good food. Some people are not able to get enough good food to eat so they slowly get thinner and thinner until eventually they do not have enough energy to walk or even to get up off the ground. If they can get someone to bring them to a clinic they can be saved by putting food directly into them through a drip feed system that plugs into their veins. If they are able, they can also be fed small amounts of special food until they can eat properly again.

Meningitis (Bacterial)

There are different types of this disease but the main one here in the Congo is caused by tiny bacteria. The type of Meningitis here is different to the one we sometimes see in New Zealand. No one here gets jabs when they are young to prevent them getting diseases like this so they are very common. If Meningitis is not treated quickly it can cause serious problems. Many children who get this disease either die, loose their sight or hearing, or have serious brain damage.

TB (Tuberculosis)

This disease used to be in New Zealand up until about 50 years ago but is now very rare in people there. The disease is present in many people in developing countries like the DR Congo, and is passed on by people who become active carriers through sneezing, coughing or spit. TB can be treated as long as people get help for it, but it can take many months to get back to full health again once you get it. This is a big problem here because it means that you cannot work and grow food for your family while you have the disease.

What Happens If You Need To Go To Hospital?

We are very fortunate in New Zealand. If we get really sick and need to go to hospital, we can usually drive for a very short time and one will be there for us. If we need to, we can even call an ambulance! We do not need to pay anything to be treated in our hospitals and the hospitals in New Zealand have plenty of excellent doctors and nurses to look after us. We also have lots of different medicines and machines the doctors can use to help us get the right treatment.

If you need to go to the hospital in the Congo, things are a lot more difficult. For starters there are not very many hospitals around so you may need to travel a very long way to find one. The government hospitals are not very good, so the best thing to do is to find one that is run by a church group. It is not so easy to travel on the roads here because most people do not have a car or even a motorbike. If people have anything at all to travel on, it will most likely be a bicycle.

Rooms in the hospital are very dark and not very comfortable compared to our hospital rooms in New Zealand. The beds are not so good either, but at least patients can have somewhere to sleep that is better than sleeping on the ground.

So if you ever need to go to hospital, be very thankful that you live in a country like New Zealand where there are such good ones!

If the doctors need to operate they do not have enough medicines to make you go to sleep during the operation. You do not feel any pain though, because they give you an injection that takes the pain away. The doctors here in the church hospitals do a very good job, even though they do not have good equipment like X-Ray machines or ultrasounds.

Rooms in the hospital are very dark and not very comfortable compared to our hospital rooms in New Zealand. The beds are not so good either, but at least patients can have somewhere to sleep that is better than sleeping on the ground.

So if you ever need to go to hospital, be very thankful that you live in a country like New Zealand where there are such good ones!