Suffer to Help

By Fundiko Barhalibirhu Honore

My name is Chiama, and I was born in Mudaka, a village located in Kabare territory, South Kivu, in the DRC. I was born into a poor family, but my father always wanted me to study. My parents supported my studies from primary school until I completed secondary school.

In 2000, my parents and I were very happy as I passed the national exam. My mother and father decided to sacrifice their energy, time, and whatever else was possible to send me to college, so I could learn until I obtained a Bachelor’s degree. To make this possible, my father planned to embrace the blacksmith job and encouraged my mother to work hard and cultivate our fields and grow crops. My father knew that after every 6 months he could collect his earnings from his job as a blacksmith and sell what my mother had produced from the fields to pay my academic fees. I really liked the decision and all the plans my dad, mom and I made.

In 2001, my father started working as a blacksmith, and my mother embraced agriculture. The salary my father could get is $3 per day. One day I was sitting with my father and looked in the palms of his hands and saw wounds leaking blood and pus. I asked my father to show me the palms of his hands, and then my father did it as if he did not understand. My father stood up and left immediately. I was not tired, so I called my father and asked him to talk with him again. My father told me that he was sick and requested that I talk to him while standing outside the door of his bedroom. I thought my father did not want me to see how the palms of his hands were leaking blood and pus.

I then told my father and said, “Dad, I think I should stop learning and help Mom cultivate our fields, and then after we have harvested and produced abundantly, that is then the time I should go to college.”

My father replied and said, “If you want me to banish you from the family, stop learning. Do you think there is a benefit to your studies? I just want you, your wife, and your children to have a bright future.” My father did not even want to listen to me or know the reason why I said that because he thought I did not see the wounds in the palms of his hands. I then decided to keep learning, bearing in mind that I was making my parents suffer.

My mom, on the other hand, was so strong that she could cultivate one hectare alone in a week. The rain starts to fall in my village in September, and that is the time they start planting seeds. I was happy that my mom cultivated almost 5 hectares, on which she started planting seeds. The seeds included, but were not limited to, beans, maize, and sorghum.

In November, I went to visit my mom in the field and found her singing cultural songs to express her happiness. I asked my mom, “Mom, why are you so happy?”

My mom said, “I can see you completing your college education without any challenges.” She paused and spoke again. “Can’t you see how these crops are growing healthily?”

I replied, “Yes, Mom, I can see.” My mom and I started singing again, praising God.

In mid-February, I went to the village to collect the first academic fees from my parents. Unfortunately, one month before, there was heavy rain that swept out all the crops in the fields. When my mom saw me, she asked me, “What have you come for?”

I told her, “I have come to collect the academic fees because we are starting the exams tomorrow, and I will not be allowed to sit for the exam without this.”

Immediately, my mom stood up, crossed her arms over her head, and started crying “e’nkafu y’amasikini e’rhaburha,” which means in English: “The cow of a poor person does not give birth.” This saying in my mother tongue means that when you are poor, all evil things will always go to you and that you can’t prosper in life regardless of your effort. I then told my mom to stop crying as I felt pity on her.

In the meantime, my father came and asked the same question, and I gave him the same answer. My father did not cry, but he said, “My son, do you know, I wish I could die because there are people who can help you, but they can’t because they see me and they believe that I can still play my role as a parent, yet there is nothing I am doing. There is no difference between me and a dead person, or better yet, a dead one. Better I die, and people will notice that you are orphans, and this way they will be able to help you.” As he said this tears rolled down his cheeks. When I heard this, I understood the suicidal behavior of my father.

I told my father, “Don’t cry.” I told my father again that there is a saying that when God closes the doors, he opens the windows. “No worries, my dad; I will still make it,” I said.

The same day, my father found a certain person in the community to buy one of our fields and gave him USD 500. This money helped me complete my first year in college. In 2002, my mother fell ill, and her disease was unknown. My father did not have any means for my mother to get treated for her disease and pay my academic fees. I went to my uncles, brothers, sisters, and other people I believed could help me support my school, but they all rejected me. Because of this, I dropped out of school and started looking for money to take my mom to the hospital, but the money was not enough to help. My mom kept getting sick until she passed away in 2018.

In the same year, I moved to MISISI, a place to dig gold. In Misisi, I worked as a machinist and could help take water out of the underground tunnels in order to prepare for the gold diggers to come and start digging gold. This place was not safe since it did not have any oxygen, yet I would spend days and nights under the ground. Two months after starting this job, I got a breathing problem and could not keep working.

In 2019, I was happy that I started working as a tree seller for a certain boss who hired me because he was in need of a literate person who could help him sell the trees. The boss was then interested in me because I could help with this. In one year, I was able to get 5 million Congolese francs, which is estimated to be USD 4000. I looked around my community and saw children suffering from kwashiorkor because of malnutrition, poverty among people in my community because of lack of employment, something that made my community streets to be full of illiterate children and youth. It was a pity that I could see hunger and poverty everywhere in the community.

I then came up with a project called DF, “Defeat Failure.” I created a garden in which I could hire hundreds of poor people. I was happy that they could provide for their children and other family members. In the garden, I could generate income through fruits, vegetables, fish, chickens, pigs, and goat breeding. I was happy that this project helped me support primary and secondary schools for children from poor families and orphans in my community. I did this because I knew how it makes someone feel when one is unable to meet his or her dreams because of different challenges related to poverty.

18 August, 2023