guest post by Debora Randall
On Tuesday the 27th of October in the afternoon, a fire broke out on the top floor of the Bethlehem Family Association (Association Famille de Bethlehem AFB) house in eastern DRC. Thankfully, no one was hurt in the fire; all the children were safely evacuated and Papa Jerome, the papa of the home, was rescued from the prayer room on the 3rd floor miraculously by three of the older boys right before the roof caved in.
However the entire 3rd floor of the house was destroyed, along with all the clothes, beds, school uniforms, shoes, and supplies of the children as well as the roof, furniture and everything else that was on that floor.
My daughters, who are originally from AFB, and I traveled from Nairobi to Bukavu after the fire, on one of our frequent reconnecting trips. We arrived in the pouring rain and went to the Bukavu house to find the 2nd floor totally flooded. They had put up tarps on the 3rd floor for some protection, but the tarps did nothing to stop the rain from pouring in.
Some children are being looked after by friends, but 28 of the children are now living in the smoked-out, fire-damaged second story of the house, sleeping on the floor, under tables, anywhere they can find space to lie down. Teenagers are being housed temporarily in neighbour’s rooms, floors, anywhere where they can get space. Cooking for 40+ people is done in the rubble upstairs on the 3rd floor amongst the bricks, sand and workmen or out on the steps outside.
The situation is only manageable because Madel, a friend living in Bukavu, takes 10+ children every day after school to sleep at her place and sends them to school in the morning.
We stayed at Madel’s home to assist in this effort. It was heartbreaking to choose only 10 (sometimes 13…) out of the 20+ little ones to come over each night. How to choose? I tried to keep it even, making a list every day, choosing half one night and the other half the other night. The children began to make their own lists and include themselves on it. When the little ones weren’t chosen for the night, there were tears and evident disappointment. It broke my heart to leave any of them behind.
To add to the pressure here, Madel is leaving after Christmas, so her home will no longer be available to offset this difficult housing situation.
The youth have also been affected by this all. They had all of their things burnt, phones, clothes, photos, etc. While I there I went and bought some of the young women underwear so they have enough pairs to wear and wash out. People have been so generously donating clothes, but essentials such as underwear are often overlooked.
Two weeks after the fire, reconstruction has begun with money that has been fundraised so far. Walls have been rebuilt on the 3rd floor and they have managed to waterproof the house. The roof still needs to be rebuilt, and then the plumbing, electricity, plastering, painting and installation of doors and windows.
We have fundraised over $15,000 but need another $10,000 to complete the house.
When we arrived Mama Sifa looked stressed and exhausted from it all. When we were about to leave one week later I asked her how she was doing and she replied:
And that is what it is about. While the fire has been devastating, a bigger thing is happening here. People are coming together, to ensure that children have a home to live in and beds to sleep in. People are sharing this message to their friends and family and praying and mobilizing funds in whatever way they can. We are saying to those of you at Family Bethlehem
you are not alone; we are walking with you
we care for you and want the best for you
And that’s really what it is all about. So let’s make this happen for this community.
Ways to Help
- Spread the word! Share this blog post. Tell the story to your friends and family. Follow us on Facebook and share our posts.
- Buy tickets (lots of them!) to the raffles we will be hosting over the next three weeks. We will be giving away unique crafts and textiles from all over Africa, specialty items donated by partners in the U.S., handmade gifts and delicacies, and baskets full of our favorite things. Subscribe to this blog below to get all the announcements!
- Make a donation here
- Most importantly, pray for Mama Sifa, Papa Jerome, and all the children during this difficult time. We are trusting that God will use us as his hands and feet to serve these children. Learn more about our partnership with Family Bethlehem here.