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  • Writer's pictureBeth Duff-Brown

The Kindness of Strangers

Nick and I will be headed to SFO airport in three weeks from today for our long-awaited journey to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Most of our supplies for the school and parish in Kamponde are ready: thousands of vegetable seeds for the farmers, unlocked mobile phones for the parish priest and village chief, mosquito nets and bottles of ibuprofen and first-aid supplies for the clinic. More school supplies will be purchased in Kananga, the provincial capital of Kasai Central, the city north of Kamponde from where we will start the road trip.

The vaccines and anti-malarial meds are all set. I can barely sleep nights — I'm so excited.

But most of the fun in getting ready for our trip is meeting new people and learning about their own connections and projects to help and better understand the DRC in some small way.

One of those projects is the Congo Mission Team is group of mostly retirees at the Lafayette-Orinda Presbyterian Church who meet after their Sunday worship to plot out their next fundraising events to build new schools and educate children in the Congo. They work with Presbyterian Church (USA) mission co-workers in the DRC and the Congo Mission Network on a number of support programs, including financial support for Build Congo Schools, teacher training, textbooks, supplies, and special English and computer skills training for girls; financing implementation of the Healing Hearts curriculum; advocating for people of the DRC through contact with U.S. government officials; and building relationships with members of the Congolese community.

They asked me to come and speak to them last weekend about our trip. That's where I met 91-year-old Bobbie Dodson, who was wearing this funky necklace I could not take my eyes off. Turns out she and her friends spend their days crocheting these necklaces and scarves, then sell them at church events and art fairs. I went to Bobbie's house over the weekend to buy a few to take to some friends in the DRC. She told me that she just hit $50,000 from the necklaces, which sell for $20 to $30. All the proceeds go to the projects I listed above — and building schools in the Kasai. I put a short post on my Facebook page about Bobbie's work and many of you have asked me how they can get in touch with her. Bobbie happily takes photos of the necklaces, packs them and sends them to anyone who asks. You can get in touch with her via email at Just let her know I sent you.

I will soon build her a website so she can sell them to a bigger audience. 

Another of Bobbie's necklaces.

Those of you who know me well, know that I am agnostic at best — but this group of dedicated souls almost tempted me to join their congregation.

Meeting Bobbie and the Congo Mission Team led me to Jan Sullivan with the national Congo Mission Network of the Presbyterians. They have been instrumental in building the schools in the Kasai and I offered to visit those schools and talk to some of the teachers and students — taking video and photos for their websites. Here are before-and-after photos of a school they rebuilt in Zapo Zapo, a village about 30 kilometers north of Kananga (the provincial capital of Kasai).

An old Zapo Zapo classroom

In other good news, I quote from this New York Times story on Monday about Ebola:

In a development that transforms the fight against Ebola, two experimental treatments are working so well that they will now be offered to all patients in the Democratic Republic of Congo, scientists announced on Monday. The antibody-based treatments are quite powerful — “Now we can say that 90 percent can come out of treatment cured,” one scientist said — and they raise hopes that the disastrous epidemic in eastern Congo can soon be stopped and future outbreaks more easily contained.


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