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  • Beth Duff-Brown

Two Chance Encounters

When I was in Kananga and interviewing some Congolese NGO workers who were treating some of the child soldiers from the Kasai uprising, most of my interviews were conducted in French. But I noticed that one of them, Pontien Nshaki, spoke English really well. I asked him where he had learned English and was delighted when he told me that it was through his Peace Corps Volunteers during his high school years in Mweka in the 1980s.


He could only remember their first names of the volunteers and I told him that I'd try to track them down. A few months ago I was at a Peace Corps book club in Oakland and met a woman, Pam, who told me she had been a teacher in Mweka, a town also in the Kasai. I looked at her for a long moment then told her I think I had met one of her former students. I seemed to recall Pontien telling me about a teacher named Pam. Not only had I met him, but I had a short video of him talking about how much those volunteers meant to him.


I sent Pam the video and she, too, couldn't believe the serendipity.


"That was definitely me and Sigrid. We taught all the math and physics at the school," Pam told me. "But I picked up the English classes when the PCV who taught English early terminated. I wasn’t very good at it but thank goodness the kids saw how it could be useful and worked hard.


"You know, you hope you will be able to help one person, just one," she said. "You can’t save the world — but one child can make a world of difference. It feels good to see that one child as a person with a family, continuing to better his own world."


It's the little things in life.


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