Jean Muhondo smiles at you from the photograph. He comes from Rubare. In 2000 he married Devota, they had four children and a few years later they moved to Goma, the provincial capital, where he started working as a motorcycle taxi driver, the most popular means of transport in many African countries. At first, he rented a motorbike and eventually got his own. Despite his hard work, not everything in his family’s life turned out the way they wanted it to.
Although Jean worked from dawn to dusk, the family found it difficult to make ends meet. Living in the city costs money. He never made a home of his own. He rented a tiny plank building for $20 a month. They had no garden of their own. Buying food, charcoal for the kitchen and even water ($0.25 for a 20-litre bottle), because they had no access to running water, consumed their entire income.
On the 20th of May, Devota’s father died in Ntamugenga. An elderly and very distinguished man. He lived through colonialism, the Mobutu era and several local wars. Everyone knew him in our village. Jean also went to the funeral with his wife and children. After the funeral, they planned to stay two more days and return home on Sunday. Unfortunately, on Saturday evening it turned out that they had nothing to go back to. The unexpected eruption of Mount Nyiragongo had incinerated all their belongings, including Jean’s motorbike: the family’s livelihood. The school that Jean’s two daughters attended was also buried under a thick layer of lava. Everything they owned had burnt down, along with their plans and dreams.
Jean’s family was stranded in Ntamugenga. We learned their story when one of his daughters needed a doctor. Shy at first, they gradually opened up during the following visits. After clearing the access road to Goma, the father returned to the city. He spent the nights at his friends’ house and tried to earn money as a motorcycle taxi driver working in the ‘pass’ system. When a motorbike owner takes a break, Jean rents the vehicle from them and earns a few francs during this time. However, it is difficult in this way to fill a hole of need that is as vast as a volcano’s crater, which has grown to enormous proportions overnight. Devota occasionally worked in the fields for various landlords while living with her children at her mother’s house.
Sister Agnieszka couldn’t help but be amazed at how humbly Jean and Devota accepted the cataclysm that had taken away everything they had worked so hard to accumulate over the years. She had never seen resignation in their eyes, rather gratitude that they had not been in the city at the time of the eruption. They never asked for help, never complained, never blamed fate for their situation. Instead, they did everything to improve their situation even slightly. The answer to all the problems in Jean and Devota’s lives has always been work.
For a few weeks now, Devota and Jean’s children have been going to school. We are paying their tuition and have covered the expense of school supplies for the new school in Ntamugenga. The whole family is provided with medical care. They have received clothes and food supplies from us. They are looking for a house in the area, and when they find one we will pay their rent for the next six months. We will also buy Jean a motorbike so he can earn money to support his family. Devota and Jean have both decided to stay in Ntamugenga. Although Goma offers more opportunities to earn money, they are afraid that the volcano will erupt again and that next time they will not be so lucky.
The situation for Jean and his family was changed by the vigilance of Sister Agnieszka and your High Fives! If you still have any doubts that regularly entrusting us with even the smallest amounts makes a difference, the story of Jean’s family should clear all your doubts. 5 zloty once a week is not too much of a burden on the household budget, but it can change everything in the lives of those in our care!
Today, Jean’s whole family says Aksanti! Thank you!