Sunday, November 28, 2010

The needs we can't meet

The art of living.

Mapendo has faced a ridiculous amount of pressures lately. Barely into her 20s she has become the primary breadwinner for a struggling family. Her brother-in-law died recently, leaving her sister nearly homeless with ten children, and her mother is getting kicked off the land she built her house upon. It has been a particularly rough couple of months for Mapendo.
Mapendo playing handicapped sports.

But then again this is life in Eastern Congo.

What amazes me is the juggling of it all. Right now, through her sewing, Mapendo has more resources than anyone else in her family. But those resources are still very limited and the needs seem limitless. So how do you divide up the money you earn, for a family whose needs stretch far and wide? How do you give today, knowing that more needs will arise tomorrow?

In the non-profit world, they talk about "donor fatigue". It is hard to continue giving over and over again when problems seem never ending. We all like to give, when problems seem finite and manageable, when it seems that our one gift will make a world of difference, and there won't even be a need again next year.

But I've never heard a Congolese person talk about donor fatigue. And if anyone deserves to, it is probably them. Every Congolese person who takes one step out of poverty, is probably paying school fees for countless family members, buying medicine for at least a few people who are sick and being asked for no shortage of "loans". They know someone will come knocking on the door each night.

So what strikes me, is the way they open the door, time and time again, whether there is anything to give or not. How quickly I get fatigued and frustrated when the needs are too great or I have too little to give. To be honest in Congo I stopped answering the door sometimes, and here in the US, I switch off the news. And indeed, we can't meet all the problems of this world, nor fill every hand that is outstretched. But neither can they. The challenge is the living in the midst of that knowledge, without shutting down or shutting it out. And that is what I admire about so many people in Congo.

Mapendo has chosen to buy land for her mother to live on. A small piece of permanence for this family which has too long been refugees. It's a tiny piece of land on the outskirts of town but it's a beautiful act, and an incredible accomplishment. It deserves celebration. But Mapendo's sister and 10 children are still close to homeless and there are still so many more needs. And that is where life is, in the midst of that tension.

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