Remembrance Day was first observed throughout the British Commonwealth in 1919 to commemorate the armistice agreement that ended the First World War on Monday, November 11, 1918 at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Every year on November 11, Canadians pause in a moment of silence to honour and remember the men and women who have served, and continue to serve Canada during times of war, conflict, and peace. Here is a true story of Jason K. Major, G35 Deputy, MONUSCOFHQ, a soldier who served in Afghanistan for almost an entire year and most recently served in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Jason’s story represents many of its kind and is an example of the outreach conducted through our young men and women in uniform today:
“In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a country where the most grievous human rights violations are a daily occurrence, it is hard for anyone to feel optimistic about the future, yet amidst all of the poverty, there still exist some beacons of hope. The members of Op Crocodile recently had the opportunity to take some time out of their busy schedules to extend a small gesture of love on behalf of generous Canadian donors, to one of these beacons, the Tulizeni Orphanage in Goma.
As we arrived at the orphanage, we pulled past the guards into a walled compound no larger than a typical suburban property in Canada, where we were greeted by a sea of 86 small African children who were singing, laughing, and dancing. They were extremely excited by our arrival and even chanted, “CAN-A-DA,” over and over again. Some of the smallest and cutest among them would approach and look up longingly with their little arms extended in hopes that they might get picked up and hugged in loving affection, while others would come and hug our legs. Picking a little one up was a touching moment for me as it made me think of my own toddler at home who is truly blessed to have two parents who love her, and will never have to experience the things that these orphans have had to endure.
While this was my first time at the orphanage, it was not for many of my fellow Canadians. There is a Canadian United Nations volunteer, Gabrielle Biron from Montreal, who comes out every weekend to volunteer at the orphanage, and several of the other task force members including MCpl Ann Gunner, who make the time to visit once a month to play with the kids. Sometimes they treat the kids and bring out a laptop and borrow a projector from work to show the kids a movie. Other times they bring candies or toys donated either from their own pockets, or from other generous Canadians. You could see in the children’s eyes, and those of the staff, how much they appreciated having us visit, a gesture of compassion and generosity that is sadly not embraced by many other countries involved in this United Nations mission.
Sr. Georgette Marjorie Thsibang, the orphanage manager, took us on a tour of the facility. As we took the tour of the orphanage, I noticed the very cramped living conditions of the 86 kids currently residing there. There were a few bedrooms filled with many beds. The first one we visited had three bunk beds packed into a 10' x 10' room. The smallest kids sleep here, five to a bed, which makes for a room that houses 30 kids. We also visited a larger room, which was also packed with beds. We were told this was the room where the older girls (13-17) who had been raped, lived with their babies. My heart sank as I looked at the number of beds that were crammed into the room. To add to this, when I heard about all of the expenses I was shocked. It costs 195 USD per kid each year to go to school. Even just the operating cost for food is another 100 USD per day to feed the orphans a modest amount of food.
I couldn’t help but think that this place could really use more support and funding. They mentioned that they recently had to return several kids to the internally displaced persons (IDP) camp because they just couldn’t afford to keep them and provide for them anymore. All of this comes in the midst of trying to build a new orphanage just outside of town; however, while the land has been purchased, the project is a long ways off. The project hopes to increase their capacity, decrease the cost of schooling by having an on-site school, and includes living quarters for the staff.
On this day, after the singing had settled down and the tour completed, the task force commander, Col Pierre “Pete” Huet, on behalf of a group of Canadian donors, and alongside the members of Op Crocodile, presented a large cheque donation of 2783 USD (4000 CAD before conversion) to the Tulizeni Orphanage to assist with the tuition expenses. The excitement of the kids and gratitude of the staff radiated and, not surprisingly, triggered the next round of singing and excitement. There was so much energy that the kids swarmed around Col Huet and hilariously attempted to pick him up and put him on their shoulders to carry him around as they cheered.
After the handshaking and the many gestures of thanks, they saw us off with big smiles and waves as we departed to get back to our primary task of combatting armed groups and protecting civilians in the DRC. If anyone would like to make a difference in the lives of these orphans, you can contact the task force adjutant by email at MONUSCO-HQ-DCOSOpsCoord@un.org.
You can also send your cheque to Mission Council at the Catholic Pastoral Centre, 120 - 17th Avenue SW, Calgary, AB T2S 2T2, Attn: Tulizeni Orphanage in Goma. Sr. Rita Kim, coordinator of Mission Council, will gladly forward your contribution to Sr. Georgette Thsibang. It just so happens that both Sisters speak English and French and belong to the Franciscan Order.
- During family time, talk about family members who lost their lives in a war (WWI, WWII, Korean War, other areas of war or conflict). Who were these family members? Did you know them or did other family members tell you about them? What is their story?
- Do you have family members in today’s Armed Forces? Do you know where they are serving, where they served and/or where they are now?
- Invite a family member, or a friend, who is presently serving in the military, to your home to share their experiences.
- Encourage your family to develop a prayer that includes praying for those who have lost their lives while trying to protect others; and praying for those who are risking their lives to help those in need. Recite this family prayer throughout November.
Heavenly Father, protect the
men and women of our Armed Forces
as they go about their duty trying, to the best of their ability, to protect those who are in harm’s way.
Equip them with the strength and dignity to act on Christian values
so that they can be true ambassadors of Christ.
Let your Light shine on those whom you have called home,
away from the chaos of
war and conflict.
May they enjoy their eternal rewards.
Guide us in prayer as we remember those who have gone before us;
and those who protect us at the present time.
May we always recognize
the sacrifices made by others
so that we can live in peace,
and may we be open to do our part
to help make the world
a better place for all.