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April 2020

To the world for eternity

by Christine Anne Berger

LaOlam desires to bring “Hope to the suffering... Care for those in need. Faith where there is doubt… Hope where there is despair.”

LaOlam means “to the world” and “for eternity”. The non-profit organization LaOlam was established for the purpose of providing educational, social and spiritual assistance to those in need. The organization believes that this is best done “by partnering with locals and striving together to establish sustainable initiatives to rebuild communities devastated by the spiraling effects of conflicts and poverty.”

The Ostrander and Moore families of LaOlam have been volunteering in Minembwe, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) since 2012, and in September of 2018 the family decided to call Minembwe home. When Miles and Emilee Ostrander and their three daughters Bella, Sophia and Aimee stepped off their airplane onto the Minembwe airstrip they stood together – hand in hand – with a dream to make a difference in the peoples’ lives around them. Emilee’s parents (the Moores) had built a volunteer house for travelers in 2016, and this is where the family is currently residing until they are able to build their own house.

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Orphan children excited to see their very first educational picture books.

Why Minembwe?

Minembwe is a mountainous region, and the two families of LaOlam live at around 6,300 feet above sea level. “The air is clear and the water coming from the numerous springs is pristine. The local community is hard-working and wants to see the area grow and be developed. They [the locals] have fully embraced us as members of the community and we feel at home,” reflect the Ostranders.

LaOlam partners with the Eben-Ezer University of Minembwe (UEMI), a local institution, which also has a primary and secondary school, with a strong focus on community development. In the same neighborhood, there is an orphanage with 27 children, to whom the families are also very attached. “We partner with the local hospital, clinics and other organizations as the opportunity arises. Our goal is to come alongside locals and partner with them so that the initiative is coming from within the community,” writes Miles. However, there has also been an influx of unexpected needs as more refugees seek safety. “Besides trying to help with immediate survival needs, we partner with the university to focus on more sustainable projects like our refugee garden programs, education, reconciliation and rebuilding communities as conflict allows,” adds Emilee.

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Beloved family friend Captain Ted, Dornier228 pilot and owner of Busy Bee Airlines and Michael Moore having a nice visit at Minembwe airfield.

The challenges

Having three small girls under the age of five with limited medical access has been a formidable challenge. In September, Sophia had a kidney infection and was medically evacuated by the United Nations when the local hospital could not identify the problem. Another issue is security. When conflict breaks out, the family is flown to Burundi or another safe location.

Because of road conditions, trucks can only reach Minembwe for two to three months of the year, so it is critical that LaOlam has air transport. “Things that we’ve had flown up the mountain on a local Dornier 228 include a motorcycle, blankets for refugees, a manual brick press for making bricks, building supplies, some food supplies and of course people. We try to keep food to a minimum and we grow or buy locally as much as we can. Having access by air makes it much safer,” explain the Ostranders.

Being a Muzungu

“As very few other Muzungus come up the mountain to our remote area, we love the chance to have an English conversation and meet visitors and spend time with the pilots whenever we can,” remarks Emilee, explaining how they often visit the Minembwe air strip (often overrun by roaming cows) when new visitors arrive. Many of the pilots have become good friends of the family. The term Muzungu comes from the Bantu language used in the African Great Lakes region. It means “wandering people” or people of European descent and stems all the way back from the 18th century when Europeans began exploring Africa and locals believed them to be wandering about aimlessly. The term is usually meant in an endearing way.

Being a Muzungu

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Friends and family of LaOlam waving hello.

The Moores and the Ostranders commute to remote areas with a local air charter company, often as passengers on board a Dornier 228. Before their first time flying into Minembwe by fixed-wing, the family found themselves on their way to Goma, Eastern Congo, boarding a plane owned by a Congolese company. As none of them had ever done this before, they worried whether it was safe: “After boarding the Dornier 228 owned by Busy Bee Congo, we realized that our pilot was the owner of the company.

Ted immediately introduced himself to us and explained that he was going to climb slowly so as to minimize the effect on the girls’ ears. By the time we landed in Minembwe, we were confident in both our plane and pilot. We loved flying in the Dornier 228 and soon became friends with Ted, his crew and his family.”

“The girls love flying, though it may be associated with the fact that it’s one of the only times they get to have hard candy, so as to clear their ears during the climb and descent. But even though they are young, they have adventurous spirits and are excited about the journeys we get to take. Our girls now judge every plane type on whether it’s a Dornier 228 or not. It’s become an iconic part of their life and childhood,” chares Emilee with a smile.

Simple can be complex

“It would be accurate to say life is simple in Minembwe, but sometimes with simplicity comes complexity,” reflects Emilee as she explains that “if you want to wear clothes that are clean you have to pull out some buckets, carry some water, fill it with soap, wash the clothes, wring them, hang them up, pull them down because it’s going to rain, put them out again, pull them back down because it’s dark.”

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Michael Moore reading to children at the orphanage, Minembwe (UEMI), DRC.

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Bella hanging out in the BusyBee cockpit.

When the family is ready for dinner, sometimes “you realize that the charcoal fire from lunch just went out, so you have to start a new one using matches and wood shavings.” The families have just basic solar power for lights and device charging, which they need as they have no generators. Only recently have they been able to enjoy running water to the house.

“It would be accurate to say life is simple in Minembwe, but sometimes with simplicity comes complexity.”

Miles and Emilee have plans to build a biogas generator which will utilize scraps of food as well as cow dung and other things from the garden to create a gas suitable for cooking on, and they are designing their house to have a small room for drying clothes. “Although these projects will not even come close to providing the ease of western living, they will make life easier, freeing up time to focus on other projects that we all came here for. At the same time, they will not set us so far apart from the locals,” clarifies Miles.

Why do they stay?

Last year a humanitarian colleague of the family, Brian Picchi, visited the Moores and the Ostranders and witnessed first-hand the beauty of Minembwe, the majestic mountains and green hillsides. However beautiful the Congo may be, it is also accompanied by human hardships. Brian found himself asking: “Do you live among the hurt and desperate in order to provide what comfort you can?” And his answer was: “Yes, it is hard and dangerous, but it is also sweet. The joy and laughter is real and so much more precious when there is darkness all around. The victories are tangible; you see the effect that is being made.”

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A view of Mt. Kitavi from the volunteer house.

Please visit the website to find out more about LaOlam’s continuing journey.
www.laolamafrica.com

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