By Pam Teel
Allentown resident, Dan Torsiello, never expected his visit last year to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) would be so fulfilling, and that what he saw there would weigh heavy on his mind, enough to motivate him to do something about it.
He first visited the DR Congo to hike in Virunga National Park. The park is home to the last mountain Gorillas, as well as the eastern lowland Gorillas, and eastern chimpanzees; who are all protected by rangers for various reasons, such as poaching, or habitat loss. The main focus is so these animals don’t go extinct.
Prior to his tour of the park, and the nearby volcano, his guide, Christian, asked him if he wanted to visit the village of Mushaki, where the local children went to school, and also to visit an orphanage in the main city of Goma. Christian asked if he would like to make a small donation to help provide the orphanage with food. Dan immediately set to work calling his friends and family and was able to raise $1,400.00. This was enough to purchase 3,000 pounds of food. In Africa, a little bit of money goes a long way.
Mushaki and its school are located high in the hills of the Eastern DR Congo. Most of its citizens are sustenance farmers or herders, and they sell what little extra they have in the village’s market. When Dan first visited the school in August 2021, the school was nothing more than a shack with missing walls. It was not a very safe area, as M23 rebels- one of more than 120 armed groups in the region, roamed the hills, something the locals have to deal with every day of their lives. To make matters worse, Dan was heartbroken to see children in dirty clothes and bare feet. Plus, there were not enough supplies or books to teach the children properly.
Dan saw how much of an impact the money he raised made and he decided that he and his girlfriend, Jackie Jaramillo, wanted to do more. Together, this year, they started the Kivu Project, and it has grown into a full scale 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization.
Dan is a high school World and African history teacher in Berkeley Township, NJ, and varsity basketball coach, and Jackie works in digital media for the New York Post. The Kivu Project’s fundraising efforts have already helped in such a short time. They were able to demolish and rebuild the Mushaki school, replacing it in September of this year. The school now has six classrooms, six toilets, and two offices. Additionally, there is rainwater collection and storage, solar power collection and storage, desks for every student and teacher, computers and printers for administrators, and a two-year supply of school supplies for every student at a cost of $42,000 USD.
Currently, the Kivu Project is fundraising for their next project and that is to build an orphanage, a medical center, preschool, and a restaurant that will benefit the orphans and widows in Mushaki. Right now, they are in the process of negotiating for more land to build on. While there are more than 100 orphans in Mushaki alone, there is no physical orphanage and children spend their nights living in the homes of strangers kind enough to take them in. Recently a motorbike was provided to the doctor, who volunteers to make the 18 mile, but two-hour trip, from the city of Goma to Mushaki, to care for the children of the orphanage. With the help of other Congolese natives, who care about their lives and the improvement of their children’s lives and education, and with Christian’s help, the Kivu Project has hands on sources to rely on and run the projects in Africa.
According to the World Bank- “A Congolese child born today can expect to achieve only 37% of their potential, compared to what would have been possible if they had benefited from a full, quality schooling experience.” That same source indicates that, “The quality of education is extremely poor. In terms of learning and achievement, the primary completion rate is only about 67 %, and an estimated 86% of 10-year-olds in DRC are in learning poverty, meaning they cannot read and understand a simple text.”
According to UNICEF- “The Democratic Republic of Congo has made significant strides towards universal access to primary education over the past few decades. The net attendance rate has increased from 52% in 2001 to 78% in 2018, but 7.6 million children aged 5-17 are still out of school.”
The Kivu Project’s mission is to help alleviate that. Through their current orphanage and preschool construction initiative, they are hoping to create an opportunity for the children of Mushaki, DR Congo, to meet their potential and earn an education to help them gain admission in a secondary school in a larger and safer area within the DR Congo. The organization looks forward to developing many more future projects to benefit the lives of children in the North and South Kivu Provinces.
Additionally, the organization aims to spread awareness and have an effective change on those in need. This is where you can help. These children have little for themselves but the clothes on their backs. They have no running water, no flush toilets, poor sanitary conditions, and poor educational opportunities. A small donation can go very far in the DR Congo to bring them the essentials that they need, like food, water, clothing, shoes, necessary housing, and a decent education so that they can pick themselves up and away from a life of poverty.
Please visit https://www.thekivuproject.org to donate and read up about the organization. Browse the gallery section and you can see for yourself the projects and the conditions these children live in. No child should live like this. Remember, a little bit of money goes a long way in Africa. They can do a lot with your donation, no matter how small, as they have no paid staff in the United States.
Being that this is a start -up organization, you can help it grow. If you are a business and would like to help sponsor Dan and Jackies’s efforts to help these children, or a local church that could help with a collection of clothes or school supplies, if you are part of the Boy or Girl Scouts looking for a worthy project, or just a humanitarian who wants reach out to poor children all over the world, please phone Dan at 732-779- 3974. or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also donate via their website above. All donations are tax exempt and can be written off at tax time.
Now, more than ever, we need goodness and compassion in this world. Please lend a hand!
Remember- A little goes a long way!