Melanie is not what I was expecting. When Julie and I leave Maison L’Espoire we go straight to the Hotel Dalia. On the third floor, a young Congolese girl opens the door. She looks at me warily before disappearing behind a large laptop on the other side of the room.
-Hi! You must be Amy.
Melanie appears from behind a linoleum wall. The entire room is made out of linoleum. Melanie has frizzy red hair, a thin frame, and a slight waver in her voice. It makes me think of a squiggly line. She walks up to me and gives me a big American hug. It catches me off guard since Congolese culture doesn’t hug, but it’s refreshing. I do love Americans, if for no other reason than the fact that we hug.
-Come in, come in. Make yourself at home.
Melanie motions to two large leather couches. Julie and I each take a seat.
-This is my beeeautiful daughter Leslie, she says pointing to the computer with a child’s body.
Leslie is eight years old and doesn’t speak English or much French, so when Melanie introduces us Leslie is unaware.
-And this is Jared my translator.
I shake hands with the large Congolese man Melanie has now switched her hand motions to.
-I believe you left this note for me, I say, pulling out the scrap of white paper. I’m eager to speak with you about what you implied in the note.
-Yes, she suddenly gets serious and sits down on a chair next to me and opens one of several black binders on the table.
-In February 2010 I gave $1,500.00 to pay for food and clothing for Leslie. In March 2010 I gave $4,300.00 to pay for her to attend a good school and have an English tutor. In May 2010 I gave $2,000.00 for all the kids to have tennis lessons. I’m a big tennis fan.
She smiles at me. I have to hold back a chuckle. I can’t imagine where or how anyone would find a tennis instructor let alone a court, racquets, and balls in the Ndjili district of Kinshasa. Melanie looks back at the paper and continues.
-In June 2010 I gave $1,350.00 for clothes for all of the children. In July 2010 I gave $820.00 for a guitar and guitar lessons.
The list goes on. In total Ellie paid $22,000.00 to an advocate in Kinshasa to help the kids at Maison L’Espoire, outside of adoption fees.
-None of it made it to the orphanage. Now, I am going to get this man kicked out of the profession. He is stealing money and I am going to make sure he cannot continue. And Marie Vuvu is a wonderful, wonderful woman.
My eyebrows reach for the ceiling but I keep listening.
-She is wonderful, she works for free and she takes care of all of those kids. I mean she is just, incredible. But this guy is a criminal.
Melanie bobs her head around in a way that’s reminiscent of the squiggly line. She moves and speaks like a television with bad reception; a very kind and enthusiastic television.
-You indicated that Reagan and a few others were also criminals, I say.
-Yes. Reagan is in on it and Dido is also in on it.
-I don’t know who Dido is, but I do know Reagan.
-Good. You don’t need to know who Dido is, just know that he is a crook. They are crooks!
She leans back in her chair and looks at me, waiting to see the revelation sweep across my face. It doesn’t surprise me that the advocate is a crook, what surprises me is that Marie Vuvu’s diatribe of her own good deeds and needs actually works.
-Okay, I start slowly. I find it interesting that you say that Marie Vuvu is a wonderful person. I have found her to be quite the opposite.
I explain that I came to help the boy, Lawrence, but that when I arrived at the orphanage I saw that the other children were suffering greatly. I explain that from what I’ve heard and seen, it appears that Marie Vuvu is receiving at least some quantity of money and is putting it in her own pocket rather than feeding the kids. I explain Bellevie.
Melanie’s face contorts as I explain the details of Marie’s scam and that there is at least some level of sexual abuse in the orphanage.
-Oh no. Oh no. That’s just terrible. What are you going to do?
-That’s quite a question.
I take a deep breath before launching into my ideas.
-The problem right now is that the Congolese system is horrendously corrupt, but they want me to follow the laws. If it were up to me I’d storm the place, threaten Marie and her family with something extremely painful, and leave with all of the kids. Unfortunately, as Julie here who is a lawyer, continuously warns me, I would be posted all over the Congolese television and radio as a child trafficker and arrested. Julie knows the Minister of Social Affairs, and if we speak with him hopefully he can look into the situation and force Marie to let the kids go and prevent her from taking in more kids. Once out, I’m certain I can find better centers for the kids, and I’ve already found adoptive families for a couple of them.
A Congolese family I know well has agreed to adopt Bellevie. I trust these people with my life and wouldn't entrust her to anyone else. They heard about her tiny frame and asked me if they could help. The mom is a nurse and she’s eager to start caring for the little bird. Maybe one day Bellevie can experience the meaning of her own name.
Although I was hoping to place Lawrence in the Crosier’s center, the Superior of the Order has not enjoyed my presence in his community, to say the least. He is the same individual who caused the death of the baby monkey, as a way of exerting control over me. It seems, having someone in a community of followers who doesn’t have to act like a sheep, is a bit much for him to handle. His grudge against me apparently extends to anyone associated with me, and the Crosiers refused to accept the boy. It’s funny how people can hide behind the word Christian. Marie Vuvu isn’t the only one. Luckily, I was able to find Lawrence an adoptive family in decent economic standing. The mother of this household is a journalist, nurse and Captain in the military. Her three boys are all in University, the oldest studying to be a doctor, the second—an electrician, the third—a construction engineer. She says she’s pregnant with a twelve year old child at the moment.
Melanie fully supports my mission and wants to help in whatever way she can, but Julie and I leave the hotel with no new information. The next day we return to Maison L’Espoire for our meeting with Reagan. Reagan, of course, is not there when we arrive. Julie asked that Lawrence’s file be ready; it’s nowhere to be found.
-You can’t just transfer the child, says Marie in the reception office. She’s wearing a yellow polo shirt with the same blue print skirt she’s worn everyday I’ve seen her.
-Reagan indicated that transferring an orphan to a Congolese adoptive family is a simple process, and it’s free, I say.
-No, no. He couldn’t have said that, why would he say that? The orphanage has to decide to transfer the boy, not you. You can’t just transfer the boy the orphanage has to want to transfer the child.
-Marie, you told me that your capacity here is 30 children. Right now you have 33 which is not only three above your capacity, but you’ve indicated yourself that you don’t have the means to feed or educate all of the kids. I have found a good family for Lawrence and he will be able to go to school, even University maybe. It seems to me you should want to transfer him, if your true objective is to help the kids.
She scoffs at me.
-Well, it’s not even the orphanage who can decide. It’s the commune. The commune has the boy’s file and they need to say it’s okay to transfer him.
-Okay, well ask the commune. They should want the best for the boy as well. They can visit the home he will be transferred to and speak with the Mother of the house.
Marie gets up and walks out in a huff. Julie sighs. Within a few moments Marie returns with a middle-aged man.
-Here, this is the head of Social Affairs for the commune. He can explain it to you.
The commune is like the local governor’s office. It’s the mini-government that supposedly regulates the community. She could have pulled this guy in off the street. Reagan enters immediately behind them.
-Are you Reagan? Julie asks, ignoring the “social affairs” guy.
-Yes, I am.
Reagan is wiry with light, almost yellow skin. He looks jaundiced and talks as if he’s always speaking with a child; a very wealthy child.
-We would like to see the file for Lawrence so that we can follow the proper process and transfer the boy to a home we have found for him. I can see no reason why there would be any problems.
-That’s impossible, Reagan responds immediately.
He puts his fingers together as if he’s praying.
-You see, officially speaking the child cannot be transferred to a Congolese family because of regulations with the commune.
-But you told me it was one piece of paper to fill out and that it was free, I practically yell at him.
I would love to put an elbow in his face.
-No, I did not say exactly that. The process is very complicated.
-Maybe, the “social affairs” guy cuts in. Maybe what we can do is Madame Amy can regularly adopt the child as if she is going to take him to the United States and then she can do whatever she wants with the boy and give him to the family.
That would cost thousands of dollars. It’s pathetic how obvious these gold-diggers are.
Everyone in the room is simply equivocating. Julie has realized the same thing and gets up.
-Okay, well, we are going to go meet with the Minister of Social Affairs.
-For this one boy? Marie shrieks.
Julie and I leave the office. Our appointment with the Minister is tentatively scheduled for tomorrow, but at least Marie’s nervous now. We go straight to the commune. When we get there we’re informed that there is no file for the boy Lawrence. Only a few minutes after our arrival, the “social affairs” guy walks in. He’s not somebody she pulled in off of the street; he actually works for the government, which means the local government could also be eating off of the backs of children.
On the way home, Melanie calls me. Her daughter Leslie has opened up a bit about the orphanage. Marie Vuvu has about eight grandchildren amidst the orphans, which I already knew. Her grandchildren eat their own full meals and then eat again from the little that is given to the orphans. When International’s come to adopt Marie offers up her own blood first. Marie’s son Christian, the African Homer Simpson, has forced Leslie’s ten year old sister into his bedroom several times, though Leslie doesn't know more than that. Leslie has a sister and a brother. Victoire, a character I don’t know yet, is allegedly abusing the kids. Petit Papa also used to sexually abuse them but he left a little while ago. A woman named Tshango said she received a message from the Holy Spirit that all of the kids should fast for 21 days. The kids fasted for seven days but were given a meal when potential adopters showed up. When the children do anything wrong, Reagan forces them to kneel on the ground with their palms facing the sky. He then whips the softness of their hands with a metal rod or electrical cables.
The next day, the Minister is not available. I continue finding homes for the kids. I speak to a group of nuns who are willing to receive ten girls in their center. I’ve been to the center and it’s an expansive location where girls were jumping rope and learning how to sew. The nuns know Marie and a simple mention of Maison L’Espoire has Sister June twitching with fury.
-That woman needs to be stopped! She yells on the front porch of their house. She has no soul left and everyone is complicit. Everyone is involved. We already tried to denounce her but she was protected by the local government. They’re all being paid and those poor kids are suffering. A woman brought us a child from that orphanage that was three years old who was literally dying because of that woman. Children have already died in that place. Several!
I show them an image of Bellevie and explain that Bellevie weighs eight kilograms. The nuns grasp for their hearts and shake their heads.
-She needs to be stopped. The three year old girl that came to us weighed six kilograms.
At this point I can’t even think about Marie Vuvu & Family without wanting to punch a wall and cry at the same time. She’s like a fast acting panic attack. I have definitively established that she needs to be stopped. I still have to figure out how to do it.
Current plan: Work more with nuns, appeal to the Minister and hope he’s not as corrupt as the rest of them, find some sort of leverage to use in the very plausible chance that the Minister won’t give a damn.
(Comments posted prior to removal) 2 COMMENTS:
I just read about you on HuffPost's Impact section. I think your advocacy in the DRC is amazing. I've been following the awful rape epidemic there for a few years now. I volunteer and work with rape /sexual violence survivors here in New York. It's challenging and rewarding. Please keep up the good work-you are inspiring!
MARCH 10, 2011 4:40 PM
I'm praying for you Amy! I am glad to see that there are people willing to care for the children who are being used for money. God bless them. I am praying for them too.