Catholic Free Press

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  • Dec
  • 23

Dream of missionary work comes true

Posted By December 23, 2014 | 3:13 pm | Featured Article #3, Lead Story #2
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By Tanya Connor

Asking how she could pay back her teacher for Swahili lessons and paying for her children’s sneakers led a local Catholic to Africa this fall. The dreams of the children there struck her. And she formed a wish list for them.
Lynne Brouillette, of St. Anne and St. Patrick Parish in Sturbridge, tells her story.
Several years ago she met Father Salvatore Musande, a native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, when he came to her parish. The Augustinian of the Assumption was then in ministry at Assumption College. She asked Father Musande to teach her Swahili so she could fulfill her dream of being a missionary. She asked him how she could help a Congolese family, so he suggested educating a child – for $50 per year.
Ms. Brouillette said in 2008 she gave Father Musande $100 to educate two children. Soon afterwards she bought her own two children sneakers that cost nearly that much per pair. It hit her: with that much money she could educate four children in Congo.
She eventually sponsored 13 more children, in part with money from returnable cans and bottles she collected. The collection was so successful that a couple years later she increased the number of sponsored students to 30. A couple years after that she upped it to 50, as fellow parishioners asked to sponsor children and she sought more sponsors.
The website www.kidsinthecongo.com was formed, and later the nonprofit, Kids in the Congo Inc., of which she is president. Her pastor, Assumptionist Father Peter R. Precourt, is adviser to the board of directors, she said.
Education is not free in Congo so Father Musande’s brother Charles Musande and Assumptionist Father Ephrem Kapitula, regional superior in eastern Congo, identified students who were too poor to afford an education. They e-mailed Ms. Brouillette photos of the students for the website and to give to sponsors. But getting photos became difficult because of unreliable Internet service there, she said.
It was time for Ms. Brouillette to take her first missionary trip. She went to Congo Oct. 9-22 with Ronda Lamoree, a sponsor from Brimfield with “a missionary spirit.” The trip enabled them to get updated photos of sponsored students and photos of other students still needing sponsors.
Ms. Brouillette said she and Ms. Lamoree did not feel as if they were in danger, despite visiting the rectory in Mbau, North Kivu, where three Assumptionists were kidnapped two years ago. No one lives there now, but parishioners were in the church praying for the priests’ return. Violence in the country continues however; while they were in Congo at least 130 people were killed by rebels, she said.
Meeting sponsored students, the main reason for their trip, moved Ms. Brouillette.
“It didn’t hit ’til I saw the first two kids,” she said. Before the trip they were pictures on a computer screen. “I recognized them and knew their names. It overwhelmed me. I cried. … The program had come full circle with me stepping on the ground. … We met 88 of the 110 kids. We found out our kids were healthy.
“We asked every child … what they wanted to be” and learned of their dreams to be priests, nuns, doctors, teachers, etc.
“We want the neediest of the needy to be educated through our program. … The thing that hit me – these little kids have hopes and dreams. It’s not that they want iPads.” She said they are not defined by poverty, but by their ability to achieve their dreams.
Grateful recipients, who work hard just to put food on the table, gave their benefactors gifts – including a live goat, Ms. Brouillette said. Cunney Vindikanwa expressed her thanks in a letter she read in English, then threw herself in Ms. Brouillette’s arms and they both cried. The young woman is set to become the program’s first college graduate when she finishes her degree in education next spring. She plans to teach high school.
Among gifts the visitors distributed were 212 dresses made by members of The Charlton Sewing Center, Ms. Brouillette said. And the lollipops and sunglasses Ms. Lamoree brought “really made an impression.”
After returning, Ms. Brouillette gave a presentation to sponsors. William and Jeannette Krans saw a photo of Grace Mumbere Musumba, the boy they sponsor. “It’s exciting to see the good that’s being done,” Mr. Krans said. His wife said it was interesting “to see how happy these kids are with nothing.” He added, “If we can help educate people, then maybe they can get themselves out of their poverty.”
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As president of Kids in the Congo, Lynne Brouillette made her first trip to the African nation to meet the sponsored children and to get a first-hand look at what other needs there might be.
Until this trip, Ms. Brouillette said, she didn’t know what else her organization could do. But while in Congo she saw a need for uniforms and flip flops or sandals.
She said she hesitates to raise the sponsorship fee, as some people may be unable to afford more. Currently $45 of a sponsor’s $50 goes for tuition. High school tuition ranges from $70 to $120 per year. Students’ families make up the difference. And the students themselves can work to pay for college, which costs $200 per semester.
Ms. Brouillette’s new wish list includes finding more sponsors and raising money for things sponsorship doesn’t cover. She said $25 buys a sweater and two white shirts for a uniform, or a pair of flip flops and a backpack with school supplies. Classrooms also need basic supplies.
Ms. Brouillette is also seeking people to share ideas for fundraisers they’d like to organize, and is trying to connect Rotary and Lions Clubs here with ones in Congo, to help with education.
She is still picking up returnable cans and bottles in Sturbridge, Charlton and Southbridge, for those who wish to help that way, she said.
“People are responding to us on Facebook from other parts of the country,” so, she urges supporters to “Like us and follow us on Facebook.”
Those seeking more information can view the website www.kidsinthecongo.com, or they can e-mail kidsinthecongo@gmail.com. Donations can also be sent to Kids in the Congo Inc., P.O. Box 249, Fiskdale MA 01518. Ms. Brouillette is available for presentations too.