Friday, June 8, 2007

Letter from the Congo in 1969 Written by My Great Grandparents

The following scans are of a letter typed by my great grandfather and great grandmother when they lived in Africa during the late 1960s and early 1970s. This letter was stuffed inside of a journal labeled "Our Congo Years 70 - 71" that my great grandmother sent to us for us to scan and transcribe into typed text for our family. I am so fortunate to have these letters and journals and this opportunity to do this.

My goal is to finish scanning the journals and letters and post them on Carola's web site at I've also included a collage that contains thumbnails of about 100 of Carola's paintings which she has painted throughout her life. She and my great grandfather Elmo Eugene were married for 65 years.

Carola recently turned 96 and resides in California near her son and grandchildren. You can visit her 3D art gallery in Second Life by visiting her web site and clicking on the SLURL link to "teleport" into Second Life.

Click an image to view the larger version.



The first page mentions their trip from Belgium into Africa and a $649 camera they bought. I do not even know what that would cost in today's dollars! He also mentions a water tank he built when he was there in 1965 as part of a work team that everyone still appreciated very much. He mentions the city they stayed in, Lubumbashi (called Elizabethville by the Belgians). Wikipedia has more information about the city.



It would be awesome to visit there someday. Maybe I could help some youth with computer and programming skills. When I worked at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention I met a lot of people who had spent some time in Africa helping prevent disease and educate people about the causes of disease. Sadly, some people still believed that disease came from evil spirits, demons, curses, or just spontaneously. The public health practitioners from CDC had to educate them about the germ theory of disease that we all take for granted in western nations.

Thanks to Anton Van Leeuwenhoek, who first observed microorganisms through a microscope, we have since developed the modern science of microbiology which has enabled many of us to rest comfortably. How many of us think twice about the usefulness of washing our hands? We just do it.

I am constantly amazed at the wonders of science that are revealed through the human ability to question assumptions and investigate the natural world which leads to such discoveries.

Here is a quote from the Wikipedia entry about the germ theory of disease:

"Science proceeds by the death of scientists", and although Pasteur's demonstration essentially solved the question, the germ theory was not universally immediately accepted. The germ theory of disease was a theoretical foundation of epidemiology, the development and use of anti-microbial and antibiotic drugs, further vaccines after the empirically derived one for smallpox, hygienic practices in hospitals, and public sanitation. The germ theory provided a rationale for some existing practices and enabled others to be established.

I remember being a little kid with a toy microscope given to me by my family and looking at all the paramecia and amoebas floating around in the droplets of puddle water. It was like another universe.

Here is a web site that educates about the history of the germ theory of disease:

Additional Information

Here is an excerpt from the Wikipedia entry about the city:

The Belgians founded the city of Élisabethville (sometimes Elizabethville, both in French, or Elisabethstad in Dutch) in 1910. The city prospered with the development of a regional copper mining industry.

Miners in Élisabethville conducted a strike in December 1941 to protest the increasingly severe forced-labor regime that the Belgians imposed on the population, because of the "war efforts".

The Belgians established the University of Élisabethville in 1954-1955 (now the University of Lubumbashi). In municipal elections in December 1957, the people of Élisabethville gave a vast majority to the Nationalist Alliance de Bakongo, which demanded immediate independence from the Belgians.

Élisabethville served as the capital and center of the secessionist independent state of Katanga during the bloody 1960-1963 Congolese civil war. Moise Tshombe proclaimed Katangan independence in July 1960. Congolese leaders arrested him and charged him with treason in April 1961; however, he agreed to dismiss his foreign advisers and military forces in exchange for his release. Tshombe returned to Élisabethville but repudiated these assurances and began to fight anew. United Nations troops opposed Katangan forces and took control of the city in December 1961 under a strong mandate.

Mobutu Sese Seko ultimately assumed power and renamed Élisabethville "Lubumbashi" and, in 1972 renamed Katanga "Shaba."

Congo entered another genocidal civil war in the 1990s. The Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo rebels captured Lubumbashi in April 1997. Rebel leader Laurent-Désiré Kabila spoke from Lubumbashi to declare himself president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo on May 17, 1997 after Mobutu Sese Seko fled Kinshasa.

When Laurent-Désiré Kabila decided to appoint a transitional parliament, in 1999, a decision was made to install the Parliament in Lubumbashi, in order to consolidate the fragile unity of the country. The parliament was installed in the building of the National Assembly of secessionist Katanga, which had its capital in this city as well, in the 1960s. Lubumbashi was therefore the Legislative capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo from 1999 to 2003, when all the countries central institutions were brought back to Kinshasa.

Wikipedia also links to this worthy organization that aims to help the youth in the city:

History of the Fondation Maisha

The history of the Foundation Maisha began in 1995. In the region of the city of Lubumbashi, in the southeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the youngsters who had ended their professional training had difficulties to find a decent job. These young people, often children of the street, have to conquer various kinds of problems to return in society and to be self-providing: there is corruption, the labour-contract must be accomplished in an honest way to avoid exploitation, and the global situation of Congolese economy is not dazzling at all... All these difficulties prevent the young persons, even those with a professional certificate, from finding a job easily. 

It is for this reason that some nondenominational volunteers, under the supervision of Rev. Father Johan Vanden Bussche, a Belgian Salesian father, organized to help these young persons. The objective of this commitment was that the young persons cannot come back from time to time to beg funds from their teachers (Salesian fathers), but that they become self-providing with assistance of volunteers, with organizational, moral and professional assistance. 

Some months later, the idea of putting the young persons in different agrarian centres was born under the initiative of the father Johan and Jean-Claude Mulolwa. The first groups of qualified youngsters were allocated in Dilanda and in Kamakanga. 

During all this time, nothing was really organized to follow the evolution of these young persons of the street who are ending their studies in the professional centres of "Oeuvres Maman Marguerite". These are educational centres situated in the wider region of Lubumbashi. The students learn there agriculture or professions such as carpenter or welder. A glimpse of all the Oeuvres Maman Marguerite can be found

During his visit to Lubumbashi, the Governor of West Flanders, Mister Paul Breyne became very interested in the future of young persons of the street after their formation in the professional centres. In other words: what do these young people accomplish in their life after their formation? So, Mr Governor, after having investigated 70 of these young persons in different areas of formation, he wrote his "Humble Ideas. 
In these recommendations, he writes: 

"It is perhaps necessary to take an initiative to follow this category of young persons closely. Anyway it would be opportune to augment efforts to keep in touch with these young persons, to collect their addresses (as many as possible), and to organize every now and then meetings or other initiatives to which they would be invited. "

After several days of meetings, cogitation and gatherings, "Fondation Maisha" (Maisha = Swahili for "life ", foundation has a double signification here; foundation because it is an organization but also because foundation Maisha helps young persons to consolidate the foundations of their life) was founded. 

The following remarks were determined:

► The young finalists are for most children from the street who were left by their families or frankly they do not have family.

► After their formation, the young finalists are in the impossibility of finding a job.

► A majority of young persons who leave the centres, go back to the city without doing anything and lead a life of misery, in spite of their efforts.

► There is more chance for most young persons to regain to the street to survive than to stay in the city to suffer again.

► The objective of the foundation Maisha will not be attained if the young persons, for whom it got involved, to guarantee them a better future, go back to the street.

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