This is the story of when I left a piece of my soul in Katanga.
The taxi lets us off atop an elevated heap of trash looking out over Katanga, a slum where 10,000 residents live in a single square mile outside the capital. In order to even begin to understand Katanga, one must experience Katanga. I cannot describe to you, except for in excruciating detail, the beauty I see here; I decided instead to share with you a single day spent walking alongside the people there. The day started making educational posters for the kids at Emnet, the local school. After several hours of poster making and playing with kids, we ate at MJ’s restaurant where I got a chance to really learn about the beauty that lies beneath the surface. MJ is a man from Katanga with a mission to improve the community and the lives of those who live there. He started the project Hope 4 Katanga Kids which provides English classes and tutoring for anyone with a desire to learn. His restaurant was started as a means of feeding the volunteers who work around the slum and provide a means of income for the project. The first experience teaching women of Katanga alongside their teacher and Thread of Life coordinator Florence was deeply impactful; I yearned to be in Katanga every day after. Today Florence needed help, so instead of attending to my half- finished posters I got to sit in class and teach English. I felt so empowered being around an intelligent group of women helping and encouraging each other through the terrain of the English language. The love, acceptance and positivity felt in that moment radiated throughout the room and through my veins. All too quickly it was time to leave and I set off into the maze of Katanga looking for fellow volunteers. I didn’t realize how far behind I was and quickly got lost among the ramshackle homes, tight passageways and food stands. Katanga is not for the faint of heart; it was a day with as much reward as hardship. Bloody, fatigued and elated all at the same time; I left a piece of my soul there that day. The reward of working in environments such as these is the smile on a child’s face when they recognize a dog on the poster, it’s in supporting the people who fight every day for the progress of others, and felt in the loving embrace 50 year-old woman gives you before she leaves the classroom.
Content by Alex Rager
Photograph by Dylan Johnson