The past two Saturdays have been the two hardest-working, physical labor weeks of our mission, and two of the most fulfilling. We have been involved in "Helping Hands".
All of the wards and branches of the church in Africa had a Mormon Helping Hands day on August 21st. Mormon Helping Hands is a priesthood-directed Church program to provide community service and disaster relief to those in need. As church members, we try to be good citizens of our communities, our nation, and our world. The LDS church's humanitarian services is one of the world's largest disaster relief organizations to help in times of major worldwide crises. However, "Helping Hands Day" is something that we do in our local communities at some time during the year. Every ward (or branch) finds a major project that they can do to help their community.
We have 2 branches in Pointe Noire. Both projects were great experiences. The Aeroport Branch decided to do it a week early, August 14, to tie in with the Congo's August 15th celebration of their 50th year of independance. The Branch President, President Caillet, went to the Mayor and asked what we could do as a service project for the city, that it was difficult to get anyone else to do. The Mayor asked if we would consider cleaning the prison. And we did! It became part of the 50th anniversary celebration.
We met at the chapel. These are our Elders ready to go to work!
We loaded up the several buses to take us to the project. There are no big buses here. Notice how packed they are. You can see someone's fanny hanging out one of the windows.
After we arrived at the prison, we split up to clean the different areas. One group went to the garden area where they grow their own vegetables. It was extremely overgrown and we were going to help clean it up. I (Kriss) went to work on cleaning out a partially finished structure, that is supposed to be for classrooms for the prisoners. However, there were never funds to finish it, and it became overgrown with weeds and garbage... and they want to use it now for classes, even though it isn't finished. This is a picture at the end of the project. I only wish we had the before picture with the garbage and the jungle that had grown inside of it!
These are a couple of our Young Women that worked right along with me for 2 hours in the heat. I was so proud of them!
Some helped inside the prison, where they cleaned the cells.
Ed had to go pick up the Mayor's assistant, for the TV and Radio interviews. This is one of the radio men. Let us know if you would like this outfit for your souvenir!
Ed was also the official photographer, organizer and the hardest worker. At one point, there was a clump of weeds with deep, deep roots that nobody else could figure out how to get it out. Ed used his marvelous golf swing over and over, with some kind of a cross between a small shovel and a pick and an ax... and Voila! He got it out!
We were told that the food the prisoners eat is very sparce, due to lack of funds. President Caillet asked us if we, the Gates, would like to donate money to buy rice for them. It felt good to be able to use some of our money to help. We have been given very specific rules that we aren't just to give people money, without it going through the church or branch president. (We are allowed to give the small amounts to the beggers on the street with no legs, etc.)
When we left, the garden, the grounds, and the interior looked great. We could tell we really made a difference!