Love is here, in this place.

“As my time winds down here at Mwana Villages, I am grateful to the kind souls that welcomed me through the doors with open arms. I don’t speak the language, but our hearts speak the same love: God’s Love. Spending time engrained in Congolese culture and rooted in service has been an amazing experience.

I am struck by the team at Mwana who are willing to put the community that they love first. Each had a story of how they arrived at Mwana to work—some by desperate circumstances, some not. Some started in the kitchen and some through connections. But they all share the same goal: to share God’s love with the orphans and neighbors for whom the doors open daily. They are following God’s calling to care for the ones that need them. The Mamas and Papas at Mwana sing and praise; they pray; they feed; they nurture each child by name... all of God’s children in which they have been entrusted. There is so much work done daily by the Mwana team to care for children well. But in the end the greatest of these is love.

Love is here in this place. Love for the children and for each other. Love for their community and Congo and Africa as a whole.”

—Jackie Maddox

Finding Healing...

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My anticipation has actualized. I have now walked the soil of Congo and spent hours at Mwana Villages with some of the sweetest souls that I have ever met. I have watched mamas and papas at Mwana care for the littles and bigs with conviction. Two of our team members here, Jean & Madie (husband and wife) have exemplified strength and grace that can only come from our God, who promises to always be enough. They live among pain yet walk in joy and lead with such humility. It is an amazingly beautiful sight.
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As I have listened to stories of trauma that no heart deserves to endure, I am certain that God sees, hears, and cares. I know this because He has provided an answer through Mwana. Each heart wrenching experience is so different from the next but a common thread does exist. It is people like these two that have been the caretakers for the broken in spirit, advocates for those that cannot speak for themselves, truth-tellers to those vulnerable to lies, and the bright light of Jesus that no-one can deny.
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What a gift to see this love with my own eyes. My heart truly has been changed forever. I will treasure this memory, letting it be a reminder that God’s unrelenting love will meet us wherever we are.

—Michelle Torbor

What does it mean to be vulnerable?

What does it mean to be vulnerable? Do we throw that word around often without truly getting it? As we make our way to Africa I  have been reminded that vulnerability can be a scary place. The time in which we feel defeated or at risk of time is the very time in which our heart cries out for power and hope. Through the eyes of the vulnerable it’s time to fight defeat with hope. God’s hope. We long for connection. Connection to Him and connection to others around us. I pray that my time in Congo becomes a connection that grows. One that continued to profit my friends in Congo and back home. And I will become an even fiercer ally for the vulnerable families that I have the privilege of serving.

—Jackie Maddox


Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Ephesians 6:11



Reflections from a first-time traveler

I have eagerly longed to place my feet on African soil and this week, I prepare for my first visit to Mwana Villages in the Congo.  I’ve been expecting nervousness to settle in but all I feel is excitement. As I imagine what this experience has in store, I consider the ranges of possibilities: joy and sadness, hopefulness and hopelessness, pride in wanting to be accepted and humility in being a guest, language barriers and the overcoming of those barriers, awe in beautiful hues of brown skin and sadness that the beauty is not always acknowledged. I anticipate God’s glory, life change, and a part of my heart being altered forever by the scenes and sounds of Congo. 


With anticipation comes many questions. I wonder what the scenery might be like. What is the landscape of the land? Will the sky be full of stars at night or feel dark and empty? What about cultural scenes? The colors of fabric and textiles? The smell of their cuisine? The sounds of their day - calm or chaotic? I worry that I won’t be able to capture and absorb it all.  I will be a guest in the land and I hope to honor my host with services of love. 

I’m mostly humbled by this opportunity. In the states, I am married, the mother to three boys, and I work as a mental health counselor.  Most of my days look the same with minor variation - waking up to my dream guy; getting the kids off to school; a day of clients; and back home to get the kids off the bus for afternoon homework and extracurricular activities before we eat, pray, and sleep. While I find my daily activities important and satisfying, I am aware of how small we are in this big big world and how my daily affairs seem so minor in comparison to the reality of what others face. This is my lot and so I am grateful and find contentment in the Lord’s provision. But the idea that the Lord would call and allow me to use my gifting in the land of my ancestors floods my soul with humility.


As I prepare for my travels to Mwana Villages, I see an opportunity to serve my brothers and sisters. I have established plans for my time on the ground but each time I review those plans, I’m compelled to ask, “How can I be most useful?”  This is normally followed by a keen awareness that I am not needed but privileged by the call of God and the people of Mwana to make this trip.  Because I know this to be true, I expectantly leave room for God to move in my efforts. I set my feet to walk in the Spirit, trusting that He will lead every step of the way.  In this, there is freedom and the chance to make myself available to the hope of the hearts I serve.

—Michelle Torbor
Photo credit The Archibald Project, a media-based orphan advocacy organization.

"He just fits. He's already one of us." | An adoptive mama's reflection on the journey here.

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When my husband and I stepped forward in pursuing adoption, it was after much research, conversations, and prayer. During that research, our eyes were opened to things we never knew existed. One of the findings that struck me the most was reading blogs and articles from adults who had been adopted internationally. Some of these adoptees shared openly online how angry they were that people spent all this money to adopt and no one was trying to help the struggling birthparent to continue to provide for the basic needs and parent their children. Those children are called poverty orphans. A poverty orphan is a child that is very much loved and wanted by their birth family, but due to a variety of reasons, that family cannot care for the child. Instead of getting support to stabilize the family, a child is dropped off at an orphanage with the hopes that a brand new set of parents who have money and resources will make it all better. Yuck. That’s awful. I can see why these adult adoptees are angry, and that realization was haunting. We drew a line in the sand. We were not OK with that, and we would not be party to that sick and twisted view of family and a child. As we pursued adoption we committed to only working with an organization that focused first on family reunification and orphan prevention. Of course, we know this is a broken world and not all families can be reunified and not all orphans can be prevented. Insistently, we pursued growing our family only through ethical adoption. When we found Mwana Villages the pieces clicked together and we kept saying, “I can’t believe a place like this exists!” The more we heard, the more we knew this was the organization to stand behind. 

 

When the directors of Mwana Villages told us about Raphaël, our hearts lit up inside us. We already have three biological children ages 11, 9, & 7. Raphaël rounds us out to a party of 6 and even keeps the age pattern going since he is 5 years old. As we considered adding a fourth child to our family we kept repeating, “He just fits. We have room for him. He’s already one of us.” Raphaël is a joy giver, loud talker, easily laughs, stubborn, extroverted, and kind. He fits right into this family. Raphaël also knows brokenness and loss, and we understand that too. Raphaël was named after a name for God mentioned in the bible, Jehovah Rapha, which means God our Healer. Amen sweet boy, amen.

 

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It is an honor to be chosen as an adoptive family to raise a beloved child from Mwana Villages. The staff have not only met the basic needs of Raphaël, but also fed the inner soul with love, affection, and joy. His hearty chuckle comes from a boy who feels safe and has found refuge. Raphaël’s easy smile reflects the dignity and tender loving care that he has received in his years at Mwana Villages. He prays to a God he has learned about and knows is real. Raphaël knows his Healer. We are forever grateful that Mwana Villages was there to be a refuge for our son before we ever knew about him. Our hearts are forever knit together in one big Mwana family.

A Trip Full of Love

I recently travelled to Congo to visit not only Mwana Villages in Pointe-Noire but also to travel to the newly opened Mwana Refuge: Nkayi. Bear in mind: I lived in Congo for the past 5 years and am familiar with the surroundings, the culture (and the smells). To me, my trip felt like coming home. This time in Congo was different than before, for now I could see all this love and beauty around me. Living in Congo had made me feel hopeless at times: there is so much poverty, corruption and too many people who all need help. Where do you start and where do you stop, if stopping to help is even an option?

 

But on this trip though…I saw transformations. Mwana Villages is not your typical orphanage. Let me tell you why. Four years ago, I wrote these words:

 

“He was more dead than alive and weighed nothing, and on the trip back to Mwana in the car we just kept staring at him. So tiny, so incredibly tiny and malnourished. We thought he was a premature baby. He came from a different orphanage, one where they could barely look after all the children let alone the sick ones. So they gave us two of the sick ones. A baby boy and a little girl, both very sick.”

 

The little girl I wrote about has grown up to be a spunky little thing with so much energy. She was adopted two years ago by a Congolese woman and is now living in France. She is doing great and looks happy, healthy and full of life again. 

In that very crucial time where she didn’t have this new mama, she desperately needed to be loved, and the Mwana mamas—and papas!—where there to give unconditional love.

 

The little boy I wrote about…he spent many weeks in the hospital after he was taken from the other orphanage, where we discovered he was not a premature newborn, but an 8 month old baby! Now four years later, I was able to see Exaucé again, full of life and healthy and strong. Let me tell you about that joyful reunion.

    

As I walked through the Mwana gate, I heard the big kids laughing and playing and before I knew it, they recognized me from my hundreds of days there as a volunteer and were all over me. It makes me so incredibly happy that these children ended up here at Mwana, where they are loved and taught how to be a child. And this little boy is not so little any more, as he proudly showed me his new dance moves. 

    

Finally, I visited the Mwana Refuge: Nkayi where Mamam Rebecca is currently living and looking after Merveille (a handicapped girl who is now in the care of Mwana). As if it was meant to be, we even found the prefect wheelchair for Merveille, whose world just opened up significantly by now being mobile. Merveille is understanding more and more instructions from Mamam Rebecca; she climbs out if bed herself to then make her way to the bathroom, she understands when being washed how to move to make this easier for Mamam Rebecca. She eats by herself and is able to drink independently from a bottle and she has gained weight. Most importantly, she is gentle and kind. This is nothing like the girl I met four years ago who would hit anyone or anything in her anger and frustration. But love transforms.

    

    

“It is getting really annoying Cecile?” my friend Margot asks me.

"What do you mean?” I ask.

“You have this constant smile on your face from the moment you wake up till the moment you go to bed!”

That pretty much sums up my recent trip to Congo…It was a trip full of love! And it reminded me to focus on the good that is happening instead of dwelling on the unfair in Congo. 

 

Bisous et à la prochaine, my Congo family!

 

Cecile

Despair and Hope

Where do I start to tell you about all that we’ve seen? The need is overwhelming. It presses my heart like a weight mixed equally with both despair and hope. The despair in which so many live is truly unimaginable. To see their reality, created by circumstance they have not chosen, is a grief indescribable. They despair in the lack of any means to support children, of any real hope of medical recovery, of anyone who could intervene to bring some measure of change. 

 

And I too find myself choked by tears of despair. I despair to think of the families we will never reach, those throughout Congo who will remain unseen in their pain and suffering. I asked the question, “Is it worse here than elsewhere in Congo?” “No” was the answer: “Everywhere it is like this. People live in total misery.” 

 

I despair to think that we can never expand enough, reach them quickly enough, garner enough resources to impact each life in need.

 

But that despair is mixed with equal hope. The hope amid grief is that God does not abandon us even amidst such unimaginable difficulty. One day the suffering ends. One day the sickness and hunger and pressing weight of poverty will be no more. 

 

But there is hope too when I think of what he has done through Mwana Villages. Those whose lives once resembled the broken, poverty-drenched trap in which so many live now see a different day. Their days consist of work and food and family and peace. Those like Mama Rebecca and her grandsons. Those who have a testimony of their own to share turn and serve others. 

 

There is hope when I consider the holistic model in which we so firmly believe: family first. Meet the urgent needs, work toward long-term self sufficiency all the while showing love and dignity and worth. There is hope when I consider that people with resources rally around those without. Yes, there is hope for what can be done.

 

And when I see the flicker of hope in their eyes too, I know it’s not too late, and we better get to work.

November 2017 trip reflection

Upon reflecting on my time in Congo, I am eager to share my experience with our global network of supporters.

I visited our Baby Home with Mwana's Founder Cheryl Walker Laki-Laka, a perfect companion to guide me through new, sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes tear-jerk moments spending time with our littles, bigs, and mamas (not sure who they are? click here).  I have already spent some time writing about that side of my trip, so what really presses on my heart to share here is the impact of Mwana Villages in Pointe Noire and beyond that I witnessed firsthand.

After volunteering with Mwana for 7 years, I finally met our precious Congolese family - a beautiful, growing group of people who have found refuge in the midst of challenging or critical times in each of their lives. Mwana has given them a place to heal, to find their voice and build new relationships in a safe place. While some rely on us for temporary resources to get back on their feet or be reunited to their own families, others need a more permanent place to call home. Each day in Congo I was moved to see the sustainable impact we continue to make in the community.

While it's not easy to capture everything in a blog post, I do hope this glimpse of our time in Congo encourages and inspires. Thank you for walking alongside us in our pursuit to provide hope and a future to vulnerable women and children of Africa.  :)
- Corina 

My time in Congo: Mwana expanding its reach

I am approaching the end of my time here in Congo and yet there is still so much we have on the agenda to do. What a whirlwind trip - and an incredible one at that. I try to remind myself that I am actually here, experiencing so much for the first time. But like anything else intense in life, we usually only likely gather the full picture once removed from the environment. Africa is too different from anything I have known to give justice to my experience with words. The smells, the food, the government, the lifestyle, the people, the hardships, the simplicity, the pace - it is all foreign but incredibly special, and certainly sometimes scary. 

 

I am seeing how Mwana's operational model continues to peak interest among many, given there is truly no other refuge like it that exists elsewhere in Congo. With that, we were invited to visit a community, Nkayi, about 4 hours away from Pointe Noire by the local mayor.  Cheryl, myself and a member of the local Mwana team took the road trip and spent a couple intense days visiting several families to confirm a need and viability of Mwana opening a second refuge home. The trip was both sobering and rewarding as I can attest firsthand that the need is certainly strong to establish a local presence in the Nkayi region. Both mayors we met with gave Mwana their blessing and support - a crucial step in the process of expansion. (see picture in this blog of us with the officials after our meeting). We explored several possible locations to rent a house until a more scaled solution of building a permanent Mwana refuge could be financially possible.  To that point, we were invited to view a generous parcel of land in Nkayi that has been donated to Mwana for this purpose from the mayor himself. This was another testament to the growing alliances we are establishing in the country which are essential to securing the vision of Mwana Villages in Africa. That vision has never changed: to provide a holistic, sustainable hope and a future to vulnerable people.

 

Congo isn't easy. Sitting against a back drop of fertile land and lush forest, the Congolese people understand toil and hardship more than I ever could. As my return to Canada is only days away, I continue to soak in as much as I can of this unique place. On a personal note, I am thrilled that I haven't been held back by sickness during my trip. I brought a pharmacy of medicine with me to cover every possible ailment I could think of and haven't used any of it! I'll be wrapping up my work here tomorrow and I continue to post several pics our Facebook page. Make sure you jump over to Facebook to check out some amazing moments we have captured so far.

My first impression: Visiting Mwana in Congo

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The heat presents itself as a wall of welcome upon stepping off the plane into Pointe Noire. Despite the 19 hours of travel and 6-hour time difference from Montréal, I am very alert, albeit nervous, as I drag my luggage with the broken wheel into the airport to be approached by local customs (note to self: replace that wheel or else throw that luggage far, far away).

The air is heavy with humidity, and I quickly scan my surroundings for anything familiar to offset my discomfort of waiting to be accepted into the country. I didn’t know how I would feel coming all this way to visit Mwana Villages' Baby Home and experience the realities of Mwana's vision up close. Having Cheryl with me however gave me the security to finally make the trip that has been in my heart since I was a child. Cheryl is the founder and visionary of Mwana. She lived in Congo for 5 years, a detail that would soon show how it was like she was returning home to family in contrast to the 3 days it took me in our short 2-week trip to merely get my feet beneath me and adjust.

There is so much to say about my impressions so far that I would need more than a post to do it justice. For brevity's sake, I can say that Congo gives you a mixed world of old versus new, with extreme poverty living right across the street from wealth. The smells are unique, the traditional cuisine is a mainstay with the women preparing food as was done a time long ago, slowly and carefully prepared with devotion to every beautiful part of the plate: the palm sauce, fried plantains, salted saffou to name just some.

People are relational, and it’s as if the clock moves slower here.

So many stereotypes have had a chance to show themselves to me, from white vs. black profiling to simply fearing the mosquitos, drinking the water to the local cockroaches who come out at night when imp trying to sleep.

Its been several days now and I’m finding it easier to be in a completely French environment and getting deeper into the daily affairs that make Mwana an incredible beacon of light in this country. The children whom I have only previously known on paper are now real and up close to me. Their little personalities are emerging as I spend time with them. The mamas are dedicated workers who have stories of hardship I have never known. Mwana is now their refuge. The results of our 7 years of fundraising so far are manifested right in front of me. I’m humbled to see what Mwana has achieved and grateful to the team on the ground who tirelessly keep this vision alive. I will be pleased to follow up with profiles on some of our team who have believed in giving a hope and a future to the Congolese in the midst of challenging circumstances. You’ll read about Jean and Madie, Cecile, Maman Rebecca, Frank and Fabrice, and others. I’m excited to share the rest of this incredible trip in the next post.

--Corina Boland, Mwana Canada Board VP

No place like HOME

It still stands out in my mind as one of the most revelatory experiences I’ve had. Driving through a pot-holed dirt road, which would be impassable on any of the 200 days of rain in Congo, we arrived at a small hut. No electricity, no running water, and little French spoken indicated that most of the community members in that neighborhood would not have notable educational or professional achievements. We were driving to visit with Maman Henriette and discuss how we could support her in her determination to care for her five children, one of whom had been in Mwana’s care since she was just two months old.

 

It was at that moment that I realized how easily it happens. Trafficking. The promise of a few hundred dollars in exchange for the last child who is too difficult to feed; the near-irresistible draw that that child could be offered a better life; the lie that this child could be educated and return to her family. With these lies, vulnerable families are exploited daily in neighborhoods like Henriette’s. Children whose right and proper place is with their families instead end up elsewhere. Some may go to institutions who receive a steady stream of pocket-padding income; some may go to adoptive families who never received an accurate social history of their adopted child, and some may end up in situations far worse…

 

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Even the poorest of families are dignified when we believe in and act in ways that promote family preservation and reunification whenever possible.

 

It was, then, a full circle moment for me when—nearly two years later—I returned to Henriette’s home. The same broad smiles of her children and neighbors, now a few years older, were instantly recognizable. Celia had in the past few months been reunified with her siblings and mother, and I was eager to see how she was doing. Within the first ten seconds of seeing her, it was clear that she was HOME. Frankly, she wanted nothing to do with Mama Madie, one of the caregivers who had lovingly cared for her in the Mwana Refuge since she was a newborn. She far preferred the loving arms of her big sisters and wanted instead to play with the 15 other children (both siblings and neighbors) who were doing everything from dances to soccer to hair braiding.

 

Isn’t that exactly how it should be? A child who knows that her true place is with her family. For this family, it was a preservation of something sacred and beautiful…a preservation of the family and a preservation of their dignity. For in spite of the poverty that surrounded them, there was great joy, great sense of belonging, and great beauty.

To learn more about Mwana Village’s ongoing support for Henriette and other vulnerable mothers like her, please read more here. Consider sponsoring a vulnerable mother through our sponsorship program.

Arrivée au Congo!

After 20 hours of traveling, we arrived in Congo.  We knew we were back in Africa when the windows of the plane fogged immediately upon landing, and my heart skipped a beat to be back in the place I love so dearly.

 

The familiar face and wide grin of our local coordinator, Jean, was a wonderful sight at the airport. With 6 out of 7 bags in tow (and hoping the last will be here Tuesday!) we loaded up in the van to trek our way through the city of Pointe-Noire to the nighttime sights of barbecuing and after-dark gatherings.

 

Coming into the walls and door of Mwana in some ways was like coming back home. The welcoming arms and beautiful smile of Madie; the happy faces of two “mamas” (caregivers) who had so dearly loved my own two children from the day they arrived to the day they left Mwana…these were sights that made my heart swell.

 

The children were asleep by the time we arrived, and truly the sense of peace walking down the hall and peeping into each bedroom was overwhelming. Each baby and child, clad in his or her footed pjs, was sleeping deeply and quietly, just as any child does at the end of another happy, playful day at home.

 

After a wonderful meal and a long dredge of the quietness in the home—a calm that would surely be lost to the songs, laughter, chaos and joy of the children’s busy playing the next day, we called in a night. Congo, it’s good to be back, and we can’t wait to see what you have in store in the next week.

Congo-Bound from Alabama

In three weeks, I’ll be returning for the third time to the place I first saw our youngest two children— the place they called “Home” for over a year until they joined our family. The memories of those days are warm and dear in my heart. I think of the first kiss my new son gave me; the joy of seeing him bond instantly with my husband. I think of my new daughter asleep on my back while I painted at a benefit event. I think of the first time I heard their laughter. I think of their tears when we left. I think of the joy of returning four months later, never to say goodbye to them again. I think of the way The Archibald Project wove our story into a beautiful documentary that still makes me cry every time I see it.

 

But this time, I’m returning not as an adoptive mother, but as an advocate. I’m now returning to the place of dear friends—partners in ministry who--while they live on another continent, with a different language and with quite different life experiences--have become as near as family. They have taught me more than I could imagine since I first came to learn about this little organization called “Mwana Villages” two and a half years ago…

 

As I reflect upon the experiences that now shape my role as a Mwana advocate, I think of the bumpy drive through Henriette’s neighborhood and the stark realization of how easily child trafficking and family exploitation can take place. I think of the warm welcome by a Congolese adoptive mother and seeing the love for her new 12-year-old daughter. I think of learning the Congolese word for “mother to twins” (“Mangoudi!” which is a name of honor and always said with much gusto) and how one of the poorest families I’ve ever met bears that name with the same pride and joy as I do. I think of the meticulously made bed and swept floor in Jarel’s 8x10 hut (which he shares with two sisters). I think of the heaps and heaps of trash, and marvel at all I take advantage of when I look out my door in Alabama. I think of the women I shared conversations with, women who have themselves been orphaned, have been entrenched in prostitution, have fought for their children, and who continue to seek any means they can to provide. And I think...those women love their babies fiercely, just like me.

 

Honestly, I can’t wait to be back. I want to soak it all in, learning how I can advocate more effectively for these people and this place I love so dearly. I want to share their stories well. I want others to see and know and love and be moved to action. So I invite you to join the journey as we will soon be Congo-bound.