New Internat

July 19 2021 | by

BO-TA-TUBA – they will speak. This is the name – and the mission – of a primary school in Kikwit in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for children who are deaf and hearing-impaired with the aim of helping them find the words to communicate. Near to the school is a small boarding facility for some of the children who attend, which they call “internat” – over the years it had become dilapidated, and was in desperate need of a replacement.

The congregation of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Cuneo has been present in the DRC since 1951. At the beginning, the mission consisted of only Italian sisters, but over time Sisters joined from the DRC and from Cameroon. They now number 45 and take forward works in both countries in the fields of health, education, retraining and pastoral care.


Less worthy


“We have been in Kikwit for 27 years, but our activities for hearing-impaired children started long before then,” says Sister Anastasie Kingoma, headmistress of the Bo-ta-tuba school and responsible for the internat. “Through long experience we are particularly attentive to the plight of these children who, even today, are often marginalised from the family, treated as ‘less worthy’ than other children, and sometimes abandoned to live in conditions of total degradation.”

The Sisters are currently involved in two centres for disabled children: one is in the capital, Kinshasa, while the other is in Kikwit. “Primary school is two years longer for these children compared with their peers,” Sr. Anastasie explains. “These children first have to learn sign language, and also to produce sounds, letters, syllables that they cannot themselves hear. Teaching them requires patience and great ability from the educators, and trust from the children in their own possibilities.”


Better site


In Kikwit the activities of the Sisters are not limited to the school, even though it remains their primary objective; they also welcome and look after children who are a long way from home or whose families no longer care for them, in the small boarding facility – the internat – located near to the Sisters’ community. The original building housed 20 children, boys and girls, from the age of 6 to 12. It had become dilapidated not only through constant use, but also because it was subject to frequent flooding during the rainy season. It was beyond repair or reconstruction.

The Sisters wanted to be able to provide the children with much better facilities. They envisaged a new internat built over two floors on a better site with no risk of flooding. It would have a dormitory complete with bathroom for the girls, and another one for the boys, a kitchen, a dining room, a workshop/room for activities, two rooms for the educators, and a storeroom. A project plan was submitted to St. Anthony’s Charities for the proposed building, costing €74,000 in total. After local contributions and other donations were taken into account, the sum requested and granted amounted to €40,000.


Coronavirus downturn


The work began at the beginning of November 2019 – site location, excavation and construction of the foundations – and by December, the walls were beginning to be built. To assist the project, the children of the school transported water to the building site in their free time in the afternoon. They were also intrigued by their future home and started to enter the construction works, putting themselves in danger. As a result, it was necessary to install antitheft grills and doors to ensure their safety. At the beginning, the works were not affected greatly by the coronavirus pandemic; there were not so many workers and they could maintain social distancing, but later, due to lockdown conditions, building was delayed.

As with many projects, the rise in prices and the devaluation of the local currency caused some purchasing problems, but in spite of these, the building was completed and inaugurated in October 2020, only a few months past the intended completion date. Monsignor Marie Edouard Mununu Kasiala, Bishop emeritus of the diocese of Kikwit was in attendance. Sr. Anastasie gave a speech and reminded those present that is was at the Bishop’s initiative that the Bo-ta-tuba school was founded in December 1992.


Deep gratitude


The new internat will provide accommodation for up to 50 deaf, hearing-impaired, and mute children. At the time of project completion, it had 26 occupants. In the future, the Sisters and the diocese of Kikwit will ensure the upkeep and maintenance of the new building. Future plans include the installation of solar panels and batteries to avoid reliance on the electricity supply.

The children were asked to comment on the new building: “Today we have a beautiful, level building which will provide us with accommodation,” says Petronille. “I ask God for a rain of blessings!” adds Gracia. “I praise the efforts of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Cuneo who have made us useful to society,” says Emmanuel. “I’m happy, and God is too!” exclaims Leatitia. “I sleep in peace, thank you,” says Berline. “Unanimously, we children say that the Sisters love us and do everything for us. It is thanks to them that we have value in society. We are now considered, and no longer despised as we were before.” And finally Betty adds, “I say, simply, thank you.”

“We thank St. Anthony’s Charities and the readers of the Messenger of Saint Anthony, who funded the construction of this building. God bless their spirit of generosity,” concludes Sr.  Anastasie. “May the Holy Spirit, protagonist of the mission, assist us and continue to support our apostolate with deaf children. And may the Virgin Mary, Mother of God and of the Church, cover us with the mantle of her love for the marginalised.”

Updated on July 19 2021