Hands Across the Water
Empowering children on both sides of the globe to make a difference in the world.
HANDS ACROSS THE WATER in the USA
The original members of Hands across the Water at Community Middle School in Plainsboro N.J. were a club to form a penpal relationship with their counterparts in eastern Congo. They soon found themselves in a learning situation far surpassing classroom instruction as they exchanged emails with students from a different world. In Africa the expression “it takes a village to raise a child” is quite literal. The students in Congo were invariably without support other than that being given by the local N.G.O. known as C.E.N.E.D.I. Email after email supported the American chidlren’s discovery that students their own age were living on less than a dollar per day. The culture in Congo dictates that one does not complain or share one’s hardships with others, so it took a great deal of time for the African children to open up and share with their new found American friends.
Over time those in contact with Congolese students came to realize the level of poverty and suffering these children had endured. Responses to our emails at times took weeks because the children on the other end did not have money to share a computer at the internet café, which was itself over the bridge, a 2 mile walk away — or could not access the internet because the bridge had been washed out by a storm or the power was off for two weeks due to the war in the area.
One 8th grader from CMS when asked about the American holidays sent a photo of his family gathered at the Thanksgiving Table in his home. His counterpart in Congo responded that he was extremely pleased to receive a photo of his friend’s family, but wanted to know how many people from his village were going to take part in this feast. When told that only the people present in the photo were going to eat all of that food, his simple response was “WHY?” …. One Congolese child was asked about her favorite book and responded that she had never seen one.
The American students wanted to help. With connection came compassion and a call to action.
Over the years “Hands” has grown into an international service club, operating in three New Jersey Schools, providing secondary education to orphaned children from Kaboke in Southern Kivu province in the DRC, and funding Community Charity School in Goma, Northern Kivu. This region is known as the “Rape Capital of the World”, an extremely dangerous and difficult place to be a kid. Children not attending school fend for themselves on the streets and often fall prey to militia groups looking for child soldiers, and young girls to live in militia camps to service the men by cooking, cleaning and sexual activity in exchange for protection and a roof over their head.
Education is not free in Congo, so the Americans first project was enabling their new friends to attend school. Over the course of more than ten years, HAW in NJ supported 32 girls and boys - young men and women - to graduate from secondary school with their state diplomas.
From the start of our interactions with CENEDI, we have called the children we support our “Starfish”. As we provide for the needs of each student, we have changed the world for that child. We have given a child the gift of an education and allowed him to escape the chaos on the streets of the city where children all too often fall prey to violence or worse.
Scholarship support is not “free” for our high school starfish — it comes with strings attached. Students are required to “pay it forward” with community service. Our older students are helping the elderly in their village, volunteering at the clinic, teaching English and math at their local elementary school and helping CENEDI with its community events.
As the last groups of starfish were completing their education, HAW began Community Charity School to provide primary education for destitute children in Goma.