When Belen mom, Ana Lucia Rincon made the pilgrimage, El Camino de Santiago de Compostela in 2010, she asked God to help her find a mission, a greater purpose for her life. It was on that rugged path that she found not only what, but who she was looking for - Fr. Theodore Ilunga from the remote province of Kasai Oriental deep in the Democratic Republic of Congo, "He was praying for someone to help him. He was talking about Kasai and how kids go to school, and I said I want to help you. Our family wanted to get involved immediately."
In a 2018 report, UNICEF categorizes the challenges of the Kasai district as a children's crisis. More than 1 in 10 children die before the age of 5, while half of the region’s children under 5 suffer from chronic malnutrition. The report goes on to say, "The current situation in Kasai is a perfect storm of poverty, deprivation, and conflict for the most vulnerable children." Their suggested solution - "with a well-planned response and sufficient funds, they will have a better chance of weathering the storm." Through Hope for Kasai, the Rincon family has been doing just that since 2012, In spite of continued violence and political turmoil in the area. They have partnered with schools across South Florida to fund water and building projects including a maternity clinic, a church and soon, a new school building. But raising money is not the only way that HFK serves the people of Kasai. An important component is that students personally give to help their fellow students on the other side of the world have a good education. Rincon said in a 2013 interview by the Florida Catholic, “It’s easy to give money. I want them to give of their time and effort.”
Among the projects put forth by South Florida students range from collecting pencils and school supplies to sewing dresses and headbands to providing sports uniforms and equipment to enhance, not only their learning experience, but also help the boys and girls have the opportunity for recreational activities.
In 2016, Rincon's son, Manuel '21 and his classmates David and Nicolás Alarcon '21, wanted to build their own project for HFK at Belen Jesuit. "Ever since I was 8 years old Hope For Kasai has been a part of my life, and I always wanted to find a way to help on my own."
After learning that the monthly cost for a child in Kasai to attend school of $30 per month was prohibitively expensive for most families. Manuel and the Alarcons brainstormed to find a way that could give families a recurring revenue source to not only feed their families, but have enough funds to educate the average 4-5 children per household.
David shared the research that went into their choice. "While looking at the society of Kasai, we noticed that their main source of commerce was goats. Goats are multifunctional, they give the people all the necessary tools needed for survival, whether that be food, milk, a job, or a purpose." With that, the "Got Goat?" project was born.
"I'm very proud of these young men," said Margarita Guerrero, club moderator. "They are doing something out of the box and helping the people of Kasai. In addition to the goats, the club has done a pencil drive for the school there; our donation of hundreds of pencils was much appreciated as pencils are treasured by the children."
By the end, the club raised enough funds to sponsor 27 goats. That summer, they traveled for two days to reach the village of Mpiana Ntita.
"Seeing the children chasing after the van we were in filled me with a joy unlike any I had ever experienced. It made the wear and tear from the travel disappear almost instantly," said Nicolás.
His brother David echoed his feelings, "The culture in the Congo is beautiful; the singing, dancing, and traditions are filled with passion. Meeting the families and the children when we distributed the goats filled me with a sense of joy I had never felt."
Manuel emphasizes how the goat is truly a gift that keeps on giving, "These families are able to sell the goat offspring and goat’s milk to make a profit. Being able to educate the younger generations would allow the village to eventually advance as a whole."