Fr. Willy Milayi is a Missionary of the Immaculate Conception who lives in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He works rescuing children who fled the coltan mines and offering them a place to live and learn a trade. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is one the world’s top producers of coltan, a rare mineral used in the manufacture of many electronic devices, such as cell phones. Working conditions in the DRC’s coltan mines are dangerous and the workers, including young children, are often exploited. “The exploitation of these mines is in the hands of the guerrillas,” explained Fr. Malayi in an interview with the Diocese of Málaga in Spain. “Our cell phones are stained with the blood of the ‘walking dead children’.”
Malayi works with children who have escaped forced labor in the mines. Many of them are living on the streets when he finds them. Some 20,000 children live on the streets of Kinshasa alone. The Missionaries of the Immaculate Conception have started an educational center in the city. He described the center as “a home where they can learn a trade that ensures them a future away from the mines and to never return to the streets.” “We can’t solve all the problems, but we thank God for every one of the children we can rescue.
It’s a true miracle that is made possible thanks to people of goodwill,” Malayi said. The priest recounted one boy he encountered in his ministry, who had escaped the mines and fled hundreds of miles. Starving and grief-stricken, the boy needed someone to listen to him. “After giving him something to eat, he told me about his life,” Milayi said. The boy said that his family had been kidnapped from their house by militiamen, who took them to the forest and told them they must choose between death and mining coltan 13 hours a day. The family chose the mines: “They worked 650 feet below the surface taking out 15 sacks of coltan a day, for which they received two dollars at the end of the month,” Milayi said. When riots broke out against the militias, they raped and killed the boy’s mother and two teenage sisters. They also killed his father. “He managed to escape. But he told me amid tears: ‘I’m not afraid of death, I’m a corpse and a corpse does not fear death’,” the priest said.
At the educational center, the Missionaries of the Immaculate Conception teach the children “to take care of each other,” Malayi said. “We have heard more than one of them say: ‘Father Willy taught us that when we are older we’ll have to help.’ I think this is a very important step,” he said. Malayi called on Christians to “defend the dignity of the person, the image of God” and recognize the value of each person as a brother or sister. “In our world this concept has been lost, and we have put material things ahead of people,” he said. “What is killing us today is indifference. We don’t want to know anything about other people’s problems, and we just talk about our own. What is more worrisome than material poverty is spiritual poverty.”
This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.
Published on 5 Jul 2017
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The Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa is one of the world’s most resource-rich countries. A wide range of rare minerals can be found here in abundance, all commanding high prices in world commodity markets. Diamonds for jewellery, tantalum, tungsten and gold for electronics; uranium used in power generation and weaponry and many others. Congo has copious deposits of raw materials that are in high demand internationally but remains one of the poorest countries in the world.
From colonisation, with the horrors of slavery and other atrocities, to a turbulent and equally brutal present in which militant groups control the mines, Congo’s richness in natural resources has brought nothing but misery. Referred to as “conflict minerals”, these riches leave only a trail of death, destruction and poverty.
Under Belgian rule, Congolese labourers were often required to meet quotas when mining different minerals. Failure could mean punishment by having a hand cut off with a machete. The country gained independence in 1960, but that didn’t put a stop to slave and child labour or to crimes being committed to extract and exploit the minerals. Warring militant fractions from inside the country and beyond seized control of mines for their own benefit while terrorising local populations.
For our translator, Bernard Kalume Buleri, his country’s history of turmoil is very personal; like most Congolese people, he and his family fell victim to the unending mineral based power struggle. Born in the year of his country’s independence, he has lived through war and seen his homeland torn apart by violent looting and greed. His story is a damning testament, illustrating how nature’s bounty, instead of being a blessing, becomes a deadly curse.