Saturday, December 6, 2008


Dear Family and Friends,

Hello! I hope that you are well. Thank you for all of your prayers and support.

I apologize for the lack of new posts on my blog in recent months. A lot has happened during this time. Now that things are settling down I will try to give you a concise update.

The Sisters in Aru and Kampala were so helpful and understanding during this time, for the wonderful warmth of the VOICA community in Aru, and for the support of my family, especially my uncle Bob. Thank you also to all of you who prayed for me.

In Aru, the computer center classes are going very well, the new classrooms for the elementary school are nearly completed and there are big hopes for a new library. On November 21, Luca returned home to Italy after completing his year of service. His presence is certainly missed. The bakery continues to produce bread thanks to the two Congolese men Luca trained as bakers. Fausto is back in Aru after spending over two weeks in Kampala for medical care. Liz and Kyle are quickly learning about mission life.

I am planning on staying in Colorado through the holidays as I discern my next steps. Going back to Congo is a possibility. Please continue to pray for the sisters and volunteers in Aru, and that I discern wisely which direction to take.

I wish you all a blessed Advent season.



Belated Post

Here's a post I wrote almost two months ago, but wasn't able to get on the internet.

Hello, Everybody!

I hope that you are well and enjoying the falling leaves and autumn breezes. Sorry that it's been so long since I've written!
A lot has happened here since I've last posted a blog. After the short-term volunteers departed at the end of August, we enjoyed the visit of Luca's cousin Andrea. A week later I took the bus to Kampla to meet the new long-term volunteers Liz and Kyle. After a short night with the sisters in Kampala we got on the 6:00 bus to return to Arua where Luca and Fausto awaited us.
Liz is from Rhode Island and just finished her studies in Math/Elementary Education. I'm really happy to have some female company, and especially hers. She is a lot of fun, very helpful and thoughtful. Kyle just finished his studies in psychology and is from North Carolina. It's nice to speak in American English with other native speakers. Seven weeks after their arrival, we are gelling into a community of five, and they are learning to speak the language of VOICA (our strange mix of French, Italian, a little English and some other words and grammar structures that were made up ourselves.) Liz and Kyle have already received the "baptism of Africa" (as the sisters call it): malaria for Liz and typhoid fever for Kyle.
Classes began September 1. I am teaching Sophomore, Junior and Senior year English and working with the pre-schoolers once a week, as I did last year. There's still talk of a strike as the government hasn't paid the teachers for February and March of last year, but for now the parents are paying extra and the teachers continue to work.
I also have begun teaching English at the school for the promotion of women. The class is small and the women are eager to learn. There is a group of eight aspirants this year. I will probably spend an hour each week working on English and music.
We were happy to receive the news that all but one of the eighty or so seniors at our high school passed the final exams last year. Last week there will be a big celebration at the school.
I am hopeful that before I leave we will have a functioning library. We have some friends in Italy working on fundraising to construct a new building to serve as the library. On my next post, I will also let you all know how to contribute if you would like to support this project There may be a container coming within the next year. We hope to make contacts in France to get books donated there and shipped in the container.
I've been tired, but healthy and enjoying community life and teaching. The time goes by quickly here. We are still getting a lot of rain, so everything is green and beautiful. We have a problem with the inverter for our solar panels, so many times we are without electricity. This means problems preserving food and a lot of washing by hand. The last few days we've had more consistent electricity, so maybe the problem is solved.
I continue to learn a lot. Fausto and I began taking Lingala lessons, and lessons for life are constant. I thank God for answers to prayer and for his creative ways of teaching me.
I miss you and pray that you are well.



Fausto has been sick with malaria and typhoid fever for the last week. Please keep him in your prayers.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Back in Aru

Hi Everybody!

I hope you all are enjoying the end of the summer. It was truly refreshing to my spirit to visit with many of you during my time in the U.S. Thank you for your hospitality and for making time to see me.

I departed Denver the morning of July 28 and arrived in Kampala at 4 a.m. on July 30 after a five-hour layover in NY, an eleven-hour layover in Cairo and a seven-hour time change. Fausto was waiting for me at the airport, and we flew together from Kampala to Arua where Luca awaited us. It's good to be together again.

Back in Aru we prepared for the arrival of the short-term volunteer group that was to arrive from Italy. On Sunday, August 3, Luca, Fausto and I caught the bus from Arua to travel back to Kampala to meet the seven volunteers. The trip took about six hours and we saw some beautiful scenery along with two elephants, two hippos, two gazelle, and some interesting bird life. We were able to spend and hour or two in downtown Kampala before taking a taxi to the convent where we met the volunteers and briefly slept before catching a bus back to Arua at 5 a.m.

The group is working on several projects that I will have to tell you about later. I think we've gotten off to a good start. I'm glad to be back in Congo, but I do miss you!



Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Photos from D.R. Congo

Now that I have access to high-speed internet, I will post some photos to accompany the text I've written in past months to help you see what I've been talking about.

Hopes for the Future

This is a picture of Maman Feni and her two children. It is the first picture of our "library" in use. They are reading books that I collected, bought and shipped to Aru with your help. For now, those books are stored in a room in the former noviate building.

Maman Feni's husband, a teacher and university administrator, recently died. One of his dreams was to start a library in Aru. Maman Feni has agreed to work together with me to begin a library with our books. For now we only have about 400, but I'm busy looking for more books and further support while I'm here in the States. Little by little we can create a place for children and adults to read, study and learn.

Home Scenes

Cooking in the old kitchen

Our almost finished volunteer house

Luca and Fausto assembling solar panels

Making fufu (the staple of the people in our area of Congo, made from manioc flour)


Our Work

Monday, July 7, 2008

Visiting Home


Sorry about the infrequent blog updates! I will work on updating soon! For the moment, I just wanted to let you know that I'm back in Colorado for about a month to visit family and friends, and to prepare for my next year in mission in Congo.

I would like to have a gathering of my Denver area friends on the afternoon of Saturday, July 26, from 1:00 to 4:00. We can meet in Highland Park (where Woodbury library is located) at the intersection of 32nd and Federal. I will have my laptop with pictures and some snacks and stories. Please come if you can!


Friday, May 9, 2008

May Update

Dear Family and Friends,

Hello! I hope that you are well.

Here is a quick update on what's happening in Aru:

The teachers' strike ended on Monday after the parents agreed to pay additional school fees to help pay the teachers' salaries. Unfortunately, but expectedly, there has been no response from the government. I'm glad to be back in the classroom and especially glad for the students who were at risk of repeating the school year.

Yesterday was the feast day of St. Magdalene of Canossa, the foundress of the Canossian sisters. We celebrated with a mass filled with singing and dancing attended by the students of the Canossian schools in Aru from pre-school to high school, and with a big meal we prepared for the workers who built the volunteer house. In the evening we had another celebration with the sisters. We have no lack of parties here!

Tomorrow afternoon the volunteers and several of the sisters plan to go to Biringi, a nearby village to celebrate the Pentecost vigil and Pentecost. We have heard that the vigil of Pentecost there lasts most of the night with lots of singing and dancing to invite the coming of the Holy Spirit.

The garden in front of the volunteers house is sprouting up with lots of pea, bean and basil plants as well a lots of flowers and a couple trees. The rains have started to come more frequently, but we still have quite a bit of sunshine.

I appreciate all of your prayers. I know they sustain me through the ups and downs of life here.

Blessed Pentecost!


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Jambo! (Hello in Swahili)

This is what we shouted in greeting out the windows of the Prado as we drove to and around Bunia (200 km SE of Aru) the week after Easter. Luca, Fausto, Sr. Daniela, Sr. Pasqueline and I had a fascinating trip traveling the winding, muddy roads through the villages, forests, open plains and cultivated fields of Ituri. We were well taken care of by the Canossian community in Bunia, and from there made day trip to Lake Albert and the town of Beni. Every new curve in the road brought new photo opportunities and we came home with about a thousand pictures from the trip. I hope that that I can show a few of them to you someday.

Luca, Fausto and I also went with Sr. Angela to the prison in Bunia to pray with the prisoners (in both the adult and children's sections of the prison). This was a moving experience, and one of the highlights of the trip. I also visited the library in Bunia that is run by the White Fathers there. The director, Fr. Salvador (from Guanajuato, Mexico!) showed me around and gave me information that will be helpful when we start the library in Aru.

After returning from Bunia, I had some time to do some landscaping in the new yard, to organize the house, to experiment with making different kinds of cake for the bakery (banana, peanut butter, avocado, corn bread…), to help make and sell bread at the bakery and to prepare for the beginning of classes. Classes were to resume yesterday, April 14.

However, life is very difficult to predict in Congo. We had one day of classes and then the principal of the school announced a teachers' strike that will go on for an indefinite period of time, perhaps until the end of the school year. The teachers have not been paid for three months and have reached the end of their patience waiting for money to provide for their families.

This news brought singing and dancing from some students, but great disappointment in many others who will likely have to repeat this school year next year. The Seniors are understandably the hardest hit. It was strange today to see the boarding school students at Mass this morning without their uniforms, and later in the morning to see them carrying their bags (on their heads, of course) to meet the taxi "buses" to go home.

If the teachers' strike continues, I may be spending a lot more time at the bakery, working in the house, organizing the library and working on slideshow presentations. I've also thought about continuing English classes with a small group of motivated students. But in Congo, I find it's really hard to predict what the future holds.

I now have a plane ticket to Colorado. For now, the dates are July 2-July 28. This, too, may change. I'll let you know. I am really excited to visit! ☺

God bless you all!


Saturday, March 15, 2008

Update and Article


I hope that you are healthy and happy and I wish you a blessed Holy Week and Joyful Easter.

Life in Aru continues to be full for me. This week began with the tragic deaths of three neighbor children on Monday night in a house fire only a hundred yards or so from the volunteer house. We knew the children since they would sometimes come over to talk or play. It's still hard to believe they've died. We tend to think that we and those around us have lots of time to live, but in times like this we remember that every day is a gift, as is every person who crosses our path.

Easter Break begins on Holy Thursday and lasts for two weeks. I'm looking forward to having time to work on house projects and Luca, Fausto, Sr. Daniela and I may take a trip to Bunia near Lake Albert to visit the community there and see some more of Congo.

I recently wrote an article for the VOICA newsletter. I will paste it below to give a bit of an update on the projects going on here in Aru.


Making Progress with Projects in Aru, Congo

Greetings from Aru, Democratic Republic of Congo, where VOICA is taking root! We VOICA volunteers are now working with the Canossian Sisters to start up a bakery, establish a farm, set up a computer center and build the volunteer house.

The Volunteers

I (Tricia Pipkin ,Colorado, U.S.A.) arrived on September 1, 2007 and began teaching English at Adia Lemi high school, and giving English and music sessions at St. Magdalene of Canossa preschool. I plan to serve in Aru for two years.

Fausto Signoretto (Verona, Italy) arrived December 8, 2007. He wears many hats: driver, bakery assistant, engineer, farmer, electrician and general handyman. He also has committed to two years of service.

Luca Serotti (Brescia, Italy) arrived with Fausto on December 8. Already, he is becoming famous in Aru for the delicious bread that he makes at the new bakery.

Simone Lovato (Verona, Italy) arrived January 22 and departed February 28. He was very busy employing his expertise as an electrician as he installed electrical systems and solar panels during his five weeks with us.

The Projects

Bakery: Construction of the new bakery and the large wood-burning oven inside was completed in December. Fausto and Luca lined the oven with corrugated sheet metal, soldered oven racks and began experimenting with different dough recipes and techniques for properly heating the oven.

On December 23, the long-awaited container arrived carrying the industrial-size electric oven and mixer. Luca began using the mixer immediately to mix the dough in the evenings during the three hours we have electricity from the main generator. Often Fausto and I also accompanied him for dinner and community nightlife at the bakery.

The electric oven required more electric power than the existing generator produced, so a new generator was ordered from Kampala, Uganda. Towards the end of January, Luca began baking with the new electric oven. Now he produces about 1000 rolls each day and it is selling well. We have also begun baking pizza, banana cake and corn bread. These are novelties for the people here, but they're catching on fast. The profits from the sales at the bakery will help fund other projects in the province.

The bakery shop has also been a good place to interact with the local people of Aru as we sell the products of the bakery, candy and soft drinks. We are discussing ways to make it a social gathering place with opportunities for sharing God's word and for fellowship.

Farm: What was simply an open field near a year only ago is now the beginning of a working farm that will help fund Canossian projects. Nine cows, one bull and two calves sleep in the newly constructed barn. A chicken house awaits the arrival of its hens and the fields are being plowed for planting. A tractor and plow arrived in the container in December, and Fausto worked diligently to design and build counterweights for the tractor that would allow the plow to be used, and he has begun training a local man to drive the tractor. Planting will begin in the next month or so with the coming of the rainy season.

Cyber Café: The finishing touches are being completed in the construction of the cyber café that will house five computers that allow access to Internet and about twenty others for general use. These computers also arrived in the long-awaited container and Fausto and Simone loaded the needed programs and began setting up the computer systems. Internet service possibilities are being investigated and the solar panels await installation. Access to computers is extremely limited in Aru. We hope that this center will provide opportunities for the people of Aru, especially students, to learn computer skills and do research.

Volunteer House: Within the next couple of weeks we hope to be completely moved into the new volunteer house. Major construction was finished in January. Simone and Fausto, with some help from Luca, installed the large solar panels and accompanying electrical system that now provides twenty-four hour power for the volunteer house. The painting of the interior was finished at the beginning of March and plumbing is almost complete. Now we need to move the wood stove from the old kitchen to the new and put up the curtains. We are grateful to last year's short-term volunteer group, the province and all who contributed to the construction of our house!

And One Project in Ariwara: Solar Panels for the Hospital! During Simone's stay in Congo, he spent almost a week working with Fausto on installing the solar panels and accompanying electrical system for the hospital in Ariwara. At the time of writing, Fausto has returned to Ariwara to continue working on this big project that will give the hospital much-needed access to twenty-four hour power.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed to make these projects possible. Please keep us in your prayers, that we are able to make Jesus known and loved through these projects and in all our our work.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Hello from Aru!

February 3, 2008

Hi Everybody!

You all are in my thoughts and prayers frequently and I am delighted whenever I hear from you. Sorry my responses have been few lately. I am lamentably behind in my correspondence due to a variety of factors, including limited electricity for charging the computer to write, the necessary trek to the computer center to send the e-mails and my tons-to-do, hurry-up-and-wait life in Congo. I hope this update fills you in on my last month or so, and you can be patient as you wait for e-mail responses.

I am now immersed in a life quite different than the one I led at the convent. I am blessed to have Fausto and Luca as fellow volunteers. Fausto plans to stay for two years and Luca for one year. Another Italian volunteer, Simone, arrived January 22. He is working to set up the solar panels and electrical systems for the volunteer house and cyber café. His to-do list is about a year long, but his departure date is February 28, so he's been very busy.

Luca is busy baking and selling bread. He has quickly gotten the hang of using the big wood oven and now it seems that he will be able to use the new electric oven that came in the container since a new generator, sufficiently powerful to provide electricity for it, is due to arrive from Kampala any day now. (It was supposed to arrive in Arua Friday, then Saturday and now today. We'll believe it when we see it.) Anyway, the people have been buying all the bread that Luca makes. We have to beg to eat some at home. It's delicious!

Fausto is called upon constantly as driver and general handyman. After helping Luca get the bakery going, he's been doing soldering for farm equipment and working with Simone on electrical systems. Eventually, he'll probably spend more time at the farm where the cows (along with two new calves) and the unplowed fields are awaiting him.

I have spent quite a bit of time cooking and working in the house. Since processed foods aren't much available and Luca, Fausto and Simone really like to eat, cooking is rather a major project. Also washing clothes is time-consuming since we don't have a washing machine yet. When Luca and Fausto's clothes were visibly dirty and we didn't have time and energy left for cooking twice a day, the sisters suggested getting some help. About ten days ago, with the help of Papa Joseph, the cook at the convent, we hired Maman Maria to help us cook and clean. We thank God for her hard work, sweet spirit and good cooking.

At the high school we are now in the midst of semester exams, when the regular class schedule is suspended and exams are taken full-time. The grades for the exams are worth half of the semester grade. I've been writing exams, proctoring exams and correcting exams. I continue to learn more about the educational culture and educational system in Congo. I still find it bewildering at times. I pray that I can really teach practical English and share in the students' lives at the same time that I prepare the students for their state exam.

Life at the pre-school is filled with singing, smiles, bright eyes and craziness. We're now learning the names of the colors in English and the alphabet song. One of the kid's favorite songs is "If You're Happy and You Know It". This Thursday we're supposed to take a field trip to the farm. That should be exciting!

I see the group of eleven aspirants once a week. We sing songs in English and have started learning a bit of guitar, but this will be difficult until we get a few more guitars. Now we only have three or four.

The library project has been put on hold until we can get the other projects better established. For now the books (and new magazines that arrived by post!) are housed in a little room by the chapel. I've entered more of the titles in my computer to start a library catalog, and will be searching for sources for buying more books in the coming months.

Community life is delightful and exhausting. We eat three meals and day together, pray together (somewhat sporadically, unfortunately), often work together and spend the evenings together. At least once per week we have dinner with the Sisters and we are invited to special celebrations. Constant community is a big adjustment for me after having lived alone, but mostly I like it. I am learning many things I may never have otherwise, like how to bake bread, drive a tractor, cook, wire a house for electricity and speak Italian. I am grateful God brought us together somehow.

The volunteer house is nearing completion. (Maybe it will be done by Easter?) I am happy to be settled in my new bedroom with my own bathroom now, after spending a couple of weeks between the convent and the new house in temporary, bathroomless quarters. My room was the first finished in the new house. A couple of days ago Simone moved into the second bedroom. We have power in the evenings from the main generator of the Sisters, and this week Simone says the solar panels will be up and running for 24-hour power. This is very good news. I have a feeling that our little refrigerator will be much more effective with more than three hours of electricity per day, and coordinating the charging of computer, phone and other batteries will be more manageable.

I am beginning to feel at home here in Aru, little by little. It takes a lot of time and energy to adjust. I'm thankful God brought me here and for his constant Presence, for the support of the Canossian Sisters, the kindness and companionship of my fellow volunteers and for all of your love and support in the past from which I still draw strength, and for your prayers and efforts to stay in touch now. You give me courage and comfort. Thank you!