MILWAUKIE — A deacon from Oregon has helped establish a boarding school in one of the poorest nations on Earth.

Girls from low-income families in the Democratic Republic of Congo are forced into prostitution at alarming rates, and Deacon Jim Pittman of Christ the King Parish in Milwaukie wants to give a few of them a chance at a better life.

Many are orphans of the nation’s 18-year-long civil war. More than 5 million Congolese children are without parents in a nation of 54 million, which is more than half Catholic.
Pittman is part of an ecumenical team that purchased 25 acres near Mount Mangengenge in the central African nation. There, construction is continuing on a school that eventually will serve more than 400 students, including scores of young female boarders from first grade through high school.  

“These children and the struggle they go through are forgotten and I am trying to make sure that at least some of them have a fighting chance,” Pittman says.

The school is already in operation. Day students walk as far as three miles one way to attend classes six days per week. There are now 160 students and four teachers. Middle schoolers attend 7 a.m. to noon and younger children from 12:30 pm to 5:30 p.m. Tuition costs each family $8 per year.

Pittman says the hard part is finding the money for all that still needs to be done, including more classrooms, an office, library and medical building.  

Money for the project comes from donors in the U.S., mostly Catholics, Methodists and Mormons this time around. Many Oregonians help with funding, giving between $30 and $100 per month. Others give larger donations once or twice a year.

In addition to marshaling supplies and funds, Pittman regularly travelsto Africa to work on the buildings with his own hands and hire help. Usually, a 40-foot container full of supplies comes along. This time, it held a tractor, a trailer, beds, medical gear and food.
Pittman will be leaving for Kinshasa again in August to hire more teachers and a nanny and will oversee the start of more construction.  

The hope is to make the school self-sustaining, so workers have constructed a pig farm on site. If children need to leave to find food, they are at greater risk for kidnapping, Pittman says.  

Villagers are helping build the school and many are sending their children as day students.

This is a region where trash is stored in the open air and people bathe in the same river where they draw drinking water. Pittman and his partners found a clean spring to supply the school with water and have designed better sanitation. That may keep disease down, but still children suffer from malaria, tuberculosis and HIV from parents.

The project is called Salisa Bana, or Hope for Children.

Pittman, a former business executive, has also started a large furniture and clothes ministry at Christ the King to serve local need.

Video update on the school: