Gemena, the city where ACOTBA-SUBO has its office, has a population of more than 100,000. It is located about 650 miles as the crow flies from the capital city of DR Congo, Kinshasa. However, without roads to connect the two cities, it can take days to travel between the two cities. Add to the equation the deteriorating condition of many roads, and the trip could probably take more than a week or even up to two weeks.
Thankfully, Gemena has its own international airport. We actually flew there from Bangui (the capital of Central African Republic). It was a quick one hour flight.
The city is bustling with shops and restaurants. Several cell phone companies advertise their services, and at least one even offers pennies per minute calls to the US. We visited a fabric shop that had some great African fabrics at low prices. For about $12-$16 USD, you could get six yards of one of the beautifully patterned fabrics that many Congolese wear.
What I didn’t see in Gemena were paved roads and electric power lines. It seemed like this is a city that runs off the grid, for the most part. The Catholic mission guest house where we stayed had power and internet three hours each night thanks to a generator and V-SAT. A few solar panels gave power to one light in each room.
Some of the staff had their own solar panels that they would put out during the day in order to power their own devices in the evening.
The ACOTBA-SUBO office has a solar power system and V-SAT–both are absolutely essential for being able to do work here. Without power and access to the internet, their work would be very difficult.