Gabriele Orlini

Le Merveille

The Le Merveille Health Centre cares for children with genetic cognitive disorders or those that have arisen due to a late diagnosis of drepanocytosis.
Sign at the entrance to Maria Theresa's Health Centre - Le Merveille

This post is also available in: Italiano

"Mental disability is a disadvantage for the individual and manifests itself in the reduction of his intellectual faculties resulting from a genetic chromosomal anomaly, an accident, as a consequence of a serious illness, etc. He can live with others provided his rhythm is taken into account, which requires specialised means for his education, accommodation, work, ...."

Lubumbashi, Congo-Kinshasa

The meeting point is the Total petrol station on the large roundabout between Avenue Lumumba and the Synagogue.
As in the best traditions of incredible places, this is also the place where taxis, buses, vans, and wheelbarrows stop. So, anything that can transport things and people.
Even today, after so many places I have seen, I still wonder how it is possible that from South America to Asia via Africa, these places are all the same: thousands of small, colourful vehicles screeching with incomprehensible voices take you, crammed with millimetric precision, to every place in the city and province.
And each time you spend time wondering if the means of transport you took is the right one.

Lubumbashi (originally: Elisabethville, at the time of King Leopold) is the third largest city in Dem. Rep. of Congo and has just over 1.2 million inhabitants. In the first half of the 1900s, the Belgians began to exploit it for its rich copper mines, while now, in the 2000s, the Chinese are taking over.

It’s 7 a.m. and already hot. I have an appointment with Pier, who has volunteered to accompany me to Kalombo, a suburb of the city, to meet Madame Celine and the children to whom she gives shelter and education in her health centre.
There are many private healthcare facilities in Lubumbashi, although they are very different from our occidental imagery of healthcare. They are mostly small buildings with white plaster and a cross on the walls. While for the interior one does what one can…

Le Merveille | Gabriele Orlini, 2012
Le Merveille | Gabriele Orlini, 2012

Madame Celine and Le Merveille health centre

Born from the idea and enthusiasm of an exceptional woman – Madame Celine – and her husband, Le Merveille health centre has set itself the onerous task of caring for children with genetic cognitive disorders. Or, much more frequently, boys with mental disabilities following a late diagnosis of the Drepanocytosis, a hereditary haemolytic disease, but also a consequence of malaria treated badly or too late.

Madame Celine, after the death of their young and only daughter suffering from Drepanocytosis due to a lack of medical information, adequate treatment and competent facilities, decided to open, with the help of her husband, a health centre on the edge of town the first diagnosis and primary treatment for this terrible disease. After an initial activity of pure diagnosis of Drepanocytosis, they decided to open a training and education centre for boys and girls with cognitive problems caused by the disease.

In 2012, the Centre de Santè Le Merveille was the only private, free-of-charge organisation in the Province of Katanga able to offer a viable alternative to children with cognitive problems to make their life in society sustainable and self-sufficient.

Le Merveille provides daytime education and training to some thirty children and young people of all ages who live alone, very often abandoned by their families when the first signs of illness appear. In an already complex and many times borderline social condition, the management and care of a mentally disabled person by relatives is simply an unsustainable act subject to natural selection.

Great days, too short

With Madame Celine at Le Merveille, I spent an extraordinary and all too short week, participating in their activities and lessons, talking to the children and also in very creative ways.
They are children with disabilities, sometimes severe, sometimes less so. And in the ways and times that their private world allows, they have desires to express, and projects to realise.
Some will succeed. Others don’t.
Some strong, stubborn, unconscious.
Others are weak or too shy or too unlucky.
Or just because the world, still, has not stopped testing them or making fun of them.

Text & Photos: Gabriele Orlini 
Original text in Italian - In house translation
RD Congo
Lubumbashi, Congo-Kinshasa
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