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.”