Perhaps it was a twist of fate or maybe Lady Luck stepped in.
One thing is for sure: Mark Manashil and Dr. Omer Pasi barely missed being caught in the midst of an international incident.
The two men work for The Clarence Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Albany. Manashil and Pasi took a trip to Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, in late December as part of their work in providing grants to other non-profit groups.
Manashil returned a couple of weeks later, on a Thursday; Pasi came back the following Saturday.
They flew out of Congo just four and two days, respectively, before the country’s president, Laurent Kabila, was reportedly shot to death on Jan.17.
“We would have been trapped there,” said Pasi, pondering the likely outcome if they had not left when they did.
Kabila, according to news reports, was killed by one of his bodyguards after he met with advisers at his Marble Palace.
Kabila assumed power in 1996 after overthrowing the late Mobutu Sese Seko, who was president for 30 years. The Congolese government government has named Kabila’ s son, Maj. Gen. Joseph Kabila, as its new leader.
Manashil, executive director of The Clarence Foundation, said that he is thankful he was not in Congo when the shooting occurred.
“What if I had been there?” Manashil said he thought to himself after hearing about Kabila’ s shooting. “It’s just a weird feeling.”
Though it is impossible for Pasi to have predicted the assassination, he said that he felt an eerie aura lingering around his homeland.
“Being there was very strange. It was very calm, almost too good to be true,” said Pasi, who serves on foundation’s board of directors and is studying at the University of California, Berkeley.
“Within two weeks, the currency had devalued twice. There was no gas and hundreds of cars were lined up at gas stations,” Pasi said.
“When I would ask people how were things going and I heard, “Well, there’ s no gas and we’re close to starving. But other than that, life is great,’” he said, noting that the responses he received were not coated with sarcasm. They were sincere.
Pasi and Manashil said that they plan to return to Congo to finish the work that they had started on behalf of The Clarence Foundation.
Formed a year and a half ago, The Clarence Foundation is a small group run by private donations. It searches for grassroots organizations throughout the world that are doing successful work in health
care, education or working on human rights issues within their communities.
The Clarence Foundation then provides the groups with financial support so that they may expand their services.
Manashil said Pasi told the foundation about projects underway in Congo, a country with a long history of military and regional conflicts.
“The people there have a certain resiliency,” said Manashil. “But
we can’t neglect the fact that there’s suffering there.”
Some of their work went beyond visiting a project site. Soon after arriving at an orphanage, Manashil and Pasi rushed an 8-year old boy to a health center for emergency care.
“He was obviously sick for a couple of weeks and he never went to see anybody,” said Pasi, a general practitioner.
“So, we decided to pay out of our own pocket. He had fever of 104 degrees. We paid 50 cents for the visit and 75 cents for the medication.”
Manashil and Pasi are now reviewing seven projects based in Kinshasa and surrounding towns.
Pasi said that the trip was one that he and his friends would not soon forget.
“I’m still getting phone calls from friends who heard about (Kabila’s) shooting. They’re leaving messages asking, ‘Are you trapped?’” Pasi said.
The Clarence Foundation is at 1501 Washington Ave., in Albany and can be reached at 558-7188 or