A letter from Ruth Brown in Congo
September 1, 2011
Muo.yo wenu! (Life to all of you!) from Congo!
One critical global issue for PC(USA) World Mission is to identify and address the root causes of poverty, particularly as these causes impact women and children. During the last two months at a nutrition center in Tshikaji that is almost entirely funded through donations from PC(USA) I met children and mothers who have transformed this PC(USA) global issue into faces with names and “high five” greetings.
One of the children has become especially dear. Her name is Ana. Her quiet, solemn dignity caught my attention. She’s 3 years old. I can see every rib in her chest. Incredibly, she finds the strength to walk. And I was even more surprised by her strength and spirit when, on my third visit, she raised her right hand to slap mine in a (weak) “high five” greeting. But I have never seen Ana smile.
Ana and her 4-year-old brother, Kabuya, are living at the Nutrition Center in Tshikaji and are being cared for by their 10-year-old sister, Lukewu. All three usually live in the town north of the center with four other siblings, their pregnant mother, and their paternal grandparents in a small one-room mud home. The father of the children seems to have permanently left the family.
About three weeks ago Ana and Kabuya were referred to the Nutrition Center by their local Public Health Center because each was under 70 percent of body mass index (BMI), an indicator of healthy weight to height measurement related to age. Kabuya suffers from kwashiorkor (protein deficiency) and Ana from marasmus (starvation).
On their first day at the center, children are tested and then treated for any parasites. Also, nutrition classes begin for the children’s care provider (the family member who accompanies each child while at the center). These classes include practical information about which foods to mix together to ensure that every meal includes protein and vitamin-rich foods as well as oil and carbohydrates.
Each child’s care provider will take her turn preparing three daily meals for everyone present: 8 a.m. is “musabo,” hot cereal of corn, ground peanuts, and palm oil; at 12 noon is a serving of fruit with a serving of rice and beans; and at 4 p.m. the children and their care providers are served “bidia,” the manioc/corn staple that is a hot putty-like mixture with a sauce made with vitamin-rich manioc leaves mixed with one of a variety of proteins available in the local market. At this time of year available protein includes squash seeds, dried fish, or caterpillars. At every meal throughout the day two heaping spoonfuls of Moringa leaf powder are added to each child’s bowl, providing additional protein and vitamins. The center’s two staff work to ensure that each offered meal has 500 calories, for a total 1,500 calories per day.
This nutrition center in Tshikaji can house 15 children (plus one care provider per child). On my first visit to the center, 36 children were present, meaning 21 children were commuting daily on foot for the center’s services. The average stay is 30 to 45 days or until the child reaches 85 percent of BMI.
Children under 60 percent of BMI are referred to a hospital. In Tshikaji this is Good Shepherd Hospital. This month six children have needed referral to the hospital. Four children are currently hospitalized. In the last three months four hospitalized children have died from starvation.
The four children currently in the hospital are all staying in one hospital room, sitting on the floor with their mother to eat meals brought over from the nutrition center that is next door. The first day I sat with the families during their mealtime one mother, in despair, pointed to the arms and legs of her starving child where body fluids were leaking through the skin. The child’s system was too weak to perform normal functions. Each of the three mothers in the room that day knew that her child may be dying from hunger.
How do these three mothers live with this reality? At 8 a.m. and at 12 noon and at 4 p.m. they bring food to their children, and they sit with them and feed them. They hold their children and sing to them. And they wait.
Their quiet courage and daily faithfulness reminds me of the psalmist’s simply worded instructions for very troubled times: “Wait for the Lord, and keep to his way” (Psalm 37:34).
I saw the same faithfulness in keeping to the Lord’s way in the work of Pastor Kabaseli, the pastor whose church includes Ana’s community. Within five minutes of learning that Ana was unable to eat her meals at the center without being sick and that she needed to be hospitalized, this pastor began walking to the Ana’s village, where he found her home and, not finding her mother, talked to her grandparents and to neighbors. The pastor then returned to Tshikaji on foot to report the family’s situation and went to meet with a coordinator of the nutrition center to urge him to admit Ana to the hospital. At this meeting it was clarified that funds do exist for hospital treatment of children enrolled at the Nutrition Center. Pastor Kabaseli began all this work immediately upon learning about the Ana’s situation, working from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. that day, even though he had never met the family and they were not members of his church. He recognized Ana and Kabuya as a church family because they were his neighbors and his church’s community responsibility.
In the faithful responses of these mothers to their children and of Pastor Kabseli to the children I see a reflection of God’s love for each of us. God holds us all in his love. God gives the courage to keep nurturing starving children and to work tirelessly for families in extreme need. This faith in God is the great strength of the Presbyterian Community of Congo. This is the trust of believers: that “in all things God works together for good” (a statement of faith written throughout Romans 8).
The Presbyterian Community of Congo (CPC), through its Community Development program, is also working to keep the Lord’s way by assisting villagers and inner-city groups to learn to identify and address the root causes of poverty and malnutrition through the use of the CHE (Christian Health Evangelism) model: Community members meet together to discuss Bible stories as a starting base for studying how to better love God and neighbors. Community members may then begin to discuss and assess the causes of malnutrition in their village and to plan and work together to implement and maintain programs for healthier families.
I thank each of you who is a partner in faith in this work of God for good.
When you pray for or give to the CPC’s community development programs listed below, you are building up the training, ongoing monitoring and support, and the materials and supplies needed for these communities to assist families like Ana’s and to implement village-based programs (such as community gardens, health promotion and literacy programs) to prevent such malnutrition in the future.
Together with the Presbyterian Community of Congo, we are partners in faith with God who moves us forward in this working together for good.
Thank you, each of you, for your donations and for your prayers.
The 2012 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 102
The following programs need prayer and financial support:
Community Development Program of the CPC (EO52114)
PRODEK, a long-running agricultural development program in the Kasai (EO52031)
CPC Development Vehicle (EO52115 )