A letter from Ruth Brown in Congo
May 31, 2012
Early one morning this month a local health volunteer and I found three children huddled together, sitting outside their house. The 4-year-old was holding his 1½-year-old twin brothers in his lap. All three were intently watching the other side of the road, where their 11-year-old brother was playing with friends. This older brother explained that their three older siblings had already left that morning for school. He said that none of them had eaten that morning and that they did not expect any food until after their mother returned from work. We learned that their mother, the only one earning money for the family, leaves the house at 6 a.m. every day of the week to go to the market and does not return home until after 6 p.m.
This was our second visit to the house. On the first visit, three volunteer health outreach workers and I found the twins to be severely malnourished by measurement of their arm circumferences. The outreach workers counseled the only adult at the house, the children’s aunt, about feeding practices that would be helpful for the children. During the visit the following was noted: (1) the children were fed only one daily meal (Congo’s staple, a pasty “bread” made from corn and cassava flour and a sauce made with manioc leaves); (2) the adult care provider did not know about the benefits of moringa or how to mix it with the children’s food; (3) the home and yard had no garden or fruit trees; and (4) the home had no visible latrine. (Note: Of the 18 homes the outreach workers visited on this day, #1 and #2 above were the same for all 18. Of the 20 children whose arms were measured by the team I accompanied, 5 of the 20 were found to be malnourished, and 2 of these were severely malnourished.)
On the evening of the second visit, an outreach worker returned to the home and reviewed the children’s malnourished condition with the mother. They discussed the foods she could make available to give a balanced diet to her children at least three times daily, and they gave her a two-day supply of moringa powder, explaining how to mix it with the children’s food. Additionally, the outreach worker explained to the mother how she and her children could access the nutrition center at Good Shepherd Hospital for $1 per child and that this fee alone would be sufficient to enable the twins, her 4-year-old, and herself to stay at the center for one or two months or as long as it would take for her children to get better. (Note that $1 is one day’s wage here in Congo…or for many, like perhaps this mother, more than one day’s wage.)
In another effort to support the mother, the worker asked if he could carry a letter to her pastor to inform him about the serious nutritional needs of her twins. To the letter the mother agreed. Many churches here try to offer some small assistance to the neediest in their congregations. Hopefully, this year representatives from neighborhood churches will begin to meet together to plan what can be done to help the community address its high prevalence of malnutrition. Members of the health outreach team that identified the family will be trying to implement such ongoing planning by church groups.
The outreach workers are members of ASADECO (Association for Health and Community Development, an organization that uses the CHE model [Christian Health Evangelism] of beginning community planning with Bible study and implementing programs led and directed by the community members themselves). ASADECO is one organization within the Development Program of the Presbyterian Community of Congo (CPC) that is helping residents identify and address their greatest concerns. ASADECO is currently operating well in two of Kananga’s five large community sectors or “communes.” The organization’s health promotion efforts include nutrition education and encouraging water purification and the use of latrines. The CPC’s Community Development Program (the program to which I have been assigned) will be assisting the volunteers of ASADECO to create more structure for their follow-up visits to families of malnourished children, to obtain/maintain funding for volunteer training, and to obtain/maintain a source of moringa seed and teaching materials. Other skills for program planning, evaluation and reporting will also be reviewed with ASADECO members.
By the end of this year we hope that another organization will also be supporting families of malnourished children here in Kananga. Last week the CPC’s Development Program gave official support to PRODEK (Program for Development in Kasai) to open an office here in Kananga to better serve West Kasai. Since the 1980s this agricultural development program has been operating in East Kasai, where it has formed 100 associations (community-led committees) that are holding regular meetings to plan and evaluate their own needs for growing diverse crops, effective marketing, and seed storage. PRODEK is also actively involved with crop diversification, rotation, composting, appropriate agriculture (using locally grown plants as cover crops and to fertilize the soil), and conservation. (PRODEK is actively planting a variety of trees and educating association members on conservation issues.)
PRODEK’s aim is for the associations to become completely self-run and self-ruled. In East Kasai one union is formed to support every 20 well-functioning associations, with union members being elected from each association. Each of the three unions in East Kasai has established a savings-and-loan bank as well as a store where association members may sell grain and seed and purchase farm equipment such as twine and shovels. Each union is audited twice annually by a team of members elected by association members.
Both PRODEK and ASADECO are working to meet one of World Mission objectives: identifying and addressing the root causes of poverty, particularly as they affect women and children. Please contact me for more information about either of these two programs. (Please email me at email@example.com and send a copy of your email to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Thank you for your interest in the people of Congo. Thank you for your prayers and all nature of your support. Our strength is in our unity in the Spirit and our acting together in this love. With you, ASADECO, PRODEK, and the two other groups within the CPC’s Community Development Program (Department of Women and Families, and the Community Development office in Mbuji Mayi), the work here is truly a team effort with the residents themselves learning to plan and implement their own self-help programs. Thank you so much for being a part of this work for the better health and well-being of people in the Kasai.
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 102
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