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A Path to the Unreached

A Letter from Larry and Inge Sthreshley, serving in Congo

October 2020

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Dear Friends,

Philippe Bwanamusuri Bushiri relayed this inspiring message to us.

“I told them everything I knew because I realized I would not be back for a long time.” Phillipe had traveled by motorbike to a remote health center in the Ferenkeni health zone in Maniema province. He had traveled over muddy roads and traversed streams over log bridges. When the road ended, he had navigated his motorbike down footpaths. And when the footpath became too rough and narrow for a motorbike, he parked the motorbike and walked seven days to reach Kitamuna health center. Needless to say, they received few visitors, and he was welcomed like a king.

Bwanamusuri was a community animator at the time working on the nutrition program. The “everything that he knew,” which he shared with the community, were all the key messages on best infant and young child feeding practices and best home garden practices. He showed community health volunteers how to make an enriched porridge, provide a balanced meal for a child, make a raised bed garden, and the importance of a home garden. He gave them seeds and cuttings of moringa and Chaya. He talked to them about how to turn moringa leaves into powder and use it to enrich children’s weaning foods.

Bwanamusuri lives up to his name. In Swahili, it means good boss. For the past two years, he has supervised the community animators in northern Maniema province for the ASSR project. (ASSR stands for “ Appui au Système de Santé en RDC.” It is a program funded by UKAID and supports the health system in Congo). I always look forward to reading Bwanamusuri’s reports. On the title page of every report, he clearly states, “Together we can overcome and prevent malnutrition in the community by locally available means.” He knows his mission, and wherever he goes, he brings people together to learn what they can do to overcome and prevent malnutrition with best practices and foods locally available in their own community. He brings vision and hope.

This past year he helped with the distribution of 24,255 Mid Upper Arm Circumference (MUAC) tapes in Maniema to 3,300 community volunteers. MUACs are simple colored measuring bands that community health volunteers can use to measure the mid-upper arm circumference of a child. If the measurement falls in the green, the child is adequately nourished. If it falls in the yellow or red, the child is malnourished. The MUAC tapes are simple to use and cost 19 cents apiece. They are a powerful little tool in the battle against malnutrition in Congo. Bwanamusuri ensured the community health volunteers were trained on how to use them and distributed the MUAC tapes to other members in their communities who they trained to assist with screening children.

Shabani Mangala is a young child whose life was saved by one of the community health volunteers from Kalibatete health center who was trained by IMA community animator Assani Muloba. Shabani had an arm circumference reading in the red (110 mm) when he was screened by community health volunteer Manda Omba. Manda Omba visited Shabani’s family five times over three months. He showed Shabani’s parents how to make an enriched porridge and how to provide a balanced meal for the child. He also helped them start a garden. At the end of the fifth visit, Shabani had an arm circumference reading in the green (129 mm) and had gained 11 pounds.

This past year, our goal has been to introduce intensive systematic screening in each health zone to ensure that every child between six months and five years of age in each village is screened every quarter. Those found to be malnourished are oriented to the health center and receive five home visits by a trained community health volunteer. In Maniema province, the percentage of children being screened by community health volunteers increased from 45% at the beginning of the year to 91% this current quarter thanks to all the women and men trained to help screen children. Since IMA started nutrition work in Maniema in 2015, the proxy prevalence rate for children suffering from malnutrition has dropped from 13.8% in 2015 down to 3.7% in 2020. Over 30,400 malnourished children in Maniema have received five home visits from a community health volunteer and have recovered.

Our work in Maniema Province is ending, but our nutrition work will continue in other provinces. Like Bwanamusuri, I would like to think we shared everything we could about key nutrition and home gardening practices. Most importantly, I hope we have shared an approach or “path” for community health volunteers to continue to use to reduce malnutrition in their neighborhoods. I am grateful for Bwanamusuri and the 12 IMA World Health community animators, like Assani Muloba, who have spent the past several years training and accompanying community health volunteers in Maniema.

Thank you for your prayers and financial support that enable us to be here in Congo. Your support has helped facilitate the nutrition work here in Congo, enabling thousands of children to flourish and have a brighter future. Please continue your financial and prayer support as we collectively strive to be a Matthew 25 church and help other unreached children and families in need.

Blessings,

Inge
“May the LORD cause you to flourish, both you and your children. 15 May you be blessed by the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 115: 14-15


Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

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