A letter from Ruth Brown serving in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
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Muoyo wenu! (Life to you!)
On a rainy Sunday afternoon in March I accompanied Pastor Malenga Ilunga, professor of Old Testament at Shepherd-Lapsley Seminary, and his neighbor and local village chief, Albert Babadi, on their visits to families living just outside the seminary campus. These two men are volunteer members of the Christian Community Health Evangelism (CHE) committee of Ndesha, and for the last seven months this team of six volunteers has been following 84 children who have brachial arm circumferences of less than 14 cm., an indication of malnourishment.
“Following the children” means many visits and much support to a child’s family to encourage healthy behaviors related to malnutrition. For each family, CHE volunteers: (1) Explain that, as Christians, they want to assist neighbors to have better health for their children; (2) Refer the child to the health clinic for height and weight measurements and an assessment of nutritional status; (3) Observe and assess the child’s daily intake of nutritious food (4) Observe the family’s water source, storage and purification; (5) Observe the cleanliness of the home and yard and the presence and condition of the family’s latrine; (6) Observe birth spacing and the understanding/use of birth control; (7) Look for the presence of a garden, practices of building up the soil, and growth of protein foods near the home; (8) Assess the understanding/use of Moringa leaves in the diet and the presence of Moringa trees near the home; (9) Review immunization records for the child; and (10) Assess the use of mosquito nets for all family members. The CHE team continues visits to the families to (11) Encourage and assist with correcting unhealthy behaviors; (12) Work with the family to plant Moringa trees and other protein-rich plants near the home, and (13) Begin practices of composting. For families succeeding with the home gardens, CHE will (14) Assist and monitor the families’ raising of guinea pigs to supplement their diet; and (15) Introduce the families to the concept of sustainable agriculture through collective farming.
Our first visit found an 8-year-old boy taking care of his 1-year-old brother who had an arm circumference of 13 cm. The mother was at the market all day, leaving home before 6 a.m. and not returning until after 7 p.m. The father was in the fields all week, coming home only on Saturday evening for one night each week. The CHE volunteers in Ndesha had been visiting this family for the last six months, and they noted that there had been one helpful behavior change due, likely, to their visits. The mother had begun to leave food for breakfast for her sons made of leftovers from the evening meal: soft bread of cassava and corn meal and a little sauce made of manioc leaves mixed with palm oil. We were happy to see new, green Moringa leaves sprouting from a branch that had been planted earlier in their yard. Three cups of fresh Moringa leaves (or two heaping serving spoons of dried Moringa powder) will add nine grams of protein—equivalent to more than two cups of milk—to a child’s meal. Moringa also adds many vitamins and minerals: including A, B, C, Ca, Fe, K, and Mg.
At another home we found two sisters, Marie (11 cm) and Anoritte (12 cm), whose mother had died in childbirth, leaving the sisters in the care of their father and a paternal aunt. On previous visits the CHE volunteers had encouraged the aunt to take the sisters to the health clinic to receive more precise nutritional measurements, nutritional counseling, packages of protein powder, and treatment for parasites. We learned that the aunt had not yet taken the children for their assessments, but when she saw our concerned faces, she finally agreed to take them to the clinic. The CHE volunteers planned a time with the aunt to assist her with Moringa tree planting and discussed beginning a guinea pig project.
At the last family visit on this day, two grandparents greeted us warmly as their daughter-in-law sat with four small children, each with sparse, reddish hair (another sign of possible malnutrition). And at the feet of the grandfather was an emaciated 2-year-old with a vacant expression and obvious developmental delays. The adults spoke quietly that the father was rarely home. Nothing was growing near the home or in the family field except manioc (the staple in Congo that is high in calories but nearly devoid of other nutrients). None of the children had been to the health clinic, and none of the children or adults had eaten anything except manioc leaves and roots during the last week. The CHE agents discussed plans to plant Moringa and to encourage the entire Ndesha CHE committee to assist this family with raising guinea pigs to supplement the family diet.
Please think about these families and the outreach efforts of the CHE workers every Easter when you see “One Great Hour of Sharing” (OGHS) envelopes in your church pews. By giving to this OGHS offering you are supporting the Presbyterian Hunger Program, which provided the Presbyterian Church of Congo with a $10,000 grant in 2014 for training and supporting a total of 40 local CHE volunteers to assist families of malnourished children. For the first time, this health promotion program, Bana Basanka (“Happy Children”), has brought together the agricultural expertise of PRODEK (Development Program for the Kasais), the Christian outreach of CHE, and the Presbyterian Church of Congo’s Development Program to jointly meet the needs of malnourished children under 6 years old in Kananga, the capital of West Kasai. Over 3,000 children have been screened and by the end of April the CHE volunteers plan to have referred 800 malnourished children to their local health clinics for further assessment. The documentation of names, addresses, and arm measurements will also be given to the local UNICEF office. It is CHE and PRODEK’s objective that by the end of April at least 200 Moringa trees will have been planted near many of these identified homes, and at least five homes in each of the five sections of town will become “model” homes in their communities, with CHE volunteers reinforcing healthy, nutrition-related behavior practices including composting, establishing/maintaining protein-rich plants in home gardens, and establishing/maintaining guinea pig production.
Your gifts to support my position in community development also assist this work, which addresses Presbyterian World Mission’s objective to address the root causes of poverty, particularly as they affect women and children. I thank you very much for all your support and ask that you continue your prayers and financial commitment. Together we rejoice in a risen Christ who is ever-present with us in this work to help those living in poverty take another step up into better health.
The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 147
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