A letter from Inge Sthreshley serving in Congo
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My colleague, Mbuyi, who is an agriculturist, just came back from a trip to the West Kasai province. One of the pictures he shared with me shows a community health worker displaying seeds in his cupped hands. The health worker multiplied them from the original stock that we distributed four months ago during training. I’ve seen many of those pictures now and they always make my heart sing. When I see the multiplied seed, I know that family and community can keep growing their gardens long after the ASSP project (Access to Primary Health Care) is finished.
I work together with Mbuyi and Esperant, a nutritionist, on the nutrition component of the ASSP project. We are trying to bring a culture of home gardening to 8 million people in four provinces of Congo to increase both availability and variety of foods for families and their children, coupled with basic nutrition education. Congo has a significant problem with malnutrition that has all sorts of long-term ramifications for both the malnourished child and the community.
Over the past two years Mbuyi, Esperant and I have worked with the staff of the National Nutrition Program (PRONANUT) and have facilitated the training of over 10,000 people in Congo—involving doctors, nurses, and community health workers—in both nutrition and home gardening. The training focuses on best feeding practices for children younger than 5 years of age and best gardening practices. We show people how to make raised beds, save seed, and encourage the planting of perennials and fruit trees. We have also introduced nutritious plants such as the moringa tree and chaya. At the end of the training the community health workers and health center staff receive seeds and tools. We tell them the seeds aren’t just for them. They are to multiply the seeds and share them with families with malnourished children and use the garden tools to help those families put in gardens. To date 10,514 gardening tool kits have been distributed and 2,795 kg of seed have been distributed for multiplication.
In the process of doing these trainings and supervision trips, Mbuyi and Esperant have traveled thousands of miles across most of the 52 health zones of the ASSP project—often on terrible roads, sometimes crossing wide, swift rivers in dugout canoes. Where the road ends, they have taken motorbikes to reach villages along the path. The conditions can be really rough, but Mbuyi says, “Inge, we have to go. You would not believe the conditions that my countrymen live under. I have become part agriculturist and part pastor. I come into a community and I ask them, ‘Why do you have no gardens around your homes? Who is keeping you in bondage here? When God created the world, he put Adam in a garden. Gardening was man’s first occupation. You need to garden and grow a variety of food for your family so you and your children will be healthy. Yes, you need your fields of manioc and corn, but you also need to keep a garden at home.’” And he proceeds to give them a vision of what they can achieve and how.
Like in the parable of the sower, sometimes they return to a region and find the message has “fallen on the path and been eaten by the birds.” The people there may have been poorly selected as community health workers to be trained and were there for the wrong reasons. Sometimes the community health workers who are trained are eager, but they lack the basic education and supportive supervision by the local health zone office that would make them more effective agents of change. Like the seed that fell on rocky soil or in the thorns, there is not much uptake. Then there are those places where it all comes together. The community health workers have the initiative, the education level, and the supervision they need from the health zone, and we come back several months later and find them actively engaged in bringing a culture of home gardening by example to their communities, sharing best nutrition practices and multiplying the seeds they received. Literally and figuratively the seed has fallen on good soil and borne much fruit.
What encourages Mbuyi and Esperant is that just about every week they receive phone calls from community health workers in faraway health zones. They call to give them an update on the gardens they put the seeds in and tell them about their harvests. They say, “Thank you for opening our eyes to how we can grow more food and feed our children better.” In the Tshikapa area one community health worker said, “Our husbands are gone for six months at a time in the mines. Now we have a way to grow food and have enough both to feed our children and to sell to make a living.”
Thank you for your prayers and for your financial support for our sending and support. And please continue both; through your prayers and giving, you are bringing “seeds” of change and hope to many families in Congo.
“And the seeds sown in the good soil stand for those who hear the message and understand it: they bear fruit, some as much as one hundred, others sixty, and others thirty” (Matthew 13:23).
The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 147
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