Working to provide access to health care and hope
by Inge Sthreshley | Special to Presbyterian News Service
This article appears in the Fall 2017 issue of Mission Crossroads magazine, which is printed and mailed free to subscribers’ homes within the U.S. three times a year by Presbyterian World Mission. To subscribe, visit pcusa.org/missioncrossroads.
CONGO – During the past year, over one million people have fled their homes in the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of Congo because of military activities. As political unrest has spilled over into ethnic violence many villages were burned and health centers and schools were destroyed in the process. Since 1892, the Kasai region has been the main area in Congo where Presbyterian mission work has been carried out with what is now the Presbyterian Church of Congo (CPC).
The Access to Primary Health Care project (ASSP) has kept health services available in the region throughout the turmoil ensuring that drugs, vaccinations, assisted births and nutrition activities continue. At times ASSP has expanded its activity to provide food and water to some of the displaced people. IMA World Health, an organization founded by the PC(USA) and other churches, manages the ASSP program, which is funded by UKAID. Larry Sthreshley, a PC(USA) mission co-worker and health liaison, is the IMA World Health country director for this project.
ASSP gives support to 511 health centers and 28 hospitals in the Kasai and Kasai Central provinces including many of those belonging to the CPC. SANRU, a local rural health organization, is IMA’s implementing partner in the region. Through their mediation efforts with local traditional leaders and government officials, they have ensured the security of most ASSP-supported health facilities. Despite all of the problems, the project has had only a minor decrease in use of services.
IMA, SANRU and local medical staff have worked in tense situations. Personnel were evacuated from various towns numerous times and negotiated travel through areas held by either militia or government forces to get supplies to health facilities. ASSP vehicles were carjacked four times in the past six months. Fortunately, all were recovered.
Though the situation is stabilizing, the disruption to agricultural and commercial activities means poverty and hunger will continue to increase in the coming months. Families have abandoned fields and goods. Many cannot afford the $1.35 that health centers charge for a consultation. It will take time for these families to re-establish their lives and rebuild businesses. Those who fled will need to clear land for new fields, and it will be November before the next harvest — if they are fortunate to have seeds to plant. Many families lost their seed stock when they were pillaged or burned.
To assist Presbyterian Disaster Assistance in giving displaced families seeds in the coming season, donate online at presbyterianmission.org/GIVE-Congo, by phone at 800-873-3283 or by writing a check payable to Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and mailing it to P.O. Box 643700, Pittsburgh, PA 15264. Be sure to designate your gift to disaster response fund DR000171.
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Mission co-workers Dr. Larry and Inge Sthreshley develop and strengthen community-based health and nutrition programs in partnership with the Presbyterian Church of Congo and Kinshasa.
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