(Janet, Gwen, Lisa) This journey started for me a year and a half ago when my heart broke for those around the world that did not have access to clean water. One of the first things the guys at Water4 said to me when I met them was “so God has broken your heart too”. This has been a theme from the beginning, even a bible study that I did during this time. I never expected my heart to break any more. I was wrong!
Tuesday we visited a Nutrition Center in Mbandaka, a place for malnourished children and their families to get support. Yes, we have seen the pictures of little children with extended stomachs. I can share with you that this is NOTHING compared to seeing these children in person. I was overcome with heartache for these helpless babies. The first thing that grabbed my attention was a little girl with the sweetest face. She cocked her head to the side as she looked at me. When I smiled at her she timidly smiled back. Those cute chubby cheeks – you don’t realize they are a sign of malnutrition. She looked like she was 2 years old. She was 5. Her brother was at the table next to her. He had the body of a little old man, extended stomach, thin arms and legs. He was not much taller than his sister, looked about 4 years old. He was 8. I didn’t think my heart could take it. But I sat and prayed over this place, gave it to God and asked his blessing for these delicate children and that He take this pain in my heart and turn it into something more.
As we walked into the first room Lisa was surprised to see that there was a fire going on the dirt floor with a pot of porridge cooking over the open flame. Yes, the room has open air windows but there was still quite a bit of smoke. The fire was constructed with long pieces of wood arranged so that the ends were burning. The pot of porridge sat on top of two rocks, where in between the ends of the burning wood were flaming. The porridge consisted of soy bean flour, milk, sugar, and caterpillars. The caterpillars provide good nutrients for the children. They are ground down and added to the porridge. The children are also given any medicine they need. It was sitting on the table next to the porridge as it was being served.
Twenty five children with their mothers or family come to this center every 3 months. Some of them come from villages far, far away. They come each day to get food, medicine, and education. The mothers/grandmothers/family members get instruction on how to properly feed their children at home. As in most places instructions are not in writing due to illiteracy. In this center there are large murals on the walls depicted fruits, vegetables, and fish. Rosette, the head of the center, explained that a lot of mothers feed their children protein thinking that is what is best but they need to learn to provide a well rounded diet including fruit and vegetables for their families.
One grandmother was with her grandchild. This baby was 4 years old but was the size of an 8 month old. When it came time to eat the porridge he didn’t want to eat it. Listless and expressionless is a good description of these children. Good news is that if they come consistently each day improvement is seen in 2 weeks. These children can be saved. These families can be helped. But patience is needed. It takes time to encourage the mothers and fathers to allow their children to attend the center. As you can imagine, it is difficult to admit you can’t feed your children. The parents need jobs to support their families. This is just another way clean water can help. Mothers can get jobs, children can attend school because they aren’t sick. As mothers see their children become healthy they realize that clean water DOES make a difference and that proper nutrition IS important.
Often while here, we compare what we see to what we know at home. Yes, there are children in Oklahoma City that need our help. There are families that need jobs and support just like these families do. The difference is that there is no government safety net here. Here you are on your own and children die.
The nutrition center that we visited is another ministry of the CDCC – Community of Disciples of Christ of the Congo. The young lady that runs the center, Rosette, left her young family behind and went to the Philippines for 3 months of training so she could open and operate the center. She is a local church minister’s wife and hers is a volunteer position. The other two ladies who work there are also volunteers. Rosette saw a need and was called to minister to these families and children.
Next door to the nutrition center is a medical clinic, also run by the CDCC. Even though the doctor there is trained in treating eye diseases and performs cataract surgeries, he also treats other patients. The clinic has two rooms – one that is the waiting room, as well as has four beds for patients and the other room is the operating room as well as the clinic’s office. He uses instruments that are a couple of decades old. There were two ladies waiting to see the doctor the morning we were there.
At home we take so many services and conveniences for granted. We realize that here, if it weren’t for the CDCC and individuals such as Rosette, there would be nowhere for these families to turn for help. Even more children would die of malnutrition and the people in the community with desperate needs would go unserved.