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Butoke update, April 30, 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Almost the 1st of May. The dry season has started with some hesitation, and the rains are no longer daily. The minor harvest has started but has not yet made a dent in food prices.

Our nutrition center continues to receive many malnourished, and for the last six months, we have a new phenomenon in which big children over 5 years old are slightly more numerous than the under fives among the severely malnourished. At the same time, we see more malnourished adults. Among the adult malnourished women, there is a total failure to lactate, resulting in severely malnourished babies under 6 months old. It is sad, as this means we are approaching famine conditions.

Anyone interested in more details may request the statistics of the Center for December through April by emailing Dickens Warfield at Dickenswarfield@comcast.net. FAO has officially recognized that Western Kasai is close to famine conditions. For those who read French, we can dispatch their document (email Dickens Warfield) that is supported by their own data on production and marketing in the province.

In the last week, we took on a new initiative. Motherless babies, as they are called in Nigeria, are babies whose mother dies during or soon after delivery. Throughout Africa, they are accused of having killed their mother and most families want to get rid of them soon after the mourning. Here in Kananga, only one convent (Mère de l’Espérance) accepts them reluctantly on condition that Butoke provides the milk until the age of 2. 

Currently, we sponsor 13 infants that are under 6 months old in this convent, but they are at the end of their absorption capacity. So when, last Monday, distressed grandparents turned up with a 5 day old motherless baby of about 2000 gr who had had only tea since birth, we decided to keep the baby and hire one of our handicapped women as caretaker. We call this baby Jean.

This Wednesday, he was joined by a 20-day old baby whose mother died 15 days ago. One aunt gave him breast milk for a few days. Since then, also, he had only tea. He must have been a strong healthy baby at birth; his length is normal but he lost a lot of weight and is now under 3 kg. Our biggest joy is he sucks with enthusiasm and force. His parents called him Mukengeshayi (meaning let them make him suffer). We prefer not to use that name and call him Luc referring both to the evangelist and to the fact we want him to feel lucky.

Newborns are particularly vulnerable, but Jean and Luc are tough; we hope they will make it. If anyone feels like sponsoring them directly, the cost is relatively high as the special milk is costly and we need a full time caretaker. Milk is about USD 105 a month and the worker costs USD 100 again. But it is the only chance for these babies.

We attach our report to CHF on our protection activities. Violence, especially sexual violence on minors and women, is relatively frequent, and society, as well as families, are ill-prepared to fight it, because any girl or woman is identified as a property. They are as such without rights. We have a long way to go but with your help we struggle on.

Currently, we are negotiating two UNICEF-sponsored projects in nutrition. The protocol to be followed is agreed with the Congolese government and seems based on assumptions of an acute food shortage of a temporary nature. But the projects will be located in Luiza and Tshikapa, two areas hardest hit by the economic crisis. Estimates run around 16% of acute malnutrition among under fives and 45% or more chronic malnutrition. The chronic malnutrition is not of a temporary nature, and is due rather to societal structural reasons, such as lack of child spacing, family instability, major dependence on diamond mining, roads that are impracticable for trucks, dysfunction of the market for produce, deforestation, difficult access to arable land, and the depressed state of agricultural production.

We will work with 34 health centers for nutrition education and detection and care of the acute cases. We expect to care for more than 4,500 cases. The project is gigantic, costing about USD 800,000 over 8 months but it is likely to be prolonged.

However, there are major gaps, such as the lack of a direct approach to the structural causes, and lack of provisions for food for accompanying mothers. We are trying to fill some gaps, such as providing family planning education and making at least the basic family planning supplies available and providing media back up. 

These projects are stimulating, as finally people realize that malnutrition is very real here and are trusting us to take it on a large scale, but also frightening, as one can see how everyone underestimates the complexity of the undertaking.

We need your prayers, and if possible, volunteers or students for a practice period. These can help to keep steering the activity to be focused and truly saving lives. We need authoritative visitors who can help push for a more structural approach.

These nutrition projects will be accompanied in some areas by a food security effort by FAO. However, besides the fact there will be geographic gaps, the effort is too timid. Both regions are under increasing stress of major proportions, as Congolese people driven from Angola keep arriving, and impoverished economic migrants come back.  Last week, one border region of Luiza received well over 10,000 people, many ill and famished.

No one knows where it will stop, because about 400,000 Congolese migrated illegally to Angola for diamond mining and an equal number went to the mining regions in Congo.  All these people find themselves now without means. They should be prime candidates for new agricultural efforts, or else the local people and the migrants will fall together in a profound famine. So we are girding ourselves for a major push for the main season. Unfortunately, our Canadian support is diminished by 20% due to fluctuations in the Canadian dollar exchange rate with the US $. We will approach BTC and maybe JICA to see whether we can, with God’s help, mobilize more resources. We pray this time the climate will collaborate, as for two years there have been only mis-harvests.

This is the season of reckoning in education. We are expecting that where we provided retraining of the teachers, performance may be improved.

In His love

Jean, Lazare and Cécile


Contributions to Butoke in Canada can be sent trough Real Lavergne, Canadian International Development Agency, 200 Promenade du Portage, Gatineau Quebec, Canada, K1A  0G4.

Contributions in the USA can be made payable to H. Branch Warfield, 13801 York Rd., V-3, Cockeysville, MD, 21030 marked “for Butoke” or to Maryland Presbyterian Church, 1105 Providence Rd., Baltimore, MD  21286, USA, also marked “for Butoke.”  Contributions to Maryland P C for Butoke may be tax deductible in the USA.  Contributions in the U K can be sent through Paul Evans, 5 Westville Ave., Ilkley, LS29 9AH, United Kingdom.