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Butoke update, August 25, 2008


25 August, 2008

Dear brothers and sisters,

As expected, the dry season is coming to an end and rain is starting timidly.  With the rains comes the hope of a major cropping season, the fever of malaria, the relief of nights that are less  cold than during the dry season, the pangs of more hunger.

You received and responded to my cry for help with the food crisis.  Almost USD 13,000 was raised and has permitted us to buy food for what we thought to suffice for 5 weeks both for Tshikaji and Luiza.  It will in fact barely last us one more week; we need more help to last at least until the New Year when the new harvest is available

Our center in Tshikaji has continued to receive new cases of severe malnutrition at an average of 2-3 a day. This will mean at least 60 new cases this month. We continue to accept them in residence as otherwise we send them to a certain death. The center in Luiza has to absorb even more kids as people continue to be pushed out of Angola without any of their meager means.   As we accept the severely malnourished, we pray that God will help us to continue to provide.

Most cases suffer from kwashiorkor with massive edema of the legs; sometimes of the whole body. Kwashiorkor cases present faces of utter misery, dare not move about, quite often can neither stand nor walk and in about half of the cases have lost all appetite. The edema melts away in the first week or so as we provide protein and plenty of calories. Protein is given mostly as milk and somewhat through fish and even through the mixture of cereal and legumes. When the edema disappears the skin peels off in large flaps and new skin forms. There is always great anxiety of the mothers as the kwashiorkor recedes, for the child is visibly very fragile; the new skin is tender and easily injured. Also these children loose quite some weight.   As the edema disappears it reveals in most cases that the child is very thin, has little or no muscle or fat left. Happily enough, unless they develop a fever soon thereafter, the child gains forces and interest and starts gaining 10 gr per kg per day, or about 1% of its own weight every day, sometimes even doubling weight in 2 months. In the severely malnourished one rarely finds fever or other signs of infectious diseases.   The signs only become apparent as the child recovers, which explains why mothers think sometimes that the food makes the child ill.  So we treat all severely malnourished as if there is infection and we treat also Vitamin deficiency.   It is quite a struggle with the forces of death.

The local culture blames always the child as being a witch; sometimes both the child and the mother are so labeled. It is one of the worse aspects of the local beliefs which systematically blame the victims, be they widows, orphans, handicapped or malnourished.

As the general food crisis prolongs and, for those with few means, deepens we can expect more and more cases of severe malnutrition.  Please pray we find the means to help those that have recourse to us.

We have initiated our Canadian project with CIDA. in which the three main current activities are agriculture , education and health. Soon we will intensify these aspects as well as initiate the others:  nutrition and rights of women and children.  Agriculture is our oldest and probably most vital program, but this year it will struggle even more as seeds prove to be rare and people very hopeless and tired due to the food crisis. Please pray all of us find the energy and faith to labour on.

The CIDA project is a real blessing as it supports all aspects of our program and permits to maintain the core while seeking to augment certain aspects with other donors

Several new projects are peaking on the horizon. Two contracts were signed in the last week:  a project on rape in Luiza (with The Child Health Foundation, USA for USD 10,000 seeking to give holistic care to the victims as well as seeking to change the mentality in Luiza which takes rape of women under 18 years  as a casual event if the parents were not “prudent” enough to marry them off earlier. The rape as well as the early marriages according to Congolese law are illegal and in fact explain how hospitals report high maternal and neonatal mortality as well as very high rates of fistula.  We hope to mobilize religious groups around this subject The project may open for us a whole new area of activity which may fundamentally influence society to humanize.

The second project we signed is aiming at the census of the Congolese driven away from Angola and present in the territory of Luiza and subsequent distribution of Non Food Items to each of the households. Most of these people are relatively young economic migrants who sought work in diamond artisanal mines and enjoyed a more decent living in Angola. Industrial concessions for diamond mining want them out and use quasi nationalistic arguments to have the police and army drive them away, often using torture and rape, always taking away all possessions, sometimes even part of the clothes on the person.

We did the census in one week and found more than 14,000 driven out this year and 33,0000 during 2004-2007. By origin they come mostly from poor families. In their misfortune, local people tend to blame them again and both governments tend to want to wish away the reality that might disturb their alliance dating from the war time. The people driven away need food more than non-food items but that is still blocked by the lack of data on the frequency of acute malnutrition.   Maybe during the distribution of non food items we can swing an anthropometric survey of the kids.

We have been involved with these people driven from Angola since 2005 and have managed to interest MSF Belgique to survey the rape cases among them in 2007 (see MSF website for witnesses.)  The situation reminds me of the Tibetan refugees that were wished away by India and Western allies seeking to court China.  Maybe we are predestined to occupy ourselves with people that are forgotten or wished away.

On the horizon, we see a project with UNICEF on education for the children and youths among the people driven from Angola. Probably we will start in three places where there are the biggest concentrations of kids:   Luiza Ville itself, Luambo and Masuika in the same territory.  More on that later.

Also we might start a scheme of registration of births and marriages under UNICEF patronage, thus putting in place a simple key item missing to protect girls against early marriages, and protect the rights of widows and orphans. It would be fascinating; a bit like trapping deadly customs in an administrative net.  Maybe, with God’s help, the ploy might succeed.

Friends of Butoke may be interested to know that the case of Butoke was featured to illustrate good practice in grassroots development in “Civil Society and Aid Effectiveness Case Book” produced for the Advisory Group on Civil Society and Aid Effectiveness, for circulation at the Accra High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness from Sept. 2-4, 2008.  The Butoke case was one of 26 featured in the Case Book from all over the world.  Attached is the text of the case study.  

In His Love,

Cecile, Jean and Lazare

Cecile De Sweemer MD DrPH

Consultante Butoke

2,av Malandji Biancki Kananga

Kasai Occidental, Congo


tel 00243997442720


Contributions in Canada can be sent  through Real Lavergne, Canadian International Development Agency, 200 Promenade du Portage, Gatineau, Quebec, Canada, K1A  0G4.  Contributions in 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 PC for Butoke may be tax deductible in the U. S. A.  Contributions in the UK can be sent  through Paul Evans, 5 Westville Ave., Ilkley, LS29  9AH, United Kingdom.

Ed. Note:  Cecile’s report includes a detailed census of 11 sites in the territory of Luiza to which people driven from Angola in 2008 have fled as of 8/20/2008.