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Butoke update, Dec. 28, 2008

December 25, 2008:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

It is Christmas and above all, we wish you and your family peace and good health and a constant awareness of God‘s love. Having enough resources to be assured of survival is the constant prayer of most Congolese.  Please let us pray with them for “daily bread.”

Both Dr. Jean and I have been very much involved with the potential Ebola epidemic. You may remember there was a confirmed epidemic of Ebola from April to October, 2007. This time the index case happened 17 November and since then there have been 33 new cases with 9 deaths.  It has found the Ministry of Health unprepared; WHO without stock; even UNICEF with limited supplies. So we have tried to stop gaps at least temporarily hoping that within 1 or 2 weeks everyone will be ready.  Local labs seem incapable of diagnosing what the exact diagnostic is. The different bureaucracies seem ill prepared to react rationally and timely on a deadly disease without name.  Butoke continues to serve as memory of last year’s experience, to reinforce planning capacity and prime the pump by putting transfusion equipment at disposal, and by providing essential drugs in a quantity sufficient for about 10-16 days. We pray everyone wakes up fully to the urgency to help the people stop the epidemic before more die unnecessarily.

We have had two rites of passage within our programmatic activities; one for education and one for the protection of human rights.

ü      Education, after many hesitations has a coordinator, Soeur Henriette, who has a double masters in Education and Psychology and teaches Psychology at the undergraduate level. Again, with great difficulty, she identified two inspectors of primary schools, willing and able to conceive manuals for teachers of first and second grade about how to teach oral French, quantitative skills and peace to children 6-9 years old.  The manuals have been written and produced and 10 schools of the Commune Nganza in and around Tshikaji  have been identified and asked to send the teachers for a 10 day workshop on this. The workshop started with a pretest on which the teachers on the average scored only 2.5 out of 10. This is worse than expected but has reinforced the will to make a double effort, so we will prolong the workshop for three days during which the teachers will restate what they learned to their own group and the directors of the 10 schools.

The goal beyond improving the quality of teaching in the selected schools which teach more than 250 orphans we sponsor is to challenge other schools and the inspectors to use the same manuals and similarly improve teaching.

ü      Regarding our work on protection of human rights we have had a hard time constituting a team and choosing strategy and tactics, but we are happy to report we seem to have finally come to the point where we have decided to defend the rights of women, children and persons living with a handicap. The team grew and selected itself through months of tackling individual cases.  The team has now about 7 men and 4 women under the leadership of Rev. Lazare Tshibuabua.  Five of the men are clergy of different historical churches.  As legal counsel we have David Kampagnaya.  Dr Jean Lumbala and myself will continue to serve as primary sources of care in cases of physical harm.  We have a blind, highly motivated, well-educated man, Gregoire Kazadi, taking part.  The women are a nurse and a nurse teacher, an ex-nun agronomist and an undergraduate law student.

The team has decided to go very public through fora with church leadership of all denominations and radio broadcasts . We want to actively encourage denunciation of cases as one means of conscientisation.  Given local customs and practices, this is harder than it may seem to foreigners.  Victims tend to be denigrated locally, especially victims of sexual aggression.  The first forum will be held on 29th December with the leadership of women’s associations in the churches,  youth associations and men’s associations first in Kananga 2 and  soon also in other neighborhoods of Kananga and Luiza.  These fora will be accompanied by radio broadcasts based on case studies.

The first case we will use happened recently.  A young woman born blind, had refused sexual contact with two men.  Days before they had attacked her in broad daylight and torn off her clothes.   Some friendly people had taken her home.  At 9pm on 21st she was alone on the street and was savagely beaten by the same two men.  She needed medical care after the beating.  Even though she cried for help no one came to her rescue.  Handicapped women are often abused sexually and or beaten.  The hope is that we can stem an epidemic of violence, rape, based on a lack of recognition that women, handicapped and children have rights.

Our activities in agriculture, nutrition, water and sanitation, and health are in full swing. You may remember that locally September thru December is considered the season of witches probably because of the high mortality. Many adults and even many more children die from malnutrition and anemia combined with malaria. Daily we receive new cases and have had to hospitalize at IMCK 2-3 cases for transfusion. They arrive often with only 3 gr percent hemoglobin (normal is 15 gr percent, 10 gr percent is the limit between normal and anemia). One can but wonder how these kids can cling to life.

I just received an urgent phone call from a colleague in UNICEF:  the epidemic of Ebola is confirmed and we are asked to collaborate further in stemming the tide.

I leave you temporarily.  God bless and protect you.

December 28, 2008:

It is Sunday and Dr. Jean and two nurses, Andre and Francois, are on their way to the epicenter of Ebola in Kampungu and Kaluamba, to organize the psychosocial support of the victims and their families. In fact, this was never taken care of during the first epidemic and about 400 orphans have been left drifting out of school and often homeless. Our team will try to identify the old cases and the new ones as well as identify their needs and whatever local system of care that might exist.

At 75 km from Kananga they found on the road 3 kids (5, 6 and 13 years old) walking alone, orphans seeking to join their family 100km away, all three with kwashiorkor.  They are now with our team who will try to unite them with their family if possible at least for the time they will need to spend in the epicenter.  But the region is amongst the poorest, so Dr. Jean will leave a supply of milk hoping the milk will be reserved for the kids.  We can but try within a very difficult context, with God’s help.  If the children are still alive and not yet recovered when Dr Jean returns, he will bring them to Tshikaji for refeeding and possible settling down.

We wish you a Happy New Year

Rev. Lazare Tshibuabua, Dr. Jean Lumbala and Dr. Cecile De Sweemer


Contributions to Butoke in Canada can be sent through Réal 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 PC for Butoke may be tax deductible in the USA. Contributions in the UK can be sent through Paul Evans, 5 Westville Ave., Ilkley, LS29 9AH, United Kingdom.

Please note:  All contributions to Butoke which come through Cecile DeSweemer’s United States checking account are acknowledged individually by Branch and Dickens Warfield at the time they are sent to Cecile in the Congo.  We also inform her of each donor’s contribution, so she is well aware of the generosity of so many of you.  She cannot acknowledge all gifts herself, since, as she put it in a recent email, she works from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.  The Warfields are hoping to assumer this task for her.  Cecile feels grateful and blessed by all of your gifts.