Butoke update, Christmas Eve, 2006 to January 2, 2007
Christmas Eve, 2006
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
My trip to the USA and Canada from 13 November to 16 December was eventful. It started as a search for eye care, it ended up being as well as an occasion to share with many audiences the needs of Congo and a major effort to find institutional support for Butoke for the next three years.
Eye care was needed as macular degeneration had blinded me in the right eye. With the help of Dr Bradley Sach, an appointment had been obtained at Johns Hopkins. I was in one day diagnosed and treated with laser. Within 24h I had about 60% of the visual field back, ever since it has been improving. It feels as a little miracle. I am grateful to God and all the people involved.
The sharing about Congo happened in parishes in Maryland and Delaware, in interested NGOs and CIDA in Ottawa, Montreal, Oshawa and Toronto, and before members of the OCHA Committee for Humanitarian Activities in DR Congo of the UN in New York. Everywhere the presentations were very well received, it confirmed to me that Africa and RD Congo in particular are still in the hearts of many people and maybe some meaningful help will come forward. I wish to thank all the people who assisted me and who attended the presentations, may God bless you. May God bless the outcome of the efforts consented.
I have been back in this time zone for the last 10 days, of which 24h in Belgium, but I am still struggling with jetlag and the impact of the difference in temperature (Ottawa – 12C, Kananga 30 C) and I developed a light case of malaria. I am also re-entering the struggle to relieve utter misery face to face and find joy in small victories, while dreaming big of a better future for Western Kasai.
As most of you know the harvest has started in Western Kasai, in many associations beans have already been harvested, the harvest of peanuts has been started, but corn, soy, watermelon will be harvested sometime in January. Our fields for multiplication of cassava will also mature some time in January. In contrast with the rainy season of March to June, which was too short as the end came prematurely, this time the rains seem maintained beyond expectation and have been sufficient in most places, although in some places there was a dry spell of two weeks after an early onset. Where there was an early dry spell and sowing had been done there may be less harvest. The continuing rains are not threatening the harvests, but make harvesting the peanuts more hectic and the necessary drying of the peanuts is rendered more difficult. By January we will be able to update you on the outcome of what we still hope should be the biggest harvest in Butoke’s history.
The effective devaluation of the Congolese money (from 450 CF to 550 Cf per dollar) prior to the elections has been reversed partially, the going rate is now 520, so imported goods are somewhat more available and affordable. Fuel has become somewhat more affordable, so food is also more affordable. This combined with increased supplies from the beginning harvest seems responsible for the fact that we are receiving less new cases of severely malnourished children and are able to release some after full recovery.
Our action for health is progressing. Thanks to the generosity of Dr Bradley Sach we now have a proper medical microscope. We started the detection of malaria among our malnourished kids, who often have no symptoms even though infected. We found already three positive… We have started treating them. This tool will help to treat with more sensitivity and specificity given the confusing symptoms, especially with the malnourished. It will also be much less costly than referring everyone for tests.
We still have 12 children who are resident in our center as they came from far, 5 among them are severe cases and 7 are moderately malnourished siblings of the severe cases. We also care for 52 moderately malnourished coming from the immediate environment. For more than a month we have not received severe cases from the immediate environment. After all we are nearing the end of the so called season of witches……
No sooner had I written this, then I was called for a child called Kunyima. He had just arrived from Kananga in the throes of death, He is 18 months, about normal height but only 5,7 kg (12.5 pounds) about 50% of weight for height and even less for age. He can no longer walk nor sit independently. Marasmic, dehydrated, not eating since 1 month, even incapable of swallowing liquids. When he tries to swallow all regurgitates with a mass of puss. He also has a fever of 38.5 C or 101.3 F.I suspect a post pharyngeal abscess and maybe malaria and anemia. So we refer him immediately as an emergency to IMCK. We will follow up from now on to be sure he is cared for and does not slip into death for lack of appropriate care. If he survives the first few days he will probably make it and become one of our resident children until full recovery from the malnutrition.
4 hours later
We spent the last hours seeking to get all tests and treatments carried out for Kunyima. The hospital is frightfully understaffed because of the holidays. So I did all the errands for tests and drugs myself. Tests showed severe malaria, and severe anemia necessitating transfusion, and give to suspect pharyngitis or a post pharyngeal abscess. Rehydration is being done through a nasopharyngeal intubation. Antibiotics and quinine have been given through an intravenous route. Hope to find a donor by tomorrow as I am not eligible as I am under treatment for malaria and all other colleagues are the wrong blood group……
7 am Kunyima is alive. A transfusion has been done, the body temperature is down to normal, Now we need to manage special feeding through the naso-gastric route, until he can swallow. We continue to pray that the child may live.
This has been a worthwhile Christmas gift.
Let me take up again reporting. On the education front we can say that even though school fees have been increased we were able to pay for 665 orphans and abandoned children in primary and secondary school and we sponsor also partially 18 in post secondary and university. In September and October, the school year was disturbed by the second round of elections but since then the schools seem able to teach. In Canada, we discussed the possibility of collaboration with a Canadian NGO on reinforcing pedagogical skills and curriculum content in primary schools and also in the agricultural section of the secondary schools. We hope this will come to fruition.
Jean has left to supervise the harvesting and start the planning for the next season. It feels we are at a new beginning in truth. We thank wholeheartedly all who have been supporting us in 2006, by their work, their prayer or their financial support. We hope all of you have also had a joyful Christmas and a happy New Year. May God find us united in the coming year to work even at a bigger scale for the welfare and the development of the most disinherited here in Western Kasai and elsewhere in the world.
Kunyima is alive and gaining strength even though still feverish.
We all realize that we need to work hard to make the Congolese colleagues, especially Dr Jean Lumbala independent of my presence. No, not that I plan to leave or feel that I might die soon, but they have a right to grow in their own and I do feel that I need already a bit more rest than before, even though not yet excessively so. So that asks we take time out for the necessary learning.
We are at a crucial time for Butoke. It either will fully take off as a major player in the province and be recognized as such, or it may crash. The vision of covering the whole province with integrated rural development is strong, but its challenges are at least commensurate especially given the very difficult logistics and the need to keep a close eye on all activities for quality and honesty.
No sooner was this written or we received a mighty reminder of the challenges of development, especially while trying to improve equity is a struggle. In the village of Lutempa about 30 km from Tshikaji, one of the associations had started last Thursday its joyful harvest of peanuts. A few hours into the harvest a local chief came to the field and out of the blue demanded a major share of the harvest. Traditionally farmers offer at the end of a harvest a small share to the local chief as a sign of respect. So the president of the association asked the chief to be patient, wait until the full harvest was in and Dr Jean Lumbala could note the harvest and decide with the association how to share the harvest. The chief went into a rage, had the wife and child of the president badly beaten up, cursed the harvest and promised to strike lightening on the members as well as have them arrested for rebellion.
Both these threats are to be taken seriously as our experience shows. Our agronomist sent us an urgent message asking Dr Jean would go to protect the people and the harvest. Dr Jean has taken all the targeted people to a safe place and will get the courts to take up the case soon, for death threats and physical harm. Moreover, once the courts are on the case he will also get the grand chiefs who are our honorary members involved in instructing the chiefs. The hope is that will take care also of the harvest and will deter possible imitators in other villages. Pray we find the best strategy to prevent recurrences.
I hope this news finds you well and happy. Please know I am very grateful for the help you extended to make the operation possible and your continuing interesting Butoke’s efforts.
May God bless you. Much love!
Jean, Cecile and Lazare
Cecile De Sweemer MD DrPH
2,av Malandji Biancki Kananga
Kasai Occidental, Congo