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Butoke update, June 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

You have not heard from us for a long while now.  In February and March we were engaged in the planting of the secondary season, the visit by Julia Cornish from AIM (African International Mission) and our trip to Belgium and Canada seeking support for our full program in food security, health and nutrition, education, human rights for 2007, and beyond.

In April we came back to Congo to follow up a number of proposals, first and foremost the program proposal with the Canadian Consortium of NGOs and CIDA; with UNICEF on water, sanitation and nutrition in Luiza and Tshikapa, two remote territories which have an acute problem of forcible migration out of Angola, with FAO on the same issue of  food security.  This became a wild goose chase, with the acceptance of projects many times coming close, but subjected  to ever new conditions, the latest being that we need to be able to do a situation analysis at our own cost before the proposals will be considered.  No one seems to have a reliable view of what exists, what migrants were added, in what state of destitution, nor what the available local resources are.  Logic demands dealing with the emergency first and finding the other information progressively through action research; but that leaves huge bureaucracies very uncomfortable.  So we need about $3000 to accomplish a two to three week exploration and survey in some detail, who the migrants are and where they are, what the situation is for the migrants and the villagers for food security, nutrition, water and sanitation, but it would (95% probability) roughly yield grants of about $300,000 for people who are otherwise forgotten.  We know this is not a normal domain for charitable giving, but please help us and the return to these neglected populations will be tremendous. Both Jean and Cecile will take part in the survey and situation analysis which should be both qualitative and quantitative.

We held on 27 April our first General Assembly.  We had 394 participants including 29 women.   Most everyone came on foot, some from a 100km distance. We regretted members from further away could not make it.  Everyone seemed in the best of moods, for a big family meeting. We had planned for “chai” and two meals during the day, an unheard of luxury these days. The food added to the atmosphere of joviality.

The assembly had lively debates about the past year’s activities of Butoke and gave suggestions for the current and coming year. No surprises, as they confirmed the areas of intervention and sought mostly intensification of the activities in food security, education and health.

The GA confirmed Dr Jean Lumbala as Executive Director and Reverend Lazare Tshibuabua as Administrative Secretary.

The GA discussed the selection of a Board.  There was quite a bit of apprehension that a Board would spoil our bottom up approach, would render the executives powerless, would cause its own expenses, might turn out to be corrupt.  We insisted that to be able to develop further and have international credibility we needed a credible Board.   The assembly voted unanimously in a burst of enthusiasm that Dr. Cecile be the President of the Board. This was seen as a warranty that the Board would strengthen Butoke and its ethos. Board members as proposed by the executive were subsequently all accepted . To our great joy the majority are Congolese by origin even if almost half have acquired other nationalities. We hope and pray this will mean the Board will have a strong realism together with unambiguous solidarity.

Health and nutrition:  In April and May we have been under assault because of growing hunger in the population. Children of 5-15 years old kept turning up with very severe stunting and wasting. The stunting is an expression of months sometimes years of hunger. The wasting is often due to a combination of deepening hunger and added infection. Currently we have 12 resident kids and 71 coming thrice a day. We experienced also 3 deaths of malnourished kids. Currently we also feed 12 destitute elderly. Besides feeding there is IEC on nutrition and child raising practices. These activities rely heavily on the AIM CIDA ongoing grant, and on contributions by ADRA and Help the Aged.

All severely malnourished children are treated for malaria and parasitosis, and given a broad spectrum antibiotic as most diseases remain symptomless with them. Among the malnourished kids were 4 cases of Burkitt’s lymphoma . The lymphomas are endemic but seem most frequent in this hunger season. They disfigure the face in a most grotesque way, they are fatal if untreated, but can easily be treated and cured in 90%+ with antimitotica that are financially out of reach of the population.

 In the last two months, we have had many very severe health cases: 5 meningitis, of which 3 are adults, 4 cases of AIDS, 3 breast cancer,, one in the late stage, 4 cervix cancer, of which 2 are in too late a stage, one sarcoma of the ankle, three tetanus cases,  two children of 12 years  with permanent fractures of the thigh, one child also with osteomyelitis carried here 550km.  We have the whole garden variety of neglected malaria and diarrhea and ARI in agony, dehydration,  broken bones because of a fall out of a tree, 5 children intoxicated with traditional medicines, 3  adults in coma because of hunger, etc., as well as some ongoing cases of typhoid with perforations.  Adults and children kept turning up with severe hypoglycaemia, severe anaemia up to heart failure.

 The epidemiological picture is different from the September to December “season of the witches” where kwashiorkor, malaria, and typhoid predominate and victims tend to be younger, mostly under 5.

 Thanks to a donation for health of $4000, we took on all the cases that presented themselves, so far, 14 severe wasting cases and more than the 3000 medical and surgical cases that came to us between February and May. We undertook for the first time to assist the cancers that were still in curable state. The hardest task was locating the right antimitotica in time as they are rare both here and in Kinshasa and prices fluctuate wildly with demand.

 The whole exercise has left us physically and emotionally exhausted and burdened by debts to the IMCK Hospital in particular. But we give glory to God that many were saved and those still under treatment seem to do well. We truly seem to be able to reach the hopeless, help them physically, but also help them to actively seek solutions and understand God and life in a different way.

 Again please those so able, let us have some funds for health care. Normally we have covered this area from my pension funds and general contributions. We are trying to determine how much we owe as several institutions are involved and are slow on producing bills.

 As mentioned before, since November we have been negotiating a new Canadian grant that would cover about ½ of past monthly costs on health during 2 years and permit us to organise our own pharmacy and lab, which would reduce costs considerably, especially for ambulant care.

 Costs for health care of our beneficiaries have been escalating for many reasons.

·       We see now many more cases, about 800 a month.

·       We see many more severe cases, for example we have had during the last month cases of AIDS, TB, Burkitt lymphoma among kids, and breast and cervix cancers.

·       People are in a hunger season and cannot pay hospital charges

·       Some hospitals seem to double charges when there is third party payment (we are trying to negotiate if not possible to avoid them)

·       Finally hospital charges are escalating as occupancy rates fall

 On education:   The main activity has been to pay charges, equip and prepare everyone for final exams. All the 665 orphans and abandoned children are still in the running.

 On human rights:   We have several interesting cases.  Remember here no death is considered natural or accidental.  Each death is supposed to be willed by someone with power to kill by witchcraft.  Just two examples show well how complex the human rights cases are, and how imbedded they are in collective myths.

One is a young boy of 15 years, named Lumbala (no kin to Dr. Jean) He has the height of a 10 year old and wasted, severely malnourished even though a member of a chieftaincy family. He accuses himself of being a sorcerer and uses his weak state as the proof that he is a sorcerer and is unforgiven. The only objective proof he brings is that he accepted the counsel of  “enemies” of his grandpa, who was a retired chief to challenge the old man by  grasping the same ball of bidia as himself. The old man furiously chased him from home at this traditional challenge, which was understood to mean his power was challenged. Somewhat later grandpa died and the boy was designated by the community as the person who sacrificed the man. Never mind that the fact the chief had retired probably shows he was ill to begin with.  The boy accepted he was the cause of the death and had dreams he was trying to eat grandpa but could not swallow him.  In his own eyes and that of the community and family he is a sorcerer and merits to die soon.

We have started pastoral counselling, nutritional rehabilitation and social rehabilitation. Others deny his right to life and they have him convinced to do the same.  He has been a pawn in a village power struggle using symbolic threats.  It is a fascinating study in creation of “maya” realities that take on their own life.  We will persevere in a spiritual struggle to free him of the collective maya and forgive himself and accept God’s forgiveness for a deed that symbolically took on huge dimensions even though in itself it had little impact.

The second case is a 28 year old AIDS widow, HIV+, named Mujinga.  She has 5 children, none are +.  Her husband was a bigamous trader in diamonds.  She was tortured as she was designated by a church leader as the witch that sacrificed her husband.  All their possessions, land, houses, jewels, clothes and furniture were confiscated by the in-laws.  She and “her” children were chased away after his death.  She is weakened by the shock of it all and possibly by the HIV.  She has no idea of her rights, is paranoid as she expects everyone to shun her.   She wavers in her care of “his” children.

We try to save her life, counsel her on care of the children and get her ready to demand recognition of her rights on the property as well as seek to get her ready to become the provider for them all. She is pitiful as well as still enclosed in self pity. But with God’s help it may work. We think the second case may need to lead to a court case, which should be highly publicised as it may set a precedent.

Food Security:  Preparation for the main season 2007 is in full swing and new associations seek to affiliate. We will have the capacity to expand at once, if we can gather enough resources to supply seeds and tools. That will largely depend on the fate reserved to the proposal by a consortium of Canadian NGOs as our ongoing AIM CIDA grant will barely suffice for minimal activities. The original AIM CIDA Budget of the ongoing project was revised twice, because we consumed the first year about CAD 250.000 due to rapid expansion.  Currently we have barely CAD 5000 per month planned, mailed every two months.  If  the new project comes on line, it will all be regrouped.  The new project would in fact reflect all aspects of what we normally have undertaken, with expansion of all of the areas in terms of variety of activities. The proposal is in the hands of 6 NGOs that desire to collaborate and will be submitted to CIDA very soon.   It would bring about USD 550,000 in two years. This is what we pray and wait for, since November.  So we work some more on proposals and hope God and people of good will will care.

In His love

Jean and Cecile


Cecile De Sweemer MD DrPh

Presidente CA Butoke

BP106 Kananga

Kasai Occidental, Congo


tel  00243810144357


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.