Walking With the Poor in Kamina, DR Congo

“In my family, we do not wonder any more. We know that food is—and will be—coming, with success from the fields,” reports Mr. Faustine Monga Wa Ilunga. He is president of the Shungu Community Health Workers, volunteers trained for the outreach program of the Shungu Health Clinic in Kamina, DR Congo. Monga’s testimony was translated by John Nday, Ministry with the Poor project manager in Kamina.

“Ministry with the Poor, through its agricultural program, has brought stability for my family and for me, in my mission as a community volunteer,” Monga continues. “During the September 2011 harvest, we had enough food at home—plus some to sell, which helped pay my four kids’ school fees. Because the project has given me social and spiritual stability, I’m also able to reliably accomplish my work as a Shungu Community Health Worker volunteer.”

It has taken time for Monga and his colleagues to reach this point. UMCOR’s Integrated Development Project—known as Ministry with the Poor in Kamina—is now in its third year of implementation. But UMCOR’s relationship with the people of Kamina and the DR Congo extends further back. UMCOR’s Sustainable Agriculture & Development (UMCOR-SA&D) program has been working in the country since 2003, and the UMCOR-DRC (NGO) field office was established in 2002. The United Methodist Church in the DR Congo has been active all along. During the 1997-2003 civil war, United Methodists—particularly in the North Katanga Conference, where Kamina is located—cared for many displaced Congolese, along with refugees from Burundi and Rwanda.

Legacies of War

Congo’s civil war brought changes to the country far beyond its name change from Zaire to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo). The country suffered massive population displacement and widespread economic collapse. Violence against women escalated; rape was strategically used as a weapon of war. Even today, almost a full decade after the war’s official end, the DR Congo has one of the world’s highest infant mortality rates. The Global Health Index of 2011estimates that 70 percent of the population is chronically undernourished. The triple miseries of malnutrition, disease, and poverty have woven a deadly web around the Congolese people.

Food is desperately needed, but sick or weakened bodies cannot digest it. And people who recover—thanks to health practitioners and medicines, when available—get sick again because their home water supply is contaminated. Mosquitoes and other disease-bearing insects that breed in stagnant pools flourish because the country’s water and sanitation systems have either broken down or never existed. Dr. Guy Kasanka, a Congolese United Methodist missionary who works in Kamina, says malaria is his patients’ most common disease—deadly because malnourishment saps their ability to fight it.

The Congolese government invests very little—by some estimates, only 1 percent—in agriculture. Although the soil is fertile, only 3 percent is arable, and 77 percent is undeveloped forest land. Most of the country’s food is imported and unaffordable to the poor. The government invests in the extraction of the Congo’s rich minerals, yet half the mining operations are controlled by armed groups. The majority of Congolese receives no income or benefit from mining.

The North Katanga Province is located in the southeastern corner of the DR Congo. Because of the devastating conflict, most of the people in this area have lost their land, crops, and animals. Food security is a major concern. According to UNICEF, half a million children under age 5 die each year in the DR Congo, and 31percent of children under age 5 are underweight. Health-care facilities are crumbling, and there are severe shortages of supplies, equipment, and medicines.

Nyamah Dunbar, who once oversaw the Kamina project, now serves as UMCOR’s Imagine No Malaria director. She has visited a number of United Methodist health facilities in the DR Congo. “Our medical professionals are very hard-working and dedicated,” she reports. “I have seen doctors perform surgery by candlelight when there is no electricity and few supplies and drugs. They have great faith. They know it’s up to God whether a patient lives or dies. They have nothing else to rely on—just their own skill and God.”

An Integrated Model

Despite many sobering statistics, North Katanga also has its strengths. It has a growing United Methodist population, a strong bishop in Nkulu Ntanda Ntambo, and a strong health board chaired by Dr. Kasanka. Many of the medical needs there are met by United Methodist medical facilities and personnel. The conference administers Kabongo Hospital, north of Kamina, and a clinic in Nyembo Umpungu. In Kamina, the church operates Shungu Health Clinic, the Lapandilo Nursing School, and the ISTM Medical School. Since 1982, the Swiss UMC and, more recently, US United Methodist Women have supported a nutrition center for children.

Bishop Ntambo is a strong supporter of development efforts in his country. In 2000, he sent two representatives to the Community-based Comprehensive Health Care training in Jamkhed, India. They returned and trained community health workers in North Katanga. Kamina now has 30 such volunteer health workers working out of the Shungu Health Clinic.

The church’s task in the DR Congo—working with UMCOR, nonprofit agencies, and US conference and congregation partners—is to beat the triple miseries of malnutrition, disease, and poverty. The Ministry with the Poor initiative began with an integrated focus on improvements in three life-giving areas: agriculture and nutrition; clean water and sanitation; and health.

Improving Community Health

Shannon Trilli was assigned to direct UMCOR’s work with Imagine No Malaria (INM) for two years and currently serves as the director for UMCOR Health. She explained how an integrated model works. “We can’t address poverty by hitting just one issue, like health or food,” she says, “because poverty is interconnected with so many other things. The more you can hit at one time, the more of a knockout punch you can deliver.” She described Imagine No Malaria as an example of how a shift in perspective can provide leverage to meet other needs.

“We started with the 30 community health workers in Kamina,” Trilli explained. “Part of the Imagine No Malaria campaign was to train them in treatment and prevention methods for malaria....[which] cannot be controlled just by distributing nets....UMCOR Health adds training in AIDS prevention, maternal and child survival, midwifery, and nutrition.”

The volunteer workers used what they learned to make a real difference in the health of the community. Nyamah Dunbar reports that Imagine No Malaria accomplished a 77,000 universal net distribution in Kamina in February 2012. Coordinated by UMCOR-DRC, volunteers went door-to-door, distributing three nets to each family. INM funds also address standing water, where mosquitos breed. Bishop Ntambo and the North Katanga UMC initiated clean-up of the Kamina drainage ditches to relieve standing and pooling water conditions.

Local Agriculture and Hunger

June Kim, who directs UMCOR’s World Hunger/Poverty and UMCOR-SA&D programs, also serves as the UMCOR staff coordinator for the Kamina initiative. In general, crops grown in the DR Congo include maize, sesame, peanuts, sweet potato, cowpea, and cassava. “Cassava is a staple food that curbs hunger, but it lacks essential nutrients,” Kim said. So, the UMCOR-SA&D program stepped in with World Hunger/Poverty funding for the Ministry with the Poor project, bringing its Farmer Field Service and train-the-trainer philosophy. The 30 community health workers received UMCOR-SA&D instruction in better, more sustainable and economically affordable agricultural techniques. Moringa and soybean were introduced for cultivation to address nutrition.

John Nday, the Kamina project manager, says: “The rate of child mortality has been significantly reduced in most communities where Moringa and soybean have been promoted. Before the UMCOR-SA&D intervention, people of the Fukuy, Lweji, and Kyavye neighborhoods told us 80 percent of the deaths in their communities were deaths of children. Such deaths are most likely from anemia, and, according to our community health workers, caused by malnutrition.”

Mr. Monga confirms Nday’s observations. During recent family visits, he saw five children with kwashiorkor (severe protein malnutrition in children). He spent more time with these families, explaining how to treat malnutrition using soybeans and Moringa as food. Moringa trees grow quickly and can be planted in backyards. “Before, I was not able to do anything with cases of kwashiorkor,” Monga admits. “There are big changes in my work since I joined this project.”

UMCOR-DRC, with funding from USDA, implemented a food security program in Kamina in 2004. The program provided seeds, tools, and training for program beneficiaries. One goal of the program was to help the residents turn agriculture produce into marketable products. UMCOR procured five VitaGoat machines that process soybeans into soymilk, tofu, and other products. The VitaGoat system can also process fruits and vegetables to make sauces and juices, and grain can be made into flour or meal.

UMCOR-SA&D has also conducted training with other groups in Kamina. Agricultural training and the introduction of traction animals on a nearby military base enabled military families to increase their farm yields enough to feed themselves and to sell. This has resulted in a marked decrease in the soldiers’ attempts to coerce food from Kamina’s residents, improving the area’s safety and security.

Water and Sanitation

According to UNICEF, 71 percent of the population in the DR Congo has no access to adequate sanitation facilities, and over half lack access to safe drinking water. Water resources in the North Katanga region have not been harnessed into potable water for household use. There are few boreholes.

Safe, clean water can be achieved in many ways. The community health workers are trying different methods to discover what works best. They are testing the development of locally manufactured bio-sand water filters that can be marketed to the local population. Volunteers are currently conducting community training on the importance of safe drinking water. Cisterns or borehole wells may also be completed, as funding permits. The UMCOR-DRC has constructed six wells in the past two years and plans two more in 2012.

Proper sanitation facilities are part of water-resource management. Latrines have been built in some public places, such as at Kamina Methodist  University, Shungu Health  Clinic, and local schools.

A Journey Over Time

June Kim often reminds United Methodists that long-term sustainable development is a slow process. “It is an accompaniment process,” she says. “It can take 10 years or more, if we want to make a lasting difference, minimize dependency, and maximize existing potential.” Sustainable development blossoms over time. It is built on a relationship based on mutual respect and understanding. “We look at poverty through a different lens when using an asset-based development approach,” Kim explained.

Even in a community devastated by conflict, such as Kamina, a development approach that includes education, a shift away from ineffective traditional practices, and practical, tangible benefits can work by using resources the community can sustain on its own. Ultimately, it is the intangible assets, such as personal growth and increased knowledge, that make the most difference. “We’ve seen this work in Liberia,” Kim adds, “even in times of war. Materials, buildings, tools—all can disappear in violent conflict. But knowledge—no one can take that from us. With whatever little resources we have, we can plant again and accentuate the yields.”

An integrated approach doesn’t necessarily mean that all aspects of development happen at once. Technological advances sometimes have to wait for community advocacy and literacy to catch up. “Development is a learning process,” Kim said. “The sustainable and better processes are not always immediately accepted by the culture—but the church doesn’t walk away. Every context is different, and we keep learning.”

Community health workers strengthen their capacity to address the health needs of their community by gaining new skills in agriculture, primary health care, and safe water and sanitation practices. This prepares them to serve as change agents within their community, leading by example. “There is still much to do in Kamina, and UMCOR and our partners will be there,” said Kim, “working with the people and the church in Kamina beyond this three-year project. Eventually, the communities themselves will be better equipped to chart their own future.”

Christie R. House is the editor of New World Outlook, the Mission Magazine of the United Methodist Church. This article originally appeared in the May/June 2012 issue of New World Outlook, a mission study on Poverty.

The Kamina Ministry with the Poor project can be supported with gifts to Integrated Community Development, Advance #3021301.



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