Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Chipulukusu School

Lots of good things are happening at the Chipulukusu school! The enrollment is up to 291 and they have capped registration knowing they cannot handle more children. They hold two sessions everyday – one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

I was super impressed with the way the teachers have organized the program. They are now giving the children an exam (I obtained a copy) at the end of each term. In the past a 50% pass rate allowed the child to progress to the next term. The teachers themselves have determined that a 50% standard is too low and they are planning to raise it to 60% and eventually to 70%. They have created a nice form to track each student's test results.

They have now completed weighing and measuring all of the children for the second term. In reviewing the report I noticed most of the children had gained 1 or 2 kgs (2.2 lbs = 1 kg). There were several, however that had lost 3 - 5 kgs in weight. A huge loss! The teachers said the children who had lost weight had been very sick. They are now back in school however and recovering.

We continue to hear sad stories about the orphans. One of the teachers told me some of the orphans are kept home from school to work and make money. They are told if you don't work you can't have food. Those children especially want to come to school because they know they will receive a good lunch.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Congo is still Congo

We're back in Zambia after having the usual always unpredictable Congo experience. Crossing the border today the immigration officials spent an hour pouring over our passports and aha! they found my passport had not been stamped out when I went into Congo. What to do??? They finally decided the clerk who failed to stamp it needed to come fix it. But he was off today. Finally they decided to call him and bring him from home. He ultimately arrived and after hemming and hawing around for another hour we were released. Such efficiency just takes my breath away!

The Wasaidizi health workers were amazing as usual. The Dr. from Kaboka came down to Lubumbashi to meet with us. He said one of their biggest problems right now is malaria. it is especially deadly for the pregnant women who become anemic and hemorrhage during childbirth as well as for the children under 5 who have no immunity. For the cost of $3 a mosquito net can be purchased and a whole family sleep under it. I think we have a new project to pursue!

We visit the Kasompe school tomorrow. They have finished putting new floors in the classrooms and painting the walls inside and out. We understand the parts for the new desks are made but not yet assembled. Things are moving albeit slowly. We're eager to meet with the teachers tomorrow and get an update.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Triplet baby update

Now we remember why we've never liked to cross the border into Congo at Kasumbalesa! We had a long circuitous route between and behind buildings to find the office to stamp us out of Zambia. That went relatively well after we found the right place. Then the fun (??) began! We were escorted into a small room where the immigration officer began examining every page of our well traveled passports. Beside him seated on a grubby floor littered with trash were 5 young men tied together with rubber strap handcuffs. We have no idea what that was about. After enduring the loooong examination of our passports, he decided we needed to obtain photocopies of 2 pages in our passports for him to keep. So our good friend Kasongo who met us at the border scurried off to get the copies. When he returned it was decided we needed to go to another room. So we trooped into another little room with a new immigration officer. He even sent for his big boss to come. Together they decided we needed a letter of invitation to enter the country -- never mind that we had already spent $75 for a visa! So our friend Kasongo patiently wrote a letter of invitation for each of us. Then, surprise! They needed extra copies so again Kasongo hustled off to get copies. They finally released us and said we needed to have our yellow cards checked at the health area. We were concerned about this since my yellow fever vaccination had expired and my doctor recommended I not receive another one for health reasons. I did have an official letter from the doctor explaining this and they loved the letter head, official stamp, etc. and praised the letter. What a relief! Then they looked at Jac's. Oh, my, they did not like what they saw. His vaccination had not expired but the last entry said he had received a booster which they pointed out "was not the real thing." Three hours after the saga began and $10 later we were finally allowed to leave. I'm sure they were disappointed they did not intimidate us into a higher bribe.

After we arrived in Lubumbashi, we met with our good friend Chama Chola that has delivered many many babies in the Congo. We asked about the triplets she so heroically delivered last year and she said it was sad news. There were two boys and a girl. One little boy died at 2 months and the other one died at 8 months. The little girl, however, is doing well. So much for the weaker sex theory!! Chola said she thought the problem was primarily related to the mother's inability to feed 3 babies since she was not well nourished herself. We were sad to hear all 3 babies did not make it but we're still so proud of Chama for doing her part and bringing them safely into the world. Lots of other stories to tell but they will have to wait....

Monday, June 20, 2011

Stories of the Kafwa

We flew from Malawi to Zambia and had lots of updates from the Kafwa when we met. They had a meeting a few weeks ago with over 40 of the orphans from the Chipulukusu school. The children shared their stories and the Kafwa said some of the stories were so sad they had tears in their eyes. It was obvious the meeting was painful for Kafwas as well. Some of the single orphans that live with their widowed mothers have good support. Some of the double orphans, however, are seen as burdens and treated unkindly and even abused. According to the Kafwa they are not always allowed to come to school because they are sent to fetch water, do chores, etc. Sometimes they are refused food and even beaten. So, so sad! The Kafwa did follow up visits to 18 homes hoping to gain guardian support for the Child Support Specialist program. When we told them Kelsey, one of the members of the January training team was hoping to return some day, they clapped and said, "Send her back, we need her."

We are leaving for the Congo today. Hopefully we will not have too many problems crossing the border. They always seem to find ways to make it difficult. We'll check back in with you when we have internet connection again.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


We ended the training on a super high note! Our closing service had lots of singing and dancing and was fun for everyone. They loved the aprons that the women from Washington had so lovingly prepared for them. Our one man, Browne, was pleased that extra fabric had been sent for him to have a shirt made to match. The bracelet kits sent from the California women's retreat were lovingly made and the product proudly worn. They all proudly wore the HealthEd Connect shirts that we had given them the night before. They especially loved the shirts because they're not use to the cool nights by the Lake and they helped keep them warm.

Jac gave a short talk telling them about his first visit to Malawi before the church was established. They now have 61 congregations! A good little history lesson for them. They had written and sang a little song about me and my first training session with them in Malawi. They were all excited to receive the all important signed certificate saying they "graduated" from the training.

Our first activity together at the beginning of the week was to hang a large cloth with a picture of a baobob tree. There's a traditional African story that when people have a problem or want to plan together they gather under the baobob tree for discussions. Each of us taped a small colorful ball to the tree to signify our week of discussion together. As we ended our service the women sang and danced in a line while each one went to the tree and took her circle off to take home with her. They are now planting the fruit from our discussions.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Women's Secret Family Planning

We had a very lively session on Family Planning! When I began training in Malawi 20 years ago there were lots of giggles and whispers of embarrassment and few would ask questions about family planning. This time we couldn't shut them up! What a fun group.

The first person to offer a definition of family planning said, "The husband and wife sit down and discuss how many children they want and when they want them to be born." I said, "Do all of you have the cooperation of your husbands?" The room erupted with chatter and everyone taking at once. The bottom line was that virtually none of them felt their husbands wanted family planning or would even discuss it. When I asked how they handled that, they said by doing "Women's Secret Family Planning." Angela, one of our long-term workers from a very poor area said, "I just tell my husband I'm sick and need to go to the clinic. Then I write a letter and sign my husband's name to take with me saying he wants me to get family planning. At the clinic I choose a method he won't notice." There were lots of heads nodding that they do something similar. Some of the most popular methods were injections and the loop. One of the Sinkhani said a good method was to take a rope and tie 6 knots in it. You then put the knots around your waist so your husband has something to play with. When I asked "Does it work?" Everyone started laughing and said "No" but it is a traditional belief.

When I asked if condoms were common, they shook their heads no. Someone then said, "The men think that's like eating candy with the wrapper on."

We had a good follow-up discussion on HIV/AIDS and the role that condoms play in preventing the transmission. Lots of laughter and open sharing. What a long way they've come in the intervening years since the first training.

Monday, June 13, 2011

On the shores of Lake Malawi

We have 30 very excited health workers gathered for training at the shores of Lake Malawi. Very few of them have ever been this far from their villages so it is a BIG deal! We gave them the little paper bead-making kits that the women at the California Retreat prepared. They were very excited and are all proudly wearing their creations today. It took us 2 hours for each one to make 4 beads but we finally made it. We have one man Sinkhani, Brown. Interestingly, he was one of our best bead makers.

At church yesterday the pastor told the story of Moses calling the 70 men to help him. He said, the job is too big in Malawi for Jac and Sherri to do alone. That's why they are training the Sinkhani to help. One of the women said she was hoping to live a long time so she could be a Sinkhani for a long time. One of the Sinkhani brought her baby along and he began vomiting last night. I was eager to find her this morning to see how he was doing. He is an adorable 6 months old! I started talking to him and he cooed and smiled and babbled some more. I was relieved to find him bright eyed and alert.

The lesson today was on pre-natal care. They shared lots of beliefs that we discussed as to their validity. Examples were, "If a woman eats 2 bananas that grew together, will she have twins?" "If a woman eats an egg when she is pregnant will she have a bald headed baby." And my favorite, "If a husband is unfaithful while the wife is pregnant, will she have trouble with her delivery?" I told them the mother's happiness during her pregnancy is very important for the baby. Tell that husband to not mess around!!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Greetings from Malawi

Well, folks it looks as though internet access will be few and far between! Fortunately, there is all good news to report from here (except Jac's suitcase still has not arrived!). We had a smooth trip over, made all connections, and had a good time walking 10+ miles in London waiting for our evening flight. It rained almost the whole time but that didn't dampen our spirits.

We are now in Malawi, the Warm Heart of Africa. We visited our Sinkhani health workers in Chisemphere, a very poor rural village, yesterday. We were 4 hours late arriving due to transportation problems but they somehow managed to have a hot meal of nshima and chicken cooked over charcoal ready for us. Today we met with the Sinkhani in Mzimba. Their stories are amazing. One told of a young girl in her community that had 3rd degree burns on her arm from a pan of hot cooking oil. The parents started to rush her to the hospital and the neighbors said, "take her to the Sinkhani if you want her to get better." So they did, the Sinkhani used some neosporin ointment which is not available anywhere in the country even at the hospitals, and the girl is now doing fine. They told of children with severe diarrhea that they first gave the ORS (sugar, salt, and water solution) to and then made an herbal remedy of soyo. They said it always works. One of the Sinkhani ran outside and picked some leaves to show us what it looked like. We took a picture so we can do some research to find out what they're using. They have now been volunteers since 1992 -- truly amazing people!

Hopefully we can get another email to you at some point. So don't give up!

Monday, June 6, 2011

We're Off!

By the time you read this we will be high in the friendly skies on our way to Malawi, the Warm Heart of Africa!  Miracle of all miracles we finally got all of our goods packed in our trunks, immunizations up dated, passports and visas in hand -- and out the door.  .....well, sort of out the door.  We had a new cement driveway installed last week and it hasn't cured enough to drive on yet.  I guess that's when you walk across the lawn and literally get curb service for a pickup!
Sinkhani health workers in Chisemphere, Malawi
We're excited to see our African friends again!  What I most want to share with you are the stories about the people who are being helped by the HealthEd projects.  Getting the details is a real challenge!  I've designed a simple little form to take with me this time that will gently prod folks to record stories so I can share them with you.  If only I could speak Tumbuka or Chibemba, Swahili or any number of other languages, I could visit with so many interesting people who have great stories to tell!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Treatment for Measles

Crossing the LuapulaRiver  into the Congo
We're having a great time revealing the Secrets in the little books!!  According to the Traditional Healer booklets from the Congo, measles are diagnosed and treated as follows:

1. CAUSES: Tiny virus
Rash on neck, ears and body, fever, cough, diarrhea, red eyes, white spots inside of mouth.
-Can cause blindness.
-Children die.
-Isolate children to avoid spread to other members of the family.
-Keep patient clean, wash him regularly.
a.       Roots of NGOLYOLYO, make some powder and cut tattoos one in the forehead, one on the neck and last on the chest.
A suggestion for treatment when "Spots Fail to Come Out" was to "mix groundnuts [peanuts] with onions and pound them, smear the baby all over the body."

The diagnosis is right on target but the treatment of cutting tattoos on the body to prevent measles would never pass the CDC in the U.S.!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Secret remedies in Congo

Thanks to Michelle Mahlik, we now have electronic copies of the first section of an incredibly interesting and unpublished document of Traditional Healer remedies in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Several little booklets were entrusted to me several years ago on one of my visits to the Congo (then Zaire).  The young Traditional Healer who gave them to me said he and his cohorts wanted to share information in the hopes they could verify or improve their treatment practices.  An excerpt from the first section reads:
[Note: grammar and spelling has been preserved as written]
"When a traditional healer is using the herds to heal the patients, people look at him as a devil and illiterate.  He is not even accepted neither could he mix with members of certain congregations.  The reason why these traditional healers are rejected is that they scare people with their type of dressing they put on.  They even stop using Bemba, a language everybody understands, but speak something else people fail to understand.  This makes I difficult for the patients to know the type of medicine the traditional healers use, it is their secret."
Stay tuned for the next installment!