Thursday, April 22, 2010

Music and Nets in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Community health volunteer Madelene Mwainga hangs a mosquito net in the home of Serge Tshibal during a training event in Lubumbashi, DRC.
A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose 
With all of the really hard and challenging news we hear about the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), it was a privilege for me to witness signs of hope and joy as a community joined together in the fight against malaria.

The atrocities of war, illness and extreme poverty demand our attention and need to be addressed. In Lubumbashi last week, the Congolese people celebrated a common goal—to significantly reduce the incidence of malaria—and took a step closer to achieving peace and economic stability in a country that faces severe hardship.

Realizing that children of all faiths are dying of malaria, representatives of different religious backgrounds—United Methodist, Jewish, Moslem, Anglican, Roman Catholic—came together for the first time in the DRC, under the banner of CORESA, to provide 30,000 mosquito nets to families in the Bongonga community. The spirit of celebration I witnessed is one I will always remember.

A barely passable dirt road leads into Bongonga, an underserved, unrecognized urban community. But last week, in anticipation of World Malaria Day, Bongonga was the center of attention. Dignitaries and artists joined the thousands of local people who turned out for a launch event designed specifically for Bongonga. The governor was among the speakers, and a musical performance by Yvonne Chaka Chaka, a South African musician often called the “Princess of Africa,” was a highlight of the event.

I felt self conscious of my position in the VIP area as I noted the very strict security that kept the local people far from the stage. When Yvonne started singing and called “her children” to join her, the ground shook as security allowed thousands of young people to dance their way to the stage. I was so moved that she had done that for them. . . The children’s joy surrounded me and was electric.

Watching them I knew that one out of five of these precious, smiling little ones will likely die of malaria, and the significance of the day hit me. Yvonne did not forget either. When she finished singing, she told the crowd how important it is for children under five and pregnant women to use the mosquito bed nets. “Do not sell the nets,” she commanded. “Do not use the nets for fishing.”

After the celebration, I joined one of the local volunteer groups as they hung a mosquito net in the home of a woman who has eight children. I met her two smallest sons and played with them in the front room of her home. I prayed that the net would save these boys’ lives.

I prayed that a day like this, with celebrities and dignitaries, community volunteers and bishops, would leave a lasting impression on this community and that with the partnership and commitment of local volunteers, they would see a decrease in the number of malaria-provoked deaths. I prayed they would begin to advocate for themselves and work with the government to fight against malaria.

And I gave thanks that my church was among the religious communities that today decided to not stand by while every 30 seconds a child dies from a disease that is preventable. I am grateful to be part of the United Methodist Church—a church that continues to bring hope to God’s most vulnerable people.

By Melissa Hinnen, director of UMCOR Communications

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