Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Cry in the Wilderness

Bondo Marceline was among targeted beneficiaries invited by UMCOR-SA&D program staff to participate in upcoming agriculture training. Photo: June H. Kim/UMCOR

“Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I cry to you all day long.” Psalm 86:3
Last month, UMCOR SA&D staff in partnership with Child Action Initiative conducted house-to-house surveys of some of the participants who attended a needs assessment meeting and Moringa introduction in Kasumgami, DRC.

Walking from home to home and meeting with individual families, a silent cry seemed to echo throughout the wilderness-like conditions of Kasungami. Most of the people we met had an average of 11 family members, all living in one, small, locally made clay brick house. Most could only afford to eat one meal a day, and though some farmed, they only grew enough produce to barely sustain them. In some of the homes we visited, most, if not all, were visibly malnourished, and some were very ill. From house to house, the stories did not differ much: Not enough adequate food, little or no income, many mouths to feed, and only one, not-so-nutritious meal a day.

During the UMCOR survey, we learned that before the assessment meeting, many people had not heard of Moringa. The meeting turned out to be an opportunity to emphasize the nutritional benefits of Moringa and its role in reducing malnutrition.

One woman, named Bondo Marceline, ended up in Kasungami after fleeing the war in North Katanga. Bondo has five children between the ages of 1 ½ and 11. She sells cassava leaves to earn an income.  On good days she can earn approximately 2,000 francs ($2.00), which helps pay her rent (more than $8.00 per month). But that income is not always reliable and clearly not sufficient to sustain her family. Looking at Bondo, I saw the years of struggle and pain on her face, which have completely weighed down her countenance. Without a husband to support her, Bondo is left to raise her children on her own.

In some way, UMCOR responded to Bondo’s cry by inspiring hope through agricultural training that will help shape and transform her life in years to come, if she commits herself to it. Testimonies of other beneficiaries were shared with families like Bondo’s, who are now successful farmers and homeowners with improved livelihoods.

Upon our departure from Bondo's home, a smile broke through her years of suffering.

On that same day, UMCOR held an impromptu meeting with the DRC food security program manager from World Vision, at his request, to discuss possible future collaborative efforts. He shared that the model of input and fertilizer distribution World Vision had been using for many years did not result in lasting food security. He said UMCOR-SA&D’s model of investing in people’s knowledge through training rather than inputs was the best approach to sustainable food security. He hopes to work with UMCOR to replicate UMCOR SA&D’s methodology.

World Vision and UMCOR also are talking about UMCOR holding a special training on the use of Moringa for World Vision’s community health workers to help them improve nutrition in the communities where they work.

June Kim, UMCOR executive, stated, “This initial meeting with World Vision affirmed that UMCOR-SA&D’s philosophy of investing in people’s knowledge, using an asset-based, community-development approach, results in community ownership that puts the achievement of a more prosperous future for individuals and families in their own hands. This is the first step to ensuring lasting and sustainable improvements in food security and a reduction in malnutrition.”

Judith Santiago is Media Communications Associate for UMCOR

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