Monday, May 12, 2014

in memory of

Today I found out a little girl who we have supported since she was a baby has died.  Because of reception problems and lack of airtime we just found out.  She died 4 days ago.  So far, I have been told she died from malaria.   A death that should have been prevented.  The orphanage is next to a good hospital, there are four donors.  I still cannot grasp this news.  She was going to turn three years old this month.   One more death from malaria.  One more under five years old death in Congo.  And I want to vomit and the anger is hard to slow.  We have lost children before at the orphanage.  I first went there four years ago (this past February).  There have been other deaths, all babies, never a child that was this old.  Some I have held in my arms, knowing there was little to be done, knowing death was close.  Knowing soon the next arms to hold such a precious one would be the hands of God.  Others I never met, I never even had a photo sent.  Some were just a name.  This little one I've met.  Her picture was one that I always knew would show a little girl with big eyes and sometimes a shy smile, perhaps only sucking her thumb.  This little one I have a small infant photo of and then many more photos over the past almost three years.  Now I sit here, feeling stunned.  How does a child just die?  I am quickly brought back to my days in Congo.  When a friend would learn their sister or aunt or cousin had died.  Sometimes they had been sick, but often it was unexpected.  For them the unexpected death was expected, for me it always meant that I was offering some sort of condolence in a murmured state of shock while thinking, how is it possible that he or she is now dead, without explanation.  I can't stand that this little girl was not with her family.  I don't even know anything about her family.  Because we only recently were able to buy a moto and only recently received funds to hire a social worker, we have not been able to start doing visits on all the children's families.  We have a limited role at the orphanage; we do not run it.  There is much we dream of doing and are often hampered by factors outside of our control.  I know the mamas there will mourn her death and the local church will give her a funeral.  But, she should be alive.  She shouldn't be dead.  So many things do not make sense.  Questions flood and I can't find answers.  So much is not fair and not just.  Sometimes, I have no words and only can sit in the presence of God, praying for direction, justice, comfort, and peace. Praying also for her family and the mamas that cared for her since she was a baby.  Immanuel.  Never alone.  Light in the darkness. 

I received this photo six days before she died.

One of my favorites, sweet Mwamini


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Honoring the mother of my girls.

It is almost mother's day.  My heart is daily on the mother of my girls, the twins we adopted from DRC 4 years ago.  Maybe it is that they are now old enough to miss their mother in words like, my heart is breaking that my mommy isn't alive anymore.  Maybe it is just looking at her picture everyday in their room.  Maybe it is because of the giggles, laughter, singing, dancing surrounding me all day.  Maybe it is because I wish more than anything she was alive for them. So, I honor their mother by fighting for the lives of other mothers in eastern DRC so that their little ones would not grow up with hearts breaking and yearning for their mamas.


In lieu of a more traditional gift on Mother's Day this year, perhaps give the mother in your life a gift that would impact the life of another mother on the other side of the world.  And I know this is a long post, but please take the time to read it in its entirety.  Save the Children recently published their "State of the World's Mothers" report and again DRC is ranked as second from the bottom (source--this is the executive summary of the report and worth taking the time to read). Following is an except about DRC:

"Civil war in Democratic Republic of the Congo
has led to horrific abuses against women and children, and
directly and indirectly claimed more than 5.4 million
lives. But less than 10 percent of these deaths have
occurred in combat, and mortality rates in areas of the
DR Congo outside conflict zones are often as high as
in the conflict-affected eastern provinces. Most deaths
in the DR Congo have been due to preventable or
treatable causes such as malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia,
newborn causes and malnutrition – and almost half
the country’s death toll has been children under age 5.
DR Congo exemplifies many of the challenges facing
countries with high mortality burdens, which are also
off track towards the Millennium Development Goals:
it is a fragile state with a weak health infrastructure that
leaves many without access to basic health care. Health
facilities often lack properly trained medical staff and
medical supplies – many do not even have electricity
and water. Attacks on health workers also undermine
the quality and availability of care by traumatizing
the health workforce and forcing health facilities to
suspend activities. Despite the many challenges, there
are signs of hope and progress in the DR Congo. Well-
established local non-governmental organizations
(NGOs) provide medical care and psychological
support to rape victims in conflict-affected areas. In
the Kivu provinces, humanitarian agencies have been
supporting the national Ministry of Health in the
provision of primary and secondary health care services,
vaccinations, and family planning and maternal health

Why does this matter so much to me?  It matters to me because our youngest girls lost their mother in childbirth.  Her death was preventable, but she lived in a very remote village (it would take 12 hours of walking to get to the nearest hospital).  Death can come in many ways.  For many women in eastern DRC who are pregnant the first time with twins, or pregnant with their eight child, or their third set of twins, hemorrhaging after birth means death.  Not having access to clean and quality birth kits can lead to postpartum infections.  Untreated and unrecognized hypertension and diabetes can lead to death.  I care about access to health care for women in eastern DRC, because I love my girls and their mother should be alive today.  So should the mothers of all the small babies at the orphanage we support. Mothers matter.  Most of their mothers died from preventable causes in childbirth or shortly afterwards.  We must work to prevent children from becoming orphans.  We must slow down maternal mortality.  Babies like the ones we support need their mothers.  They need us to come alongside Congolese led initiatives that provide women with safe access to quality medical care.  "Most deaths in DRC have been due to preventable and treatable causes," not combat (see quote above). 

It also matters to me because Jesus often stopped to help those when others kept walking.  I want my heart to be completely and utterly His heart.  Helping mothers stay alive to care for the gifts of life they carry inside is one way that His love pours out in eastern DRC.  Giving hope that a woman may have the chance to live through childbirth is one way to love that mother.  And ensuring a baby has her mother to hold, feed, and love her is another way to tangibly show the love of Jesus. 

Mothers, not orphanages.

Mother's arms, not orphanage cribs. 

Back to the Save the Children Report.  The recommendations from this report are the following:
"1.  Ensure that every mother and newborn living in crisis has access to high quality health care, 2. Invest in women and girls and ensure their protection, 3. Build longer term resilience to minimize the damaging effects of crises on health, 4. Design emergency interventions with a longer term view and the specific needs of mothers and newborns in mind, 5. Ensure political engagement and adequate financing, coordination and research around maternal and newborn health in crisis settings."

I have a friend that lives in eastern DRC and she has started an ambitious campaign that involves three separate projects that support maternal health, access to basic health care for women, facilities, training, supplies, and advocacy.  They are going to areas that are insecure and vulnerable, where there are few facilities equiped to handle the enormous needs women face.  They are partnering with courageous Congolese physicians who are committed to helping women in eastern DRC.  Channel Initiative has two ongoing projects-one in Kilungutwe, Mwenga - where they educate on reproductive health and hope to construct a one-stop health and community center, together with Panzi Foundation DRC and another in Mulamba, Walungu - where they work together with the Mulamba Health Center to ensure they can provide high quality care to the women who can sometimes come from over 45 km away, for care.  Take some time to check out their work at their website.  Their three core pillars are:  Authenticity, Effectiveness, and Empowerment.  

Channel Initiative is urgently looking for donors to support their newest project in Kavumu, eastern DRC.  They are partnering with Dr. Imani to start a new office in an underserved area (due to insecurity and violence) where women are desperate for safe access to quality medical care.  I love this description of a normal day in the life of their organization; follow the link to look at photos of their new site.

Dominique (my friend and founder of Channel Initiative) writes, "The Channel Initiative mission is what it is, because, small and as relatively minor as we might be, we choose not to wait or be silent anymore. We choose to acknowledge, appreciate and respond to the urgent needs of vulnerable people. We choose to do whatever we can, in love, and with excellence, knowing that if even one life is saved, if even one tragedy is averted, if just one heart is in a better place, we have moved out of the place of ‘waiting’ for a reason." (original post found here).  

Donate here.  For every $40 donation, Channel Initiative is also including a bag as a thank you gift that is made by MamaAfrica.  MamaAfrica Designs "is a non-profit organization based out of Bukavu, located in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Our mission is to change the lives of the women and the future of the children that have been most affected by conflict in Democratic Republic of Congo. We take a holistic approach to creating this change by providing education, healing arts programs and economic opportunity. This fosters self-empowerment, community and sustainability for the women and will ultimately result in generational change. Our programs reflect the basic premise that when women have equity, nations and the world become more secure."  So, not only would your gift of $40 help to give access to quality healthcare in eastern DRC and also be supporting women through MamaAfrica Design, you would also receive a small bag to give to a special mother in your life.

Please note that delivery of these bags may be delayed because they  are coming from eastern DRC. 

I started this post by stating that DRC was the second from the bottom of a list that ranked countries by the "state of their mothers".  It is easy to get overwhelmed and discouraged by this statistic and ranking.  And though rankings like this are important because they can galvanize us towards making decisions that would improve women's health around the world, they also can make us forget the stories of courage and strength that are found in eastern DRC.  More than any place I have lived, the women of eastern DRC have inspired me by their indomitable spirits and unflagging determination, faith, and persistence.  By supporting small grassroots organizations that come alongside Congolese women and men, we support this spirit and blow on small flames of hope that spread throughout eastern DRC and ultimately change the future.  Please, consider a donation to Channel Initiative today.

Monday, May 5, 2014

school. mother.

Over the last few days, I have been receiving updates from our manager on the ground in eastern DRC about the school children we support through Reeds of Hope.  We have been supporting most of these (approx.80) children for about 4 years.  Over the four years we have been sent sporadic photos of a small number of the children.  The reason for this was because most of the children live in remote villages spread all over the territory, making visiting very challenging.

One of the many secondary schools that children we support attend in eastern DRC.

Remember the story of these children.  Their mothers' died in birth or in the first year of their life and in order to ensure their survival their father (or other family member or friend) brought them to the orphanage to receive formula and then they were reunited with their family between the ages of 2 and 5 years old and now live with their families.  As is often the case when there are very limited resources in a family that is extremely poor, some of the children are not sent to school and if they are sent to school rarely are they sent through secondary.  For the past four years we have been coming alongside the CELPA church organization and paying the school fees for these children, many of whom (boys and girls) are now in secondary school.

We have a manager on the ground in eastern DRC but the cost of getting out to these remote villages prohibited us from sending him to check up on the children we have been supporting.  Until recently, when we received donations large enough to buy a moto for his use!  For the past two weeks, he has been driving through the mountains checking on the children we support.  And for the last few days I have been looking through inspiring photos of children determined to go to school in a country where the rate of attendance in secondary school is less than 20% (please check out our website for more information/statistics with sources)

As I look through the beautiful faces of the boys and girls we support my heart is heavy with the horror of a story from Nigeria.  Faces and stories of school girls in Nigeria that were abducted from their school.  Brave girls that were determined to go to school and complete their exams despite all of their schools being closed because of a recent mass killing of school boys in their area (source).  I've been thinking about their mothers too, given it's almost the day to honor our mothers.  I've been thinking about the four girls I am honored to raise and I whisper up prayers for the mothers in Nigeria and their missing children, the terror of which I cannot begin to contemplate.  Others have been writing much more eloquently about this tragedy, here you will find more detailed information, why we should care, and the link to a petition to sign and here you will find a beautiful prayer made on behalf of the girls and their families that echoes my heart; please take the time to read it and pray today.  "Abba, be near to our girls and keep them safe, envelope them in courage and in love. Speak hope to them: someone is coming for them. We have not forgotten." 

I will end here and leave you with a few of the courageous faces of sponsored children in eastern DRC.  Faces that call me to not stop in prayer and action for the girls in Nigeria and all girls everywhere: the right for all children, everywhere, to go to school in safety. 

Addendum:  A friend of mine wrote up a piece on her blog about the overall situation in Nigeria as it relates to the abduction of the Nigerian school girls.  She has a unique perspective and voice that I think provides some excellent commentary and truth worth reading.