UMCOR / News Room / News & Features / Archives 2010 / 0416 - Canals Save Lives in Congo Village

Canals Save Lives in Congo Village

A UMNS Story

By Jan Snider*

April 16, 2010—People thought Bishop Nkulu Ntanda Ntambo was crazy when he directed villagers to dig out canals in this central African village.

Four years ago, the United Methodist bishop saw that his hometown of Kamina was constantly flooding, and homes were washing away. When the floods settled, stagnant water remained, creating breeding conditions for mosquitoes. Mosquitoes mean malaria, a disease that kills a child in Africa every 30 seconds, according to world health officials.

“It was like a mortuary, children were dying every day,” Ntambo recalls.

When the area was under Belgian rule, the government dug interwoven canals to move the water away from the village. However, 60 years of neglect had left the canal structures buried under several feet of sand and vegetation. Most villagers didn’t even know they existed.

“So, we decided as a church the only solution was to dig the canals, which would help drain water and take water all around the city,” Ntambo explains.

Crazy Action

Borrowing money from Dr. Guy Kasanka, a United Methodist missionary, Ntambo bought shovels and encouraged residents to start digging.

“They thought I was crazy; no one believed me,” the bishop says.

When the first rains of a 10-month rainy season began to fall, the unusual sight of water flowing away from their homes changed hearts and minds.

Now, with the help of the bishop and the North Katanga Annual Conference, villagers maintain more than eight miles of hand-dug canals. They are quick to tell you that melodious movement of water through the sandy ditches is a result of the bishop’s encouragement. Coupled with his organized distribution of mosquito nets, they attest to fewer malaria deaths.

Bishop Returns

Today, Ntambo picks his way between puddles on the muddy streets of Kamina.

Residents flow from mud-brick homes to greet the bishop, who is resplendent in a finely tailored silk shirt. Even as the entourage grows, well-wishers appear small next to his massive ebony frame. But to these villagers, he is a giant not so much in size as in heart.

“Because of the bishop, our houses are not destroyed,” explains a man simply identified as Kikalu, “and we had a lot of mosquitoes. But now we do not have a lot of stagnant water and mosquitoes anymore.”

Kamina has no paved roads, only occasional electricity and limited clean water. When Ntambo is asked how many people live here, he gestures toward the crowd, smiles and proclaims, "All these people and many more.” It’s estimated to be about 70,000, and many are United Methodists.

“Now, we have mosquito nets and the canal, so no problem of malaria,” says a young mother named Ndamana. Her tidy, thatch-roofed house sits like a sentinel against the rains, a ribbon of water moving quickly through the front edge of her yard.

The canal solution was so successful in Kamina that Ntambo took the idea to rural residents in the Maseke village, 250 miles away. With shovel in hand, he helped clear massive tree trunks and decades of vegetation from giant colonial-era canals.

He hopes the Congolese government will replicate the idea in other communities. But for now, the bishop understands that this is just one empowering action that his neighbors can take to fight malaria.

While villagers hail him as a hero, he bows to others, “Praise the Lord,” he says. “Praise The United Methodist Church and to the great work they are doing to save lives.”

How to Help

United Methodists are encouraged to observe World Malaria Day on April 25, 2010 and participate in the denomination’s “Imagine No Malaria” Campaign, a focus of the United Methodist Global Health Initiative. 

Gifts to the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) Community-Based Malaria Control Program, UMCOR Advance #982009, also support United Methodist and ecumenical health workers and hospitals as they work to combat malaria in their communities. The program provides community training on basic measures to prevent sickness, free medications and consultations to those who are ill or who are vulnerable to malaria. The program also supplies treated nets to protect pregnant women, and families with young children.

*Snider is a producer for United Methodist Communications