Partners Work to Eliminate Malaria in Congo
A UMNS Story
By Kathy L. Gilbert*
April 14, 2010—Kaya Bawili and Mugalu Murumbi worry about each of their 19 children.
After April 15, they will be able to rest easier knowing all their loved ones will be sleeping under insecticide-treated mosquito nets donated by religious organizations including The United Methodist Church.
The Murumbi household is one of 12 that will be visited by VIPs from government and faith groups at the Katanga World Malaria Day celebration organized by an alliance of eight Christian and Muslim congregations known as Coalition Religieuse pour la Santé.
Volunteers from each faith group have undergone training and will help dignitaries, including the governor of Katanga, hang the nets in the homes. The volunteers will also talk to the families about how to use and care for the nets and ways to prevent malaria.
“The best thing for me will be to welcome the governor in my house,” said “Mama” Kaya. “The second one will be to get the mosquito net so we cannot suffer from malaria.”
She and her husband already have lost one child to malaria.
“It is a disease that worries everyone because it kills,” she said. “At times it can strike in the house and then you don’t have money to get treatment so you can lose a child in a small time. It is a dangerous disease,” said the mother, who has triplets and seven twins in her large family.
A Faithful Presence
“The leaders of this community said no one has ever paid attention or visited them before,” said Shannon Trilli, executive with the United Methodist Committee on Relief. “This is more than nets, it represents that we know they are here and that someone cares about their welfare.”
The nets distribution is a tangible way for the church to align with the biblical mandate to heal, said the Rev. Gary Henderson, executive director of the denomination’s Global Health Initiative at United Methodist Communications.
“I am clear in my reading of the gospel that Jesus had a real concern for the sick and dying,” he said.
Before the celebration, which will also bring South African superstar Yvonne Chaka Chaka to this impoverished neighborhood, the trained volunteers visited the homes of the 12 who will receive nets on April 15. The distribution will continue in the following weeks until 30,000 nets are in place.
In Good Hands
Sheikh Usseni Faray, a member of the Muslim Community Organization, will be on the team visiting the Murumbi family.
He believes the program will grow and be successful, especially if it stays in the hands of local congregations.
“Government can only start things once and they stop. But us, we are the community representing the people and we preach and work with the people all the time. So if they keep the church people involved I think it will be a lasting program and many people will benefit.”
Madeleine Mujinga, a university student and member of New Apostolic Church, said she is especially thankful to the donors who are making this event possible.
Christian and Muslim volunteers are finding unity in this battle to eliminate malaria.
“The people who are benefiting from these mosquito nets are also from different faiths,” she said. “I am grateful to the donors, they have done something good. They have given to those who are unable to get mosquito nets so I would say thank you to them many times.”
Faray, who is a teacher, said he will talk to his students about the project. “I will teach my students that whether you are Christian or Muslim you have to be united and work together.”
Side by Side
Partnerships are critical, religious leaders said.
“We want to work directly with the inhabitants of the community working through churches and mosques, also working with the government,” said the Rev. Bertin Subi, president of the religious alliance battling malaria and an Episcopal pastor.
“This net distribution really demonstrates the value and power of partnership,” said Henderson. “By working together these religious and governmental agencies are able to do more than any one of them could do individually.”
Education goes hand in hand with distributing the nets.
“Before when someone had a real serious case of malaria, especially a child, or if a child died from a serious case of malaria, a lot of people attributed that to witchcraft or sorcery,” he said. “But now after our training and after distributing the nets they are beginning to see it is preventable.”
Faith in Action
The United Methodist delegation to Lubumbashi includes three bishops from the United States as well as bishops from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Executives from United Methodist Communications and the United Methodist Committee on Relief are also part of the delegation.
“I am able to recognize the spiritual value I can sense in each member of CORESA toward this fight against malaria and also toward their contribution in the alliance,” Subi said.
Dorcas Kongolo, a volunteer from the Salvation Army, sees this project as the work of God.
“This malaria comes in a moment, too many people suffer. I am doing this work as a woman of faith.”
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.
*Gilbert is a news writer for United Methodist News Service in Nashville, Tenn.