Agents of Change
By Judith Santiago*
At the Kamisamba United Methodist farm in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the moist and fertile ground was a good sign of the rich harvest to come.
During a recent visit, program staff from the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) Sustainable Agriculture and Development (SA&D) program met with workers who were then preparing to grow corn on the farmland, which extends some 500 acres. The soil, as yet uncultivated, offered a prophetic snapshot of the community’s potential to sow knowledge and improve health and nutrition.
In a real sense, the workers are the seeds of change—change which they effect through their interesting dual role as community health workers trained to be better farmers.
“Equipped with the knowledge they need to improve their lives, these workers, in return, can become the agents of change in their own community, without depending on external resources,” said June H. Kim, UMCOR’s World Hunger and Poverty executive.
The 30 community health workers are volunteers at Shungu Health Clinic and participants in the Ministry with the Poor program in Katanga province, a project of The United Methodist Church. They were trained by UMCOR in sustainable agriculture techniques, specifically, in the Integrated Crop and Pest Management (ICPM) program, Moringa cultivation and use, and soy production. After their training, the group formed an association to promote and instill overall health and nutrition in their communities, and work together to grow vegetables at Kamisamba farm.
And, although, some of the workers were already farming, using not-so-successful methods handed down to them from past generations, all are now applying newly learned techniques that promise greater yields on their apportioned 10 acres of the UMC property.
Comprehensive Approach to Share Knowledge
“At first, we were farmers; now we have become teachers,” Faustine Monga Wa Ilunga said.
Ilunga alluded to last year’s malaria-prevention training, by which community health workers helped create awareness among their neighbors about the deadly, yet preventable, disease during The United Methodist Church’s Imagine No Malaria campaign launch in DRC.
The malaria-prevention training and the UMCOR-SA&D model, which embodies the “share what you have learned with others” methodology, led the community health workers/farmers to take on a third role, as teachers.
They are integrating all they have learned and communicating the variety of ways that communities can improve their overall health. Through diversification and improved crop yields, the use of Moringa to help fortify daily nutrition, the application of malaria-prevention techniques and safe water and hygiene practices, communities are finding a wider approach to daily nutrition and long-term health options.
One farmer noted the nutritional benefits of applying natural methods to farming, which can be greater than those found in local market produce grown with chemicals and pesticides. He added that producing your own food is also less costly. Through the UMCOR-SA&D ICPM training, participants learn to use alternative pesticide methods, including Neem leaves, papaya seeds and hot peppers, to keep “enemy” insects from destroying crops.
Martine Ngoy Mwanbay said, “I didn’t know anything about farming; I was a health worker. I learned about Moringa and shared the information with my daughter, who was pregnant and unhealthy.”
Maritine said her husband wakes her up very early each morning to make the six-mile trek to the Kamisamba Farm. It’s a sacrifice she is willing to make because of the notable improvement in her own life, she indicated.
“I enjoy every aspect of farming. I am able to bring food home now,” she said.
Bruno Ntambwe Ngoy, another community health worker, said he no longer has to spend money to go to the market to buy food. Prior to receiving UMCOR training in Moringa cultivation and ICPM, Bruno spent $4.00 a day on food. Now, he grows his own food, and spends about $1 for items such as salt or oil. He can now send his children to school more regularly and keep up with their school fees. He shares his seedlings and his knowledge with his neighbors so they can reap the same rewards.
Bruno is doing so well growing and cultivating Moringa and selling its powder (which is added to food), that he is planning to build a bigger house within a year. Last year, he and his wife also participated in the mosquito net distribution training. His family uses the mosquito net every night, and he shares information about malaria prevention with others.
Overall, the community health workers-turned-farmers-and-teachers have notably changed behavior, according to Dr. Guy Kasanka, director of Shungu Health Clinic. The workers encourage one another to remain active and engaged in their role to plant seeds of change within their communities.
“Since the community health workers received agriculture training, I have seen the changes in them,” Dr. Kasanka said. “They have improved the way they work in sensitizing the communities to grow crops, and they set an example for the communities by coming together on a farm to grow crops.”
And, much of what they share is taking root. Community health worker and farmer, Marie-Claire Banza Mwepo, said that the people she trained to farm are now inviting her to farm on their land because of their improved yields.
Dr. Kasanka told UMCOR that transportation is a major challenge, as in Martine’s example. All of the health workers need bicycles to facilitate their travel to the Kamisamba Farm.
About Ministry with the Poor
The Ministry with the Poor program of The United Methodist Church is a three-year initiative to help bring a targeted population of 10,000 people in Katanga province out of poverty through programs that link UMCOR disciplines of health, agriculture, nutrition, and water and sanitation. The goal is to improve the everyday lives of families and communities through better health by way of increased food consumption, access to safe water, and enterprise opportunities for sustainable income.
You can partner with the Kamina community in DRC by giving to Integrated Community Development, UMCOR Advance #3021301, and by supporting UMCOR-SA&D, Advance #982188, to help provide more communities in Africa with sustainable agricultural training.
*Santiago is the Media Communications Associate for UMCOR.