Health

The Church in Congo

By James Misner and Marcel Serubungo In the Democratic Republic of Congo, some say that you can find all of Africa’s problems: weak national leadership, eroding rule of law, HIV/AIDS and protracted tribal conflict. Warring militias use rape as a weapon of war and perpetrate other human rights violations. Children are stolen, forced to become soldiers and used as proxies between fighting groups.

Congolese civilians are caught in the vicious cycles of conflict and disease. Millions have died as a result. Refugees and internally displaced people number into the millions.

But even in the world’s most war-torn regions, the power of Jesus can overcome the horrors of conflict. After years of warfare, the Church in DR Congo is the only social structure standing. It is the only hope of true peace for survivors of violence.

This is the reality of the Church in DR Congo:

  1. The Church is traumatized. Many people in the Church have been displaced from their homes. They’ve fled as refugees, survived grave atrocities, lost entire crops and ran through the night in search of safety. Our Christian brothers and sisters in DR Congo face the same situations that their greater communities face — they’re not immune from struggle.
  2. The Church is resilient. Even in the midst of adversity and unspeakable hardship, the church in DR Congo stands strong! Despite ethnic divisions within the nation, the church builds unity and reconciliation. They’ve refused to give up the pursuit of peace. They continue meeting together, praying together and worshiping God together. In some of the worst poverty and injustice on the planet the church gathers to proclaim the greatness of God! We have much to learn from them as they restore their communities.
  3. The Church is redeeming suffering. None of us can explain precisely why God allows suffering. But we do know that God redeems it — through his hands and feet, the Church. When a woman survives sexual violence, the Church will take her in, provide food and shelter and help her to care for her children. When cultural norms say that husbands should abandon their wives after rape — the Church works to debunk this lie and to reconcile marriages. The Church stands in the gap and speaks out against this injustice — teaching boys and men that women are created in God’s image and are to be respected and treasured.

Wherever there is suffering in DR Congo – the Church is right there, too. And World Relief is there to empower the Church to fulfill its mission: to bring hope to the hopeless and restore justice to the oppressed. As the people of the Church endure suffering, they faithfully follow in the steps of Jesus – bringing healing to their communities as they themselves are healed.

Would you consider making a gift to empower local churches to prevent further gender-based violence and care for women survivors? All donations will be matched by One Day’s Wages. Your gift will be used to provide medical care and trauma counseling for the victims of sexual violence and to raise community awareness about violence against women. Give today at onedayswages.org/worldrelief.

James and Marcel are both members of the church team at World Relief. James serves as the Global Director of Church Partnership. Marcel serves as the Director of Church Mobilization and Peace Building in DR Congo.

Empower a Hero: Emily in Kenya

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Emily Seteyio is dedicated to reducing the high infant mortality rate in Kenya, and she’s going the distance to make it happen. She used to regularly walk six miles to protect just one baby from HIV. More than 1.6 million Kenyans are living with HIV, but pregnant women and their babies are especially vulnerable to the disease. Prenatal care and hospital births reduce the chances of mother-to-child transmission. But neither of those are common practice for women living in remote areas.

Because doctors and nurses are out of reach, rural women often turn to traditional birth attendants to assist them during labor. Unfortunately, many attendants don’t have the proper equipment or training to prevent HIV transmission between the mothers and infants under their care.

Emily in Kenya
Emily in Kenya

So Emily stands with the vulnerable women of Kajiado, Kenya. She empowers them with the resources they need to have safe deliveries and healthy babies – even when the mothers are HIV positive. Since 2012, she’s served as a community health worker after training from World Relief Kenya. Emily volunteered for the role because she was concerned about the mothers in remote areas who were without access to quality care.

Emily visits mothers in their homes and counsels them about the benefits of giving birth in health centers. “In the hospital, there are gloves and equipment that prevent the spread of HIV from the health caregivers to the mother and child,” Emily said.

Pastors often serve as vital links between community health workers and vulnerable mothers. Through collaboration with a local pastor, Emily was able to make sure one high-risk woman had transportation to the health facility for the birth.

But during her pregnancy, Emily would regularly walk six miles from the health facility to the woman’s remote village. Since she was HIV positive, Emily encouraged her to give birth in a health center so her baby could live free from the virus.

Eventually, the woman delivered a healthy baby boy in the health facility, despite her high-risk pregnancy. This wouldn’t have been possible without Emily’s dedication – and the support of the local church.

Check back each week in January to meet more heroes like Emily – women and men standing for justice in the most vulnerable places around the world. Join the movement at EmpowerAHero.org today!

Hope Is in the Details: A Story from Malawi

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Ntchisi, a district located in the heart of Malawi, is among the most vulnerable places where World Relief works. Forty percent of the population lives on less than $1 a day. Most people make their living as farmers, but the difficult conditions they work against make for poor harvests and profits. Preventable diseases like malaria and diarrhea are common here, but healthcare facilities and doctors are extremely few and far between. Some say Ntchisi is a place to drive through – but not to linger in for a visit.

But this is precisely what World Relief Malawi intern Stephen Blazs did. Once he was able to take a closer look at a village in Ntchisi, he noticed small signs of transformation despite the deep injustices that existed.

Much of his role over the summer was to develop new ways to monitor the progress of World Relief programs. But one day, he set out from the office in the capital city to visit a “model village” in Ntchisi. Here, World Relief volunteers and staff worked to improve the health of mothers, orphans and vulnerable children younger than five. Because of his studies in public health at Johns Hopkins University, Blazs understood the magnitude of the vulnerabilities of the region, but he could also see the signs of hope and progress that the untrained eye overlooks.

In this village, children wore shoes and socks hung from clotheslines – displaying the purchasing power families had built from joining savings groups. Clean pots and pans sat out to dry, preventing germs from spreading at the next meal. Yards were dotted with latrines and hand-washing stations, protecting the entire village from water-borne illness – and reducing the chance of having to travel to a distant health clinic.

“It was encouraging to see an example where community development was working,” Blazs said upon his return to the US. Thanks to the commitment of volunteers who share life-saving health lessons with their neighbors, lasting changes were taking root in this village and many others in three other districts across Malawi.

Interested in learning and standing with the vulnerable through a hands-on internship? Check out World Relief’s domestic and international opportunities today!

Stephen Blazs is completing a Master of Science in Public Health degree through Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. As a World Relief intern, he developed monitoring and evaluation tools for various health and social development programs in Malawi and Mozambique.

Health for the Future: Care Groups Make a Mark

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When Dr. Pieter Ernst, a World Relief Project Director in Mozambique, saw the suffering of women and children from preventable and treatable diseases, he knew there needed to be a solution. And the awakening of healthier communities through education and more sustainable efforts is just what the doctor ordered. Following a 17-year civil war in the Gaza Province of Mozambique, the Care Group Model developed out of World Relief’s first Child Survival Project. Dr. Ernst designed a way to reach a large group of people through generating a network of volunteers within each community.

With this, the need for a more comprehensive method to engage community members in becoming educators and leaders who support and encourage one another grew at a steady rate. Care Group numbers multiplied as a small project staff grew in the ability to reach a larger population. Without straining individual volunteers, Care Groups mobilized communities to address various health issues and take extensive action.

Since its formation in 1995, the Care Group Model has been adopted by 23 NGOs and implemented in over 21 countries. In 2009, this model reached over 44% of the total population of Mozambique and nurtured relationships that continue to thrive today. All over the world, this sustainable system has:

  1. Decreased infant mortality rate
  2. Increased uses of modern family planning methods
  3. Provided children with up-to-date immunizations

ALL while creating a lasting and continual difference within communities.

Dr. Ernst recently received the 2014 Dory Storms Child Survival Recognition Award for the design of the revolutionary Care Group Model. Together with Dr. Ernst and others who have participated in the Care Group Model, World Relief will celebrate 20 years of this innovative project in 2015.

Through this program, we have seen God do great things in countries and communities where health information is seldom provided. Simple explanations can truly change countries and empower people to become heroes in their communities.

Giving Thanks: From a Mother in Burundi

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Earlier this month, we shared the story of Capitoline, a hero who’s saving the lives of many children in her community in Burundi.  Now, we get to share the story of a grateful mother who knows firsthand just how important Capitoline’s skills and care are. “Nobody can love and take care of our children the way Capitoline does,” Emmanuella said, as she thought of the time her 17-month-old came down with a high fever and had convulsions in the middle of the night.  She and her husband were afraid - these were signs of malaria, a disease that is preventable and treatable, yet often deadly in Burundi.

But Emmanuella knew her neighbor, Capitoline, was a community health worker trained by World Relief. So in the early morning hours, the family ran to Capitoline’s house nearby for help.  She was able to immediately give Emmanuella’s child the proper medications, which led to recovery just three days later.

In the past, Emmanuella had taken her children to the hospital when they were sick. But a trip to the local hospital was a significant journey on foot, and they would often have to wait to even be admitted once they arrived. Capitoline’s medical training meant that Emmanuella and her family didn’t have to wait a long time to receive treatment – time that can mean the difference between life and death.

World Relief has trained hundreds of other community health workers like Capitoline, who are always ready and willing to help their neighbors.  In addition to diagnosing and treating different diseases, they also educate their neighbors about simple hygiene practices that promote good health for every-day living.

Emmanuella knows that health workers like Capitoline are invaluable: “We thank God that we now have a community health worker in our neighborhood.”

To give thanks and empower more heroes like Capitoline, visit empowerahero.org.

Giving Thanks: Leam’s Story of Transformation in Cambodia

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Leam - Cambodia

“I would like to give thanks to God and my parentsfor allowing me to participate with the [children’s] group.” said Leam, an 11-year-old boy in Cambodia. Just over a year ago, Leam was suffering with an unknown illness. Because of his health problems, he had difficulty concentrating in school and was teased by his classmates because of his decreasing size. One day, a friend stepped in to help. This friend had attended a World Relief children’s group where he’d learned valuable hygiene and health lessons, including the common problem of parasites. He told Leam that parasites could be making him sick, and invited Leam to join the children’s group to learn for himself. But Leam was hesitant. He knew the group was run by Christians – church volunteers – and he didn’t want to be converted.

But curiosity got the best of Leam.  When the children’s group volunteers returned to Leam’s village to do an educational puppet show the very next day, Leam watched from a safe distance on the road as children ran towards the meeting area, laughing and cheering all the way.

“After seeing this sight, my heart began to fill with joy,” Leam said. “I was encouraged by a teacher who came to me while I was standing on the pebble road. He smiled at me right away and invited me to see the puppet show. He gently spoke to me. So the heart of hatred has gone from my mind.  I don’t discriminate against Christianity anymore and I decided to join with them. I could learn a lot about disease, morality and forgiveness.”

November 7 blog - Puppet show in Cambodia

One year later, the changes in Leam’s health and heart are still evident. He continues to use the health lessons he learned in the children’s group, like washing his hands, wearing shoes and sleeping under a mosquito net. Because of these changes, Leam is no longer sick and his family’s medical costs have decreased. “I realized that my health is much better than before, and my mental health is also improved. I am now a great student in my class,” said Leam.

This incredible transformation would not have happened without the support of our partners who have stood with us as we empower people like Leam.  So we, along with Leam, say thanks!

"This should not happen to people"

In honor of International Women's Day, our Country Director of Indonesia, Jo Ann de Belen reflects on those close to her heart and why she wants to be part of changing the world. I once knew a leper. He was close to me. Apart from his leprosy, he was just like any one of us. A creation made in the image of God. Without touching me, he taught me music, math, and how to laugh at myself. He contracted this dreaded illness when he was a child, at a time when there was no definite cure for it.

The stigma of the illness was so great, that his own family was ashamed to tell others. And so his parents kept this dark secret to themselves while they can. The teenage boy did not enjoy what others enjoyed. He was kept inside the house, not brought to big family gatherings or to be “displayed” publicly. He wore clothes that would conceal his open lesions.

Even when he was in a crowd, he felt alone. He suffered all this by himself, not understanding what it was. His parents, perhaps not knowing what to do, just pretended to the world that he did not exist. He grew up to be an adult and married and had children and tried to live a normal life. But the world wouldn’t let him. He died a lonely man, alone in a room, visited by only a handful.

As I remember this friend with leprosy and feel his isolation and pain, I remember the people we serve in the highlands of Papua. The ones infected with AIDS. What could they be feeling? Whatever it is, it couldn’t be much different from what the leper felt. Alone, isolated, shunned.

The stigma against AIDS is so strong, the oppression against people with AIDS so overpowering, that I ask…. What can we do? How can we change all this?

This should not happen to people, God’s own creatures made after His image and likeness.

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This is why I feel so strongly about God’s children learning to love those that the world has shunned, ridiculed, thrown away, isolated.

I long to see the church in Papua embrace back those who are afflicted with AIDS, to care for the children orphaned and made vulnerable by AIDS, and to make sure that this disease is wiped out of Papua.

I pray that God makes this happen soon. So that no one will have to suffer, and suffer alone.

Papua: Health on the Margins of Indonesia

By Catherine Patterson, Maternal and Child Health Intern for World Relief Indonesia Today began as Saturdays usually do in the highlands of Papua, Indonesia: with children calling at the front gate with berries and flowers.

Most are barefoot, wear ill-fitting clothes and come from the surrounding villages. Today, a little girl came with a badly infected lip. We sent her home with a tube of ointment and a few Rupiah in exchange for a bright orange and red bouquet.

Another boy came with juicy raspberries and one foot wrapped in a plastic bag.  After examining his foot, it was clear that jungle rot had started to take over his big toe.  We gave him sandals, provided a few antibiotics, and purchased his berries.

Indonesia has made great strides in addressing some of its most pressing health problems.  Since 1990, the number of children who die before age 5 has been reduced by half, and Indonesia is on target to meet many of its Millennium Development Goals.

Despite these advances, however, Papua Province continues to experience health standards below those in other areas. About 30% of children under age 5 suffer from malnutrition. While nationally, 17% of people live in poverty, in Papua, it is estimated that at least 30% of residents are poor. HIV is reaching epidemic proportions here with a reported 3% prevalence rate, and the situation is made worse by a lack of testing and treatment facilities.

The remote nature of this beautiful, mountainous land exacerbates the problems faced by people living with limited access to essential medicines and care. Stigma and fear of HIV/AIDS frustrates efforts to provide prevention and care. All too often, outbreaks of violence and tribal warfare interrupt regularly scheduled programs aimed at improving the health of Papuans.

Since 2008, World Relief has been reaching some of the most vulnerable in Papua’s Tolikara and Jayawijaya districts. Through its Mobilizing for Life:  Protecting Papua program and in partnership with the local church, local staff provide outreach and education to youth, men, and women on HIV/AIDS and teach communities how to protect themselves and stop the spread of the disease.

But there is still much to be done. Less than half of all births are attended by a skilled health worker, and far too many women die in childbirth each year. Despite substantial investments by foreign donors and the Indonesian government, Papua Province is the only area of Indonesian where the Human Development Index is falling. Our church partners have requested help to reverse this trend, and World Relief is currently exploring how we might reach this area with additional life-saving health messages.

As I think about the realities of Papua, my heart is hopeful. Her people are strong, proud, and resilient. They are eager to learn so they may take control of their health and strengthen their communities.

I think of the flower children, with their big eyes and bigger smiles. It is easy to be discouraged that at times, all we can offer is some ointment or antibiotics. But I am filled with hope and the knowledge that God offers much more through the love and grace of Jesus Christ. It has been my honor to stand with World Relief in Papua, Indonesia, as they seek to empower the local church to reach out to those who need health and healing in the highlands.

As World Health Day approaches on April 7, take a moment to stand with me for the health of people living in Papua and pray that God will bring healing and strength to all who need it in the mountains of Indonesia.

Photos from David Peth and Kirsten Pless

Catherine Patterson serve with World Relief as a volunteer. To learn more about World Relief Indonesia and the work happening there, click here.

World AIDS Day 2011

Kandal Province, Cambodia: A sea of matching white hats filled the tent in Kohtaom District early this morning. More than 200 secondary school students dominated the crowd, and were joined by government officials, religious leaders, police, medical personnel and NGO representatives. They had gathered together to demonstrate the same message printed clearly on their red-ribbon t-shirts: “We are united to protect ourselves from AIDS.” Similar ceremonies are taking place across the globe this World AIDS Day. And there is much to celebrate. The combined response in the past decade by governments, donors, local organizations, international NGOs, and countless volunteers has resulted in new HIV infections falling, AIDS-related deaths decreasing, and treatment being made accessible to millions more individuals, particularly those in low- and middle-income countries.

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Here in Cambodia, participants reflected on the country’s astounding accomplishments in addressing the epidemic. Thanks to prevention efforts over the last nine years, adult HIV prevalence rate has been reduced from 1.2% to 0.5%. Cambodia is also one of the few countries in the world that provides antiretroviral therapy to more than 80 percent of those eligible for it.

The presence at today’s event of more than 100 HIV-positive individuals, however, was a stark reminder that the fight is not over and that resources and responses cannot waver. There are more than 75,000 people living with HIV in Cambodia, and they remain vulnerable. A recent national report found that HIV-affected households experienced lower income and increased medical expenses, which negatively impacted their financial stability, food security and psychosocial wellbeing, as well as the status of women and education of children.

More than 30 million people have died worldwide from AIDS-related causes since the epidemic began. And this does not begin to account for the untold toll on families, communities, and countries as a whole.

Yet despite so much unnecessary loss in the world, or perhaps to honor it, the overarching theme of today’s event was hope.

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The students, aged 15-18 years, sat attentively as World Relief staff presented a drama on the pressures of teenage life. The skit’s message was simple—to value life and make healthy choices about sex—but the issues it raised are relevant to these teens and complex to address: poverty, drug use, migration, “sugar daddies,” unplanned pregnancies and suicide.

World Relief meets with more than 7,000 youth throughout Cambodia on a weekly basis to discuss these issues. In Kohtaom District alone, World Relief works in 42 villages. Youth are provided a safe space to ask questions as they build life skills and learn about disease prevention, nutrition, and trafficking prevention. Evaluations have found that the program helps youth to increase their knowledge about AIDS, promote HIV testing, share health messages with friends, improve school attendance, avoid drug and alcohol abuse, and mentor orphans in their community.

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At the AIDS Day event students were randomly chosen and asked questions by the district officer to test their AIDS knowledge. Despite giggles from their friends when selected, each would walk confidently to the front and respond correctly to questions like, “What should people living with AIDS do to take care of themselves?”, “Can people who look healthy be infected by HIV?”, and “What should you do if your relative or friend finds out they are HIV positive?”

This is a generation for whom AIDS is a reality. They have never known the world without it. But they are informed, they are supported, and they are capable of making choices that protect their future. AIDS may be the currently reality, but with continued investments in the response, this generation can be the one to lead the charge on making it a thing of the past.

Imagine what an AIDS Day celebration we will then have.

Joanna Mayhew, World Relief Asia HIV/AIDS Programs Advisor