MAPENZI’S STORY OF MALNUTRITION IN THE CONGO
She was breathing quickly and was too weary to sit. Her mother’s brow was furrowed. I kept looking at Mapenzi’s body and her date of birth on the intake, thinking to myself “There is no way she is 7 years old. She looks to be about 3.” But the mother insisted that she was indeed 7 years old. A few questions later we learned that Mapenzi’s grandfather had just died of tuberculosis. My first concern was that Mapenzi also had tuberculosis. However the mother’s first concern was, “how will we eat in the hospital? I have no one. I have no husband and my parents are dead and my other child is sick at home with the neighbor.” The family had not eaten in a day. This story illustrates is a fairly common occurrence. The children who enter our nutrition program have multiple social problems and are often in great need. The children are weak. The families are stressed. What was uncommon about this story was the degree of this woman’s loss. Most people have someone to look after them. This mother was truly alone. You could just see the stress melt from the mother’s face as we told her Mama Ruth, the nutrition program cook, would look after her needs.
In the days that followed we learned more of her story. At the urging of friends and neighbors this mother brought Mapenzi to the hospital after three days of mourning of her father’s passing. The villagers insisted that she would be taken care of at Nyankunde. This warmed my heart, “They will take care of you.” We learned that the woman’s whole family had been killed during the war. Her two children had been attending a local heath center for nutritional supplements, but Mapenzi in particular was not doing well. Mapenzi has received blood transfusions to correct severe anemia. She has started on tuberculosis treatment and in the therapeutic feeding program and is gaining the strength to sit and stand again. Her cough is decreasing. She is on the road to recovery, with her mother and brother at her side. Our program brings families like Mapenzi’s together and allows them to live and seek a cure together. We are able to employ a cook to prepare daily porridge and cook for families in crisis. We have a nutritionist who feeds these kids, encourages the mothers (fathers too) and hears their stories. We have loving nurses who ensure the children’s medical needs are being met.