Church Provides Anti-Malaria Nets in Congo
April 19, 2010—Hundreds of children jostle each other to get a glimpse of what is happening.
Car after car drives into the neighborhood, kicking up clouds of dust. Strangers wearing suits, purple shirts and robes take their places under a big white VIP tent.
Music blares from loudspeakers. John Livingston, a performer from South Africa, dressed in a bright green T-shirt and long shorts adorned with African symbols, holds the crowd's attention for a while. Scouts march back and forth, practicing their formation and waving flags. A band of people dressed in white shirts and green pants play horns and beat drums.
At 10 a.m., Moise Katumbi, provincial governor of Katanga, and Yvonne Chaka Chaka, a South African singer, are escorted to their places under the tent. Speaker follows speaker, and actors perform a skit about malaria.
Finally, Chaka Chaka takes the stage. One word from her sets the children free: “Come.”
A sea of children surges to the stage.
“That was Mama Africa calling to the next generation,” says the Rev. Larry Hollon, top executive of United Methodist Communications.
Welcome to the celebration of World Malaria Day, April 15, in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Lubumbashi.
After the morning events, seven teams of volunteers along with church, government and traditional leaders hang long-lasting, insecticide-treated nets in 14 homes. Over the next few weeks, volunteers will hang 30,000 nets in more than 8,000 homes in this neighborhood.
“These children deserve a chance. That is really what this day is all about,” Hollon says.
“When Yvonne Chaka Chaka called the children to the stage, this whole area came alive. When you realize something as simple as hanging a bed net can save one of these precious lives—that’s what we are doing here today. It is a celebration of life.”
The United Methodist Church and its partners in the Coalition Religieuse pour la Santé—CORESA—a faith-based coalition of health organizations in Lubumbashi, laid the groundwork for this event. The celebration also launched the denomination’s Imagine No Malaria campaign, which aims to eliminate malaria deaths in Africa by 2015.
The United Methodist Church provided $150,000 for the distribution. The money was raised through the United Nation Foundation’s Nothing But Nets campaign.
Nets for Life, a campaign by the Anglican/Episcopal Church to eradicate malaria, provided the 30,000 nets.
“The reality is that malaria will not be eradicated by Methodists alone,” said Pittsburgh Area Bishop Thomas Bickerton, leader of the denomination’s Global Health Initiative.
“We are a player at the table; we don’t set the table,” he said. “It is not about us. It is about all these people who will benefit when the nets are distributed.”
A lack of funds left more than 3 million living in the Lubumbashi area out of an earlier distribution of nets.
“Those of us on the inside named this project ‘Lazarus.’ We knew it was much bigger than us, and I think God’s hand is truly here,” said Shannon Trilli, a staff executive with the United Methodist Committee on Relief who has been working on the ground in the Democratic Republic of Congo to organize the event. “We are just thankful we pulled it off, and I’m just really proud of CORESA and The United Methodist Church in Congo for making it happen.”
Malaria is the leading cause of mortality in Bongonga due to overcrowding, poor sanitation and open rivers and swamps. Most homes in this village of more than 58,000 do not have running water or latrines. Puddles of wastewater are everywhere.
“The chief and the mayor said no one has ever paid attention to Bongonga,” Trilli said. “This neighborhood in Lubumbashi represents literally one in a million across the continent. The churches and religious communities are here and we’re strong. We are filling in the gaps where governments or national organizations may be hit or miss.”
Chaka Chaka told the crowd this day would make history.
She called all the religious leaders to the front of the stage and asked them to hold hands. “God loves us, and we are all equal in the eyes of God.”
She implored parents not to sell their nets and to make sure their children sleep under them.
“All these good men and women from different religions have come together to help you, to save your lives,” she said.
San Antonio Area Bishop James Dorff said the interfaith effort held special meaning.
“When you look at all these children, if we were even able to save one, it is all worth it. It truly was a tremendous experience,” he said.
Hanging nets in homes also was inspiring.
“The investment the church has made to the campaign is paying off,” said Dorff. “Things are at work, nets are being hung, standing water is being treated and removed where possible. It is a tremendous thing.”
The children and adults living in Bongonga will be able to go home with valuable information about what causes malaria and how to treat it, said Central Congo Area Bishop David K. Yemba.
“In doing this, people—church leaders, government representatives—all those who have been here, I think they learned something not only about malaria, but also about the presence of God.”
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.