Congo Community Prepares for Nets
A UMNS Story
By Kathy L. Gilbert
April 13, 2010 —A South African superstar, government officials and religious leaders will travel down a rough, muddy path to a neglected neighborhood on April 15, bringing hope wrapped in square plastic bags.
Never has a VIP visited this community of more than 8,000 poor families, but now the governor of Katanga, the "Princess of Africa" and other high officials will be walking into local homes to hang mosquito nets.
The United Methodist Church and its partners of Coalition Religieuse pour la Santé (CORESA), a faith-based coalition of health organizations in Lubumbashi, have been laying the groundwork for the event that will celebrate the first distribution of nets. The event also will launch the denomination's Imagine No Malaria campaign, aimed at eradicating deaths from the mosquito-borne disease.
Popular South African singer and malaria ambassador Yvonne Chacka Chacka, Katanga Providence Governor Moïse Katumbi Chapwe, five United Methodist bishops and religious leaders from other faith groups will kick off the distribution of 30,000 long-lasting insecticide-treated nets.
More than 3 million people living in the Lubumbashi area were left out of a planned nationwide mass distribution of nets in the Democratic Republic of the Congo due to lack of funds. The project organized by CORESA aims to close the gap.
Eugene Motya Makumba, chief of the area, could not be happier.
"This is a joyous occasion for me, and the community is excited," he said. "We are aware of the importance of mosquito nets, but these people are too poor to buy a net. Malaria has a great impact on our lives."
Serving the poorest communities
Raising funds through the United Nation Foundation's Nothing But Nets campaign, The United Methodist Church provided $150,000 for the distribution.
Lubumbashi is an example of faith-based organizations reaching out to offer education and resources in the poorest communities often overlooked by the international community, said Shannon M. Trilli, United Methodist Committee on Relief.
CORESA is training 150 volunteers from local churches and synagogues who will distribute the nets and educate the people on the causes and prevention of malaria.
In 2009, the community of Bongonga reported 9,000 cases of malaria. The Democratic Republic of Congo accounts for 11 percent of malaria cases reported in Africa.
Paving the way
Residents of this poor neighborhood use hoes and shovels to level the ground. Children and adults push heavy metal carts filled with dirt to pour into large, muddy puddles.
Backbreaking, sweaty labor will make a stage emerge from this muddy field.
The community is making other sacrifices as well, razing a small bicycle repair shop and a store selling gravel and sand to make way for the stage. The owner of a lively sawmill business has agreed to close shop on the day of the event.
Pointing to the activity going on around him, Makumba said, "They are really going to get a workout before the big event."
Nyamah Dunbar, on staff with the United Methodist Committee on Relief, said when she first saw the site, she was not sure an event of this magnitude could be pulled off.
"It is a dirty dump," she said. "But then I thought this is a dirty dump that is home to thousands of people; this is their everyday reality."
Dunbar said the ultimate goal of working with other faith-based groups is to model how everyone can work together on a common problem.
"I want us to forget 'I am Catholic' or 'I am Methodist' and remember that the diseases are not discriminating."
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.