One of the great perks of my position at the Salvation Army, is that I get to travel back to Africa to monitor our projects and meet with the implementing teams. This past week I took my maiden voyage to Francophone Africa and spent a week in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Yes, this is the Congo that you have heard about in the news, famous for a violent past and current unrest, violence, and rape perpetrated by rebel group M23. Honestly, even as an Africophile (or whatever the equivalent of Anglophile is…) my knowledge of the Congo was often limited to alarming headlines prior to this trip. To my delight, I found Kinshasa to hold no more than average Africa-big-city-craziness and the Congolese to be incredibly warm and welcoming. Also, never fear faithful readers, the current violence is contained within eastern Congo while Kinshasa is in the west, and Congo is HUGE! We were actually geographically closer to the fighting while in Kampala, than I ever was while in the DRC.
This trip was unlike my previous escapades into Africa as, in some ways, I had joined the Development Set. Jetting in from London on a short-term monitoring assignment felt strange to say the least, but seeing the projects in person was invaluable and will hopefully set a strong foundation for a long partnership between the UK and DRC Salvation Army offices. I visited three exciting agriculture and water projects under our Sustainable Livelihood Development Programme, and here is a snapshot of the first.
Kinshasa Moringa Trees
On Tuesday, my host and Congolese counter-part, Major Tsilulu, and I travelled to Bakidi Health Centre. Bakidi is a Salvation Army health centre and maternity ward that serves some of the poorest neighbourhoods in Kinshasa who are badly affected by malnutrition. These neighbourhoods are incredibly overpopulated due to the 1998 war in the Bas-CongoProvince which caused the displacement of people into the Kinshasa Province.
The Salvation Army works with an association of young Agronomists to try to tackle these problems. Together they came up with a proposal to disburse moringa seedlings and train community members how to grow trees, harvest seeds and leaves, prepare moringa leaf powder, and use moringa products to fight malnutrition. Moringa is considered to be one of the world’s ‘miracle trees’, as almost every part can be used for food or has some other beneficial property. The leaves are dried, crushed, and then added to food or water and contain all essential amino acids and are rich in protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin B, Vitamin C, and minerals.The seeds, after being dried and crushed, can be used to purify water. In this process the powder is stirred in the water for 10 minutes, the mixture is then allowed to settle for 30, and after that the water can be filtered through clean fabric. The moringa causes all the harmful elements to gather at the bottom of the water.
While I visited the project, I was able to see moringa seedlings being planted as well as a group of Change Agents (community volunteers) being trained on the uses of moringa. I also met with some mothers and their malnourished children. Including my experiences watching malnutrition testing in clinics in Uganda and among the Pokot in Kenya, these children were definitely in the worst state that I have witnessed. Their frail bodies highlighted to me the absolute necessity of such an intervention.
The project will plant a demonstration plot of 200 trees at the health centre and will disburse 10,000 trees to mothers in an effort to reduce the number of children and mothers who come to the health center for malnutrition by 50%. A lofty goal, but one that I think we might manage to pull off.