When Freddy Kitwa, my colleague from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), sent me a story this week – he included one of those small details about a young mom that made the story spring to life.
Freddy detailed the story of Mande, a 32-year-old mother of three children (Jean, age 11; Kisimba, age seven; and Jolie, age four). Mande and her husband and children live in a small village outside of Kalemie, on the far eastern edge of the DRC.
Food for the Hungry (FH) was already transforming Mande’s village. People in the community had built wells and latrines, to protect children from disease. Mande knew that FH was teaching women about health and nutrition, too.
Been There, Done That, Got the T-shirt
When several of FH’s first round of trainees – a delegation of mother leaders – came to visit Mande, she says she was disappointed. “I was so discouraged when the mother leaders came to me for teaching, as they did not bring me a T-shirt,” says Mande. You’ve heard of “been there, done that, got the T-shirt?” It’s not just an American thing. People worldwide like SWAG.
The mother leader came instead with a proposition: Enter our training program so your children will grow up stronger and healthier. Mande says that the mother leaders kept talking even though she didn’t initially welcome them. “After a long discussions with the mother leader team, I agreed to welcome them into my house and talk about FH’s program, especially the health teaching,” Mande says.
Mande learned how to plan balanced meals for her family, and how to make a kitchen garden behind her house, full of nutritious vegetables to enrich her children’s diet. Now, Mande’s vision has expanded beyond the first phase of her work with FH. She can envision the day when her garden produces enough to eat and extra to sell for cash.
No More Malnutrition, No More Sudden Death
“The teaching has brought a big change in my life,” Mande says. She’s now using mosquito nets to protect against malaria, and her children are growing fast. She’s practicing good hygiene, too.
“If my children are going to school, and they find mangoes or any other fruit, they know that they have to clean it first before eating,” Mande says. Eating dirty fruit in places like DRC can lead to illnesses that can even kill a child. “Through all these testimonies, our children are prevented from malnutrition and sudden death.”
Those mother leaders who first approached Mande are my new heroes. They could have just walked away and said, “This woman isn’t worth the fight. All she wants is a T-shirt. Let’s go find more fruitful work.”
Instead they continued to talk with Mande until she invited them in. FH’s work is relational, at base. Sometimes we do give tools or seeds or food, but in the end, it’s about interactions that change behaviors.
You can help people like Mande by praying for the daily conversations that happen in villages all over the world. Pray for the mother leaders; pray for the moms that listen decide whether to participate. You can also provide seeds, tools and watering cans that help the mothers grow their kitchen gardens from FH’s gift catalog. Help us give mother’s like Mande a vision beyond the T-shirt.