Dr. Marie Claire Manafundu, program officer for the Maternal and Child Health Program in East Congo, serves porridge to malnourished children at United Methodist Irambo Hospital in Bukavu, Congo. Photo by Philippe Kituka Lolonga, UM News.

By Philippe Kituka Lolonga
Jan. 27, 2022 | BUKAVU, Congo (UM News)

For more than three years, The United Methodist Church has fed over 1,000 malnourished children in Bukavu, Kisangani, Kindu and Tunda. 

The effort — part of the Maternal and Child Health Program in East Congo — has been getting financial support from the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries’ Global Health program since 2016.

Regional violence has rendered fields inaccessible, and families have left rural areas, putting children’s health at risk. 

Gisele Bitembu, 40, and her eight children live in the area of United Methodist Irambo Hospital in Bukavu. “Three of my children,” she said, “presented severe malnutrition in 2019. Today, with the support of the church, my three children (have) come to recover their normal health.” 

Likewise, five of Adrienne Aksanti’s six children suffered from malnutrition. Today, they are thriving. 

“In January 2020,” she said, “I had lost hope, but today the church has changed the state of health of my children.”

Dr. Marie Claire Manafundu visits with children who have been nursed back to health through The United Methodist Church’s work with malnourished children. Manafundu, the wife of Bishop Gabriel Yemba Unda, said she will continue to plead for the care of these children. Photo by Philippe Kituka Lolonga, UM News.

Dr. Marie Claire Manafundu, program officer for the East Congo mother-child health program and wife of East Congo Area Bishop Gabriel Yemba Unda, leads the effort. 

Children receive porridge three days a week at the feeding sites.

“We also made medicines available to health centers to take care of these malnourished children whose health was critical,” Manafundu said.

She said the program works with community relays and the church’s UMConnect messaging platform to make people aware of the support and to encourage them to continue follow-up care.

Aksanti said she appreciates the reminders to take her children to the health center for porridge and medicine. 

Masika Ndongo, a midwife, supervises treatment of malnourished children at the Irambo health center. “We receive new cases of malnourished children every day,” she said, adding that the staff does everything in its power to help children recover quickly.

“I work in collaboration with the community relays, who go household by household to sensitize parents and pregnant women to respect their appointments,” Ndongo said.

Daniel Dunia Runinga, mayor of the Ibanda municipality, expressed gratitude to The United Methodist Church as a reliable partner supporting the Congolese government in various programs.

Leonard Shako Telonga, a nurse at the Majengo United Methodist Health Center in Goma, praised the UMConnect text alerts, a program of United Methodist Communications. “It has enabled us to raise awareness among parents and pregnant women in various health areas in eastern Congo,” he said.

“After the Nyiragongo volcano erupted,” Telonga added, “we had several malnourished children in the Majengo health area in Goma. Most of them were abandoned, and today the church is starting to take care of them.”

Dr. Jimmy Kasongo, who works at Irambo Hospital, said people living with HIV and AIDS also continue to benefit from financial support from the mission agency’s Global Health program.

“We have mentored more than 100 persons living with HIV,” he said. “We sensitize them so that they understand that there is always a continuity of life, even if they are HIV positive. Each month, the patients receive antiviral medications and a nutritional plan.”

According to data from the latest UNAIDS report, roughly half a million people are living with HIV in Congo. 

“People living with HIV or AIDS have the same rights as other people and deserve our full attention so that they are not marginalized in society,” Manafundu said. 

Bishop Unda said he is grateful to Global Ministries for supporting health programs that are part of the church’s action plan in his area.

“I congratulate all those involved in this great work of taking care of malnourished children, pregnant women and people living with HIV and AIDS,” Unda said. “We preach the word of God, but we also have an obligation to maintain the physical health of our devotees.” 

Kituka Lolonga is a communicator in the Kivu Conference.