Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Face of Malnutrition

Just when I thought my African life couldn’t get anymore surreal....

Second year in Batouri is still going so much better. The constant ups and downs of life here are all part of the game. Nice to feel comfortable, established, and in control of things. A huge majority of it is from deepened friendships and the satisfaction of working on projects. Remember me grumbling about trying to find work and not being able? Who would of thunk I have come to the point I’m actually turning people/projects away. Not this girl of seven months ago that’s for sure! Julia calls me the Carrie Bradshaw of Batouri solely for the reason that when I talk about this town I talk like I am in a relationship with it. We have rough patches, but turns out this place is good for me. Small and quaint enough that I can walk anywhere I need to by foot and have gotten to know a lot of people, yet big enough and with a sufficient mix of ethnicities that I can hide myself and keep some anonymity that my other PCV counterparts who live in villages lose.

Following the theme of constant ups and downs, this past Wednesday was a down and a shocking reminder just how surreal my life here can get. I choose to talk about this because it will do me good not to keep this to myself. It’s also a perfect time to debut my malaria/malnutrition project.

As I shared in my earlier post, Wednesday mornings I am working with a Malnutrition project at the Catholic Health Center. This past Wednesday a mother brought her 2 year old daughter for the second week in a row to be weighed and receive some fortified flour. The week before she was at least moving and crying, however this week she was barely stirring. It was evident to the naked eye this was a severe case of malnutrition. When I picked her up to weigh her she was all bones and my fingers could practically touch – she weighed less than 7 kilos (15ish lbs). Denise, the nurse I work with, saw her and immediately arranged transportation for her to go to the hospital. She asked that I meet them there with my camera so I could document a severe case such as this. By the time I arrived at the hospital the nurses were in the middle of preparing fluids for her to drink to help with her dehydration and hypoglycemia. I was to wait until she had finished drinking those before I could film her unclothed. She started taking slow sips, but less than 5 minutes after starting the nurse told the mother to stop. We all watched in the next few moments as she passed away in her mother’s arms. Sigh, a rough moment. The swell of emotion that first came subsided into shock at what I had just witnessed and the following juxtaposition of seeing a grieving mother holding her child and the nurses carrying on with business as usual.

The mother with her daughter.

Why you ask would I involve myself in this work when I know sad outcomes just as this happen and that breaks my heart to see? Believe me, I’m the first to ask myself. My own answer is a complicated jumble of words. I accept and have seen myself families that truly do not have sufficient funds for food, however I think most of it boils down to the fact that so much of the finality and the irreversible outcome of death can be avoided here. I’m up against mentality, lack of education, and a culture that does not lend itself to good eating habits. If I could be so fortunate for you to visit Batouri I am 100% certain you would agree with me. Not here in Batouri, not a place with a daily, decent-sized market! Some eating customs do not lend themselves to healthy growth. No feeding your child solid food at three months is not good and do not fear your child will not have a taste for the finer things in life if you give him some meat or eggs, etc. Maybe I can persuade some of the people who told me for now the two kids I have seen succumb to malnutrition didn’t do so because it was their destiny. Au contraire sir, stop that order of your second beer and buy some decent food (was said a bit nicer). It’s not destiny or sorcery, but negligence when a kid is dependent on the food you give them.

Well I can’t change the world or Batouri, but here is how I’m going to work to change the views of 30 families. What started as an idea middle of August now officially kicked off as a project this past Saturday. We discussed with 5 community members the purpose of our project and asked that they each find 6 families with kids from 0 to 5 years of age who are at-risk, can really stand to benefit from this help, be open to the idea, and have a willingness to change. We will then take those families, particularly, the women and educate them on two issues, malnutrition and malaria – the highest causes of infant mortality here.

For malaria we will educate them on the disease and what they can do to prevent it. If they do not have access to a mosquito net one will be supplied to them with subsequent visits intended to ensure its proper use. For malnutrition we want to educate them on nutrition and ask what they prepare for dinner and feed their kids and then show them ways of improving this diet. I want to discuss with them proper eating habits over the course of several days and introduce to them examples of nutritious meals. Kids will be weighed on each visit and their progress noted. The next phase of this project will be to then give them the necessary seeds to grow this food. We are getting an agriculture PCV in December and I am waiting on him to help me with this part and to work with him in showing these families how to make tofu - and excellent and easy to make protein source. (Dear future PCV yes I have decided work for you, but feel you might come to appreciate having work ready and at the waiting for you! :) ) Me or the next business volunteer after me can take that tofu and possibly turn it into an income-generating activity. If it happens to grow then from the original thirty there can be thirty more sought out.

Ready to start :) From an idea to reality. Here are all the local Cameroonians I have found to help!

So that's it in a nutshell. What do you think? If you feel it's a worthy project to support there are plenty of ways it is needed! This is the proper place for a shout-out to the Azure Hills Focus Group. It was a pleasure to present to you about my experience when I was home. Not only have you taken me under your wing for a gril you all didn't know and send me regular care packages, but believed in a project I had when it was all an idea. It has allowed me to start this in such a short time. Thank you, you have been a blessing!

Now to end on a not so heavy topic. 'Twas a welcome distraction to have Julia in town. Went through the laborous making of hamburgers for her and these guys who always ask for hamburger nights. As Idrissou always says when we are together like this "on est en famille - we are with family." Not far off, while I have come to know a lot of people in town for the past year this is who I consider family here:).

When Cameroonians shake hands they end it by snapping their two middle fingers together. Not as easily done as you might think. It became my thing and known as my thing that after this snapping of fingers I make all my Cameroonian friends do a "pound-it/fist-bump." I love this picture because it I think it is a pretty accurate capture of our friendship.