July 2015

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News from Mark and Diane Vanderkooi

July 7, 2015

Dear family, friends, and supporters,

Our mission leaders are always very keen on us writing “strategies”, and casting “visions”. In general, we appreciate that – missionaries of all people shouldn’t be floundering around aimlessly. But in Africa, strategies and visions have a way of being preempted by reality. In the following letter, Diane shares just such a reality which has been thrust upon us in recent weeks. Pray with us as we try to figure out an appropriate way to respond to these and similar situations. It really is not like we’re looking to putting more irons in our fire!

Your fellow servants,  Mark and Diane

Sylvie, who never knew her mother outside of the womb, is a happy healthy young girl. Had she not been primarily in our care these past 5 ½ month, everyone agrees she  would not have lived beyond  2 months. Weighing in at 15lb 6 oz (7kg), she sits up and loves the Jolly Jumper on loan from the MAF pilots in Chad. As we have said before, she adds much life and joy to our home. Not only so, but caring for her has been an education for us, so that we in turn can better help others. Good thing, too, because as news of her success story spreads, many other cases are coming out of the woodwork. To wit:

Chikina’s wife died 6 days after giving birth. (Not the same Chikina whose death we wrote about a couple months ago.) Soon afterward, he came to us to see what we could do to help keep his son alive. As  it turns out, Chikina’s sister, who had given birth just a few days previously, had already started nursing the boy along with her own. Since they already had someone who could nurse the child, we advised them to: 1) feed Chikina’s sister well so that she could nurse both boys. (They seem to have been underwhelmed by the wisdom of this particular piece of advice.)  2) We told them not to give the baby the contaminated water which Kwong tradition says is absolutely essential. (They say that failure to observe this tradition will cause infertility in adulthood.) They were again skeptical of our supposed wisdom, so we compromised and made a rehydration solution with sterile water, salt and sugar for them to use.  3) And finally, and most successfully, with the help of Sylvie’s uncle Tranquil, we taught them how to milk a goat to supplement the nursing.  One of us checks on the family almost daily to encourage them, keep them motivated and on track. At 3 weeks the 2 boys weighed in at 6lb 13oz and 7lb 4oz. (As you may know, infant formula and bottles require way more sterilization technique, and way more money than African village people have.) 

Noah was a happy and relatively healthy boy , crawling around and pulling himself up to stand. They say he looked as good as Sylvie does now. That was one year ago. Now, at 18 months he has declined in weight to only 9 lb 7 oz (4.3kg) and has an upper arm circumference of 80mm. 115mm is considered extremely malnourished.

The problem seems to be that at 6 months Noah never made the transition to eating porridge and other solid foods. His mother continued to breast feed him almost exclusively to the present. Dysentery wiped out any reserve that he might have had left. The family didn’t have money to take him to the clinic, after several years of poor harvest, so our friend Tabitha used her own money to do so twice. When the situation had become very serious, she brought Noah to our attention to see what we could do. That was just over a week ago.

Daayin, is the son of André, a blind man. André and his petite wife also have an 11 year-old daughter named Diane. They had 4 other children after her birth and before Daayin was born, all of whom died. So when this little guy came along, we helped them with food and medical needs to be sure that he lived. Although André and his wife are good hard workers, it’s difficult for a blind man and his frail wife to make ends meet. Hunger and sickness are their constant companions. Now, at 2 years of age, Daayin has never walked because his legs are too week. He, too, is breastfeeding and drinking only porridge (almost no protein or vitamins). Weighing in at 16lb 8oz (7.5kg), he may be better off than Noah, but he is still definitely malnourished.

We aren’t nutritional experts, but by following the recipes, regimens, and advice of those who are, we have been trying to help these two boys. Both mothers are now receiving a can of enriched porridge mix every couple days to prepare: Millet flour, peanut powder, peanut oil, sugar, milk and salt – all ingredients that can be locally obtained, and therefore reproducible. After just a few days the boys eyes are brighter and they both seem to be stronger. Post script: This morning, just 12 hours after writing this update, Noah’s strength was gone. He passed into the hands of his Eternal Father.  Another child dies. We don’t know if he died from the malnutrition, or from his taking 10x the amount of antibiotic as the clinic staff instructed his parents to give him.

Nayju, died 2 days ago. He was just 6 months old. We never met him or his family, and only heard their story yesterday after the child had been buried. Apparently his mother became pregnant when Nayju was only 4 months old. Kwong tradition stipulates that you must not nurse a baby if you are pregnant. They say that the breast milk is tainted.  So she just stopped nursing him altogether, but being as young as he was, he was not yet ready for or accustomed to porridge, and he was not given milk. So he just wasted away, and a last minute trip to the traditional healer was, not surprisingly, to no avail.  

Each of these stories occurred these past 2 weeks.
As I walked through the village to go offer condolences to Noah’s parents, I couldn’t help but think that for each of these stories which came to my attention, there are probably 10 others which didn’t. Our eyes are being opened to yet another realm of Kwong society where basic knowledge and diligence can make a huge difference. It has all the hallmarks of a new ministry – a ministry for which we have precious little time to offer, but which would be a great opportunity for someone who speaks French and who might wish to join us here in Chageen. And just to be clear, the challenge is not just saving the odd baby here and there. It is nothing less than rolling back the lies from the pit of hell which over the centuries have so thoroughly corrupted  this society that what ought be one of the safest and most secure places – a baby in her mother’s arms – has become one of the most dangerous.


Sylvie in the Jolly Jumper


Chikina’s son: Goat’s milk helps nourish this motherless 11 day-old. His name will be given later after they are sure he’ll survive.


Milking the goat for Chikina’s son. Milking a goat while it is standing up makes a good picture, but as the goats really don’t like the operation, pinning them to the ground is much more practical.


Noah – 18 months


Sylvie at 2 ½ months and  Daayin at 21 months – note they are essentially the same size.


Here lies Noah. In a year or two, nobody will be really sure where his grave is. In decade or so, somebody will build a house over it, or tether their cows over it.

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