NOT A SUBURB
After 24 hours of travel, your 6 Mountain Sky travelers arrived in Luanda, Angola on the evening of October 11, ate dinner, slept a good night and awoke to breakfast at 7 and departure at 7:30 am for Bom Jesus. We’d been told that Bom Jesus is a town of 10,000 outside Luanda. I was thinking suburb. But that’s not the picture. The road to Bom Jesus took us past a brand spanking new high rise apartment community outside Luanda that’s mostly vacant now. It was built by the Chinese, who are heavily invested in Angola. These might properly be called suburbs, but the apartments are too expensive for most people to afford and it is a long, slow drive to the city. So they stand vacant. A ghost city, they call it.
Bom Jesus is not a suburb. It is a region of scattered neighborhoods, loosely clustered around a few small convenience shops. It sits on a hillside overlooking the Kwanza River, source of the fertile soil deposited in periodic floods, plentiful fish, sand and limestone for a Chinese cement factory, and water for Coca Cola, a water bottling plant, and a brewery. The crumbling remains of a colonial sugar processing plant are still visible.
The River and its marshes are also the breeding ground for mosquitoes that spread Malaria, and it is the source of water born diseases. River of life. River of death.
More substantial homes in Bom Jesus are made of cement block and corrugated tin, swept neat with clean laundry hung to dry. Truly poor families live in homes made of mud or old sugar cane bags stretched on stick frames. And up above the city are a very few very wealthy homes behind security gates.
FIGHTING MALARIA: PREVENTABLE, TREATABLE AND BEATABLE!
Malaria is the first cause of death in Bom Jesus. And it is PREVENTABLE; TREATABLE; AND BEATABLE. Our mission: to help eradicate Malaria as a killer in Bom Jesus.
Before we ever arrived, Africare had trained young adults from the United Methodist Church as health workers, called Activists. They learned about Malaria: how it is carried, how it can be prevented, how its symptoms develop over time, how people can be vaccinated, or treated if they contract the disease. They learned how to register neighbors to receive anti-Malaria bed nets to protect family members from mosquitoes while they sleep. They learned how to teach people to protect themselves. On October 12 at the kick-off ceremony for the Imagine No Malaria bed net distribution in Bom Jesus, we presented certificates to the Activists who had completed their training. And we went out into neighborhoods with them to deliver bed nets to families who had registered earlier. It’s not as easy as handing someone a net. Ahead of time the Activists went door to door to record how many people live in each house; how many children and their ages; how many beds in the house. On October 11 we went back to the families that were registered and presented their bed nets, ripping open the bags they came in, taking them out and reminding the family that they need to air a day before you hang them over the bed. This is to let the pesticide that will kill mosquitoes dissipate before use. On October 12 we returned to help families hang the nets they received the day before.
Many of these families have used bed nets before and know just how to do it. But nets wear out and need to be replaced. We were pretty uncomfortable going into the bedrooms of people we had never met. Yet people were very gracious in opening their homes and working together to hang the nets.
IT’S ALL ABOUT PARTNERSHIP
Imagine No Malaria depends upon life-giving partnerships. It took four years to put the partnerships together that led to this net distribution.
UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) worked with the West Angola Annual Conference to create and train a Conference Health Board to oversee net distribution in Bom Jesus, but also to identify other urgent health needs in Angola, like hypertension, HIV/AIDS and intestinal worms.
Working together the Angolan Health Ministry and The United Methodist Church identified Bom Jesus as a town with unusually high rates of Malaria and a United Methodist Church, the perfect recipe for collaboration. And the government Health Ministry will supply the medicines to treat Malaria when it does occur.
We met three staff of Africare, the NGO (Non-governmental Organization) that procured the nets and trained the health worker Activists from Bom Jesus who register and educate families, distribute nets and monitor their proper use.
Rocky Mountain Conference funds, raised to honor Bishop Warner and Minnie Brown, paid for the nets and the cost of training and deploying the volunteer Activists. Chevron Oil has committed to tracking health statistics as the project unfolds.