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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Marching to End Chronic Hunger

After a very brief check on the Johnsons this morning and hurried rounds, we went up to Bundibugyo town with Nathan and Emily to attend the launch of World Food Program's new campaign against chronic child hunger. Another interesting out-of-the-missionary-box day: first, the entire event had its conception really in the scientific surveys performed by our team, which showed that levels of chronic malnutrition reflected in stunting were more severe in Bundibugyo (and parenthetically Karamoja where our OPC-friends work) than any other area of Uganda. About 45% of kids slow down their linear growth in response to constant infection and inadequate food. Their striking shortness is just a marker for how hard their little brains are struggling to grow and develop, against the odds. So it is no wonder when later they fail to achieve adequate standards in school. Chronic undernutrition is a COMPLICATED sort of multi-factorial issue, a final common pathway of social injustice, poor choices, family disintegration, inescapable infectious diseases, poor roads, watery starchy protein-poor foods, unstable marriages, poverty, generational cycles, gaps in educational opportunities for the girls who will become mothers, individual greed and sin. So there is no one easy answer, and attacking the problem means asking an entire culture to consider child-nurturing practices and ponder where we have gone wrong, and how important a change would be, and what it might look like. Which is just the sort of place that missionaries should be, advocating for the voiceless children, contributing scientifically to the debate, and reminding us all that the issues stretch from microbes to heart-attitudes, and praying for God to send organizations with expertise and resources to do so much more than we could ever do on our own.
So back to today. Scotticus and Stephanie's research led to some papers, and that led to some contacts and short-term work in Kampala, and attention for Bundibugyo. Right at the time when WFP was changing its policy to address underlying causes of malnutrition and not just distribute food. Visits ensued, articulate and eager WFP staffers came and talked to us, and we expounded on all we've seen over the years. WFP hired a very creative and professional media-campaign guru named Richard who then mobilized many others. The government Ministries took note. There were trainings, meetings, ideas, proposals. And songs were written. Richard contracted two local talents to collaborate on a catchy-beat tune in Lubwisi that extolls parents to care about their children's nutrition. The major messages they chose to focus on were about balanced, varied diets, the impact of malnutrition on brain growth and school performance, the responsibility of men to care for their families (another original song: What is a Man? Who is a real man? Someone who drinks when his family is hungry? NO!) All of this came to a head today, when the launching celebration took place.
We arrived just in time to march with a brass band through Bundibugyo Town. ALL around Bundibugyo town, actually. Picture a sure drum and mostly-in-tune brass tubas and trumpets, banners, dignitaries, local people in campaign T shirts, us, and a thousand kids, winding through the market and up and down streets, waving banners and drawing attention. I looked down a lot to keep my footing on the uneven stones and mud. But it was great fun. The ladies I was marching beside laughed a lot. About half-way through I turned around to Scott and said "If only they would play 'When the Saints Go Marching In'" . . . and sure enough, a few minutes later, the tune changed and that was the next song! Sadly and foolishly I had changed at the last minute into my cheap Christmas heeled shoes, which I thought were more appropriate with my dress-up outfit, but as it turns out are not ideal marching shoes so now my feet are throbbing with blisters. I'm sure there's a lesson on vanity there, or a good parable about taking on some pain for the children of Bundibugyo!
Other highlights of the day: meeting two very interesting young men, PhD's from America and Italy now working with WFP, and having a long talk over lunch about the causes of hunger, and life in Bundibugyo. Seeing a creative mime/dance troupe from Kampala perform. Watching our own local musicians dance and perform their new song. Trying to concentrate on the political speeches when they switched into Lubwisi and weigh just what was being said. Having Scott called on twice to pray. Hoping that the several-thousand-onlooker crowd would take some of the message home.
Praying that Bundibugyo will be redeemed, that an awakened awareness of the impact of hunger on children will lead to real change.


Barbara Elwood said...

I love the picture you painted of marching in the parade. I pray that the children of Bundi will begin to see changes in their life and health as an outgrowth of days like these.

Thanks for being the healing and hopeful hands of Christ once again.

Karen said...

Exciting to see how all that research was able to bring such a response from WFP. Interesting, too how God planted teams in both areas of stunting occurances.
Sorry about your've stood and marched for children for years, thanks!

Wasti said...

So vividly described and you have spoken from the heart. Nice to be together with your team in the whole mission of ending child hunger and malnutrition in Bundibugyo.

Looking forward to working together in the future endeavors in Bundibugyo.

Wishing all the best.