By Missy Tuck, Outreach and Education Coordinator
St. Vincent Bariatric Center of Excellence
My Global Orphan Foundation trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo was life-changing. While I have traveled to more than 30 countries, the energy and the people of the Congo were different than anything that I had ever experienced in this world.
I was asked to travel to help implement a medical nutrition program for orphans in a slum in Kinshasa. The pilot location was in an orphanage called COLK, the home for approximately 120 orphans ranging from 1 month to 19 years.
The travel team included the director of the Global Orphan Foundation (GOF), a GOF board member/ adoptive mom with twins from the Congo, a physician and me…a public health worker. I had helped create a program
that would not only treat malnutrition, but also prevent malnutrition. This included not only food resources, but also educational resources and micronutrient resources to combat the many precursors to malnutrition. Because childhood illness is a contributing cause to acute malnutrition, our goal was to provide aggressive and early management of sanitation, hygiene and health programs (i.e. diarrhea, malaria prevention). This was to augment the management of acute malnutrition in the orphans we served.
Our days were spent “in clinic,” screening all the orphans. We used Doctors Without Borders Mid-Upper Arm Circumference (MUAC), height, weight and other biometric indicators to access all the orphans. From
there, we categorized those with severe and moderate acute malnutrition and put them on a “treatment plan.” This includes the utilization of high nutrient dense food products called Plumpy Nut for older kids and
F-100 formula for infants. There were four orphans we screened who were taken to the hospital due to the severity of their condition. Two of the orphans had arm circumferences of only 112 mm! Another nine had acute infections that required antibiotic treatment.
From here, we met with the orphanage workers, the local Congolese pediatrician and nurse. We asked for their input…what would work, what was a reasonable expectation, what they saw daily, where the most need
was, etc. Our goal was to create a successful partnership and establish trust for the best long-term outcomes. We wanted to make sure they knew we were their partners and that together, we could improve the lives of
the orphans we were serving.
From here, all of the orphans were provided a de-worming pill and education on hand washing and the utilization of the boxes of hand sanitizer we had brought. None of them had used or seen hand sanitizer before.
Thanks to the St.Vincent grant, we were able to provide antibiotics and multi-vitamins with iron to all orphans…for an entire year. These multi-vitamins will prevent Vitamin A deficiency in the orphans, which is linked to preventing blindness and protecting against death from measles and diarrhea; preventing zinc deficiency, which helps decrease the risk of pneumonia and the length and severity of diarrhea; and preventing iron deficiency, which is the most common micronutrient deficiency in the world affecting about half of all children under age 5.
Without iron, physical and mental capacities of a population are lowered…immune defense is lowered…and cognitive ability is reduced. In addition, we brought and hung 20 insecticide-treated bednets, which were
being used to help prevent malaria.
On our final night, there was a spontaneous singing and dancing celebration. I danced and sang while holding three kiddos. Another five kids held on to my shirt as we danced, smiled and sang together. After much dancing, I sat down on a concrete step and another 10-15 kids ran over for some love and affection. We hugged, laughed and hugged some more. These kids are so full of love, so full of life, so full of hope. I feel fortunate that I could serve them and look forward to going back to see their beautiful faces and measure their improvement. We have so much to learn from the energy and love of these kids. So much to learn. So much love to give.