I walked around the garden amongst the many fruit trees: mangoes, avocados, bananas, a savoury fruit called safou, lemons, and others I don’t know the names of. This was in the grounds of the new house that we had just bought to cater for the most severely malnourished children at our centre.
The house was made from fired bricks and had a palm thatched roof. As well as the main house there was also another small building which served as a kitchen and a couple of extra rooms.
Judith, who runs the project, gave it a critical look. “It’s too small, Francis, so we’ll need to extend it ... and we’ll need a proper metal roof,” she said. “The roof is too low, it’ll trap in the heat, so that needs to be raised and the walls built up.”
|The house when we bought it.|
|Laying the concrete floor.|
|Raising the roof and extending the walls.|
|The new roof is on and the extension almost complete.|
|Centre volunteers trying out the new house.|
The house that we’d bought for £2,000 was starting to go up in price before my very eyes. “We’ll extend the building to make a good sitting room, and you know the floor ...?” she continued, “It’s lined with bricks, but impossible to clean. Hygiene is very important with these delicate children; we’ll need to lay a concrete floor – the same with the bare brick walls, they’ll need plastering.”
Little by little, we came up with a plan for making the building suitable for feeding severely malnourished children. New windows and doors would complete the plan - and a sturdy fence, made from strong sticks from the forest, held together with ever-versatile mosquito nets.
Once the new roof and extension were complete, we welcomed a little girl called Gracia. She was being treated at the nearby St Joseph’s Hospital. Her malnutrition was so severe that we really thought that she would die. Mama José, our nurse, visited her in the hospital. “She needs cheering up, as well as feeding up,” she said. “Even though the new house isn’t finished, we can buy some raffia mats for her to sit on. It’ll be better than the dreary hospital.”
|Poor little Gracia with her swollen body and peeling skin.|
So, every day, for more than two months, Gracia came to eat at the new house. As well as our nutritious corn, peanut and soya-milk porridge, our volunteers talked and sang to her to try to cheer her up.
Gracia made a full recovery, partly, we believe, because of her own determination. After several weeks of listlessness, she picked up the cooking pot herself to help with the cooking. I’d like to think that the dedication of our volunteers also helped her recovery. Let’s hope, too, that the new house will provide a calm sanctuary for these vulnerable children, and a safe place for the volunteers to help these little ones to get back on the road to health.
|Gracia - at the new centre ... and almost better.|