“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” - James 1:27 ESV
I’ve loved being in Burundi. I honestly don’t mind the heat and bugs and less convenient lifestyle here. One thing that has been especially challenging, though, is the constant need and poverty we encounter daily. My heart aches for the children and adults we see begging on the streets. Worse still, it’s hard for me to know how to be helpful in sustainable ways rather than perpetuating problems. I don’t have answers, but I’m reading a book called When Helping Hurts and talking to Burundian friends to try to sort out these issues.
One way I feel confident that we are creating viable solutions is by partnering with a Burundian organization called J-Life. Their main focus is showing God’s love to widows, orphans, and others in need. They do this in a holistic way with discipleship, job creation, housing, and other resources to create sustainable ways to help their fellow Burundians know God and climb out of extreme poverty.
I’ve been working with Eliza and J-Life to start a couple new initiatives to help evaluate and track the health of the community in Bubanza where J-Life is working. This has involved a couple large-scale health screenings and will entail more education, treatment, and long-term nutrition strategies.
We started by performing two health screenings on the community. One was for the widows and other adults, and the other was to screen the children. These health screenings were designed to assess the overall health of the population and identify areas where special attention is needed. They included basic vitals, screenings for malnutrition, and a few questions about HIV and chronic illnesses.
We screened for current illnesses and connected those who were ill with J-Life representatives to help arrange transportation and cost coverage for trips to a clinic or hospital. These health screenings can be repeated to track the overall health of the community.
Results and Wins
In total, we screened 59 adults (mostly widows) and 117 children.
Of the adults we saw, 36 were referred to the nearby clinic for various issues, such as screening for tuberculosis or malaria, HIV testing, women's health issues, high blood pressure, shortness of breath, and epilepsy. One of the women is a single mother with untreated epilepsy. Her seizures have made it difficult to care for herself or her baby. We were able to pray with her and connect her to a woman from J-Life to help her get access to and pay for treatment.
Among the children, 39 were referred for medical care at the clinic. Most of these were for malaria symptoms or gastrointestinal issues, but also for rashes, ear infections, blood in urine, seizures, yellowing of eyes, etc. I used BMI to track nutrition in the adults, but it was difficult for me to settle on a malnutrition screening for the children. They would all be extremely underweight by the U.S. BMI system. We tracked a few metrics from the World Health Organization, but I ended up settling on a system developed by a doctor friend of mine in Zambia. Based on this, about 64% of the children are malnourished. This increases their susceptibility to illnesses.
Our partners at J-Life are diligently following up with the many ill adults and children that we referred to the clinic. For those who are malnourished, we are making sure that any acute sickness is treated. After that, we are hoping to have them receive food supplements and nutrition education. There are projects underway to plant more crops in Bubanza to create sustainable and realistic nutrition goals.
Based on what we learned through our health screenings, Eliza and I have developed a plan to provide education for the community and leaders on a number of topics. These include the basics of how infections spread, HIV and sexual health, and nutrition. Even very fundamental health knowledge is lacking in this area (such as using soap to clean a wound), and the most basic knowledge and tools can make a massive difference in community outcomes.
Dental and eye complaints are extremely common in both the adults and children. I am hoping that dental and eye teams can come and visit this area in the future.
We will have a repeat weight check for the children in about a month. We plan to train some of the J-Life representatives to perform these without us. As with many things here in Burundi, our hope is to train our partners and community leaders and then step out of their way. I’m grateful for the leaders at J-Life and their commitment to show God’s love to the “least of these” in their country.
**Our team is helping J Life develop a website, but they currently do not have one. If you are interested in connecting with them, please contact the director, Bosco Mutebutsi at firstname.lastname@example.org