Mission Diary: Zambia – Promoting Integral Health

Sister Sonia de Jesús García, an Ecuadorean Comboni Missionary Sister, shares her mission experience at Mongu, in Zambia.

When I came to Zambia, I had no idea what this new experience would be like, as it was in Africa for the first time. But I was sure that if God had brought me to this land, and would show me the way to go. With this availability, I began to visit the villages, to observe daily life and, of course, to pray.

At the same time, I began to reflect on how to start an apostolate service in the field of health. I knew that alone I would not be able to reach all the places and visit the sick who live in the eight sectors of this Zambian region of Kaande, in the province of Mongu, where I am; the three years of this missionary period would pass and I still would not personally meet all the families.

Then I got the idea, together with two ladies, of organising a group of health promoters, made up of women from every community.

To my surprise, 70% of the people in the group are not Catholics but belong to different Protestant churches. However, what brings us together and unites us is the love of God the Father, so at every meeting, we also dedicate ourselves to spiritual formation. Our point of reference is the Word of God and in it, we discover that Jesus made a preferential option for the poorest and most abandoned.

For example, we have emphasized the issue of nutrition, because we find many cases of malnutrition in children, especially in those who are more than six months old, because from that moment on they do not have adequate nutrition for their age, eating the same as the rest of the family; however, their body is not prepared to be fed like an adult and the child suffers from diarrhoea and ends up in a state of dehydration and malnutrition. Other very worrying health situations are the high percentage of the population with very high blood pressure, many victims of strokes, and the numbers of people affected by HIV-AIDS, a disease that also affects children.

With our missionary presence in this region of Zambia, we are helping considerably in the development of all aspects of life, especially eating habits. I have noticed that many people have only one meal a day and do not eat breakfast. And I asked them: “Is it a question of poverty, culture or laziness?”.

We reflected on the fact that our body needs food at least three times a day; we talked about the role of vitamins and minerals and the importance of a balanced diet. It is very common to hear people say, “We can’t afford food.” However, I have seen that if you want, you can. I am happy that some health advocates are already changing their eating habits and are trying to eat breakfast, commenting that they feel healthier.

Water is a vital liquid for the human body. But in the region where I live, most people, unaware of its importance, often spend the day without drinking the minimum of one glass of water. And when water is available during a meeting or gathering, they prefer a soft drink to a glass of water. Where there are already problems with hypertension, this habit increases the risk of stroke.

We are running community awareness and information campaigns to teach all young mothers how to feed their babies after six months so that the baby is fed properly.

However, the number of undernourished children is on the rise due to the high price of basic products. We, therefore, see that there are two main challenges: ignorance and economic poverty, especially in this arid region where the cultivation of the fields demands hard work.