Established in the 1960s for refugees fleeing the Angolan civil war Mpasa is a region on the outskirts of the capital city of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo. People fled to Mpasa to be safe from harm with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Work, housing, food, and medical help were non-existent. To protect themselves from the weather, people built shelters from whatever discarded materials they could find like cardboard and rusted tin.
By 1994, the population had grown in Mpasa with the influx of displaced Congolese people who were the victims of the horrific Tutsi-Hutu tribal genocide in eastern Congo and Rwanda. Mpasa has since become a permanent community, populated by the poorest of the poor.
In the 1990s, seeing the devastation and starvation wreaking the Congo, the United Methodist Church through their General Board of Global Ministry (GBGM) with the help of the United Nations built a small nutrition and medical center in Mpasa. Dr. Adolphe Yamba Yamba was chosen to oversee the Mpasa Nutrition Center. As a refugee from the northeastern Congolese city of Kisangani she understood what all these hungry, hopeless people felt. She graciously took on the awesome responsibility without pay for years.
Originally focused on mothers and newborns, the medical and nutrition program at Mpasa grew to include the area’s older children, too, many of which are orphans. Now the center serves the population as a whole. Children were suffering from severe malnutrition and lack of protein known as kwashiorkor. Children were dying from starvation and diseases their little bodies couldn’t fight.
The United Nations and GBGM underwrote a feeding program for the children. One meal a day, two days a week was the regimen for several years, first come first served. Cooked corn gruel was what was provided. Occasionally rice and beans. The money flow varied so feedings were haphazard. The good intentions were there, but there was never enough food to go around. So many people were hungry.
The center had no plumbing or electricity, and space was at a premium. There was one room for maternity, two small rooms for in-patient stay, and one cinderblock room with a bare wooden operating table that served as a surgical suite. The only light for procedures came from the window. The doctor had little in the way of medicines to relieve suffering. Maternity patients had no clothing for their newborns. Beds were covered with pieces of threadbare material, some just plywood without mattresses. Patients without beds were on the floor. Windows had no screening or glass. Malaria-producing mosquitoes flew about patient rooms. A significant improvement came in 1999 when the United Nations drilled a well to serve the nutrition center and surrounding area. Hand-pumped water was then available to all, a massive change over the previous chore of carrying water from a polluted stream over a mile away.
Today, through the determination and compassion of the people of the United Methodist Church, conditions in the Congo have slowly, but greatly, improved for the people of Mpasa. In large part, this has come about through the relationship established between the Central Congo Conference and three U.S. United Methodist Conferences called the Central Congo Partnership, a relationship which provides mutual spiritual support and prayer, and financial assistance to the Congo conference.
An adequately funded food supply is now in place to serve children one meal a day, five days a week. The number of children varies from day to day between 100 and 300. For severely undernourished children, medicinal and nutritional supplements are added to the meal. The children have benefitted enormously, with kwashiorkor greatly reduced in the past five years.
Medications and an improved nutrition program at Mpasa have remained priorities for the Congo Partnership. Dr. Yohadi addressed a visiting team from Peninsula-Delaware in 2004, saying with tears in her eyes, “I am like a soldier going into battle with no weapons. With your help, now I can fight.”
Dr. Adolphe Yamba Yamba and his devoted staff provide daily care for the people of Mpasa with deep Christian faith and compassion. The Congo Partnership has been a blessing to Mpasa. Equally blessed have been the many volunteers fortunate to travel to Mpasa, who have been touched by the faith, caring, and gratitude of the Congolese people. With God’s guidance the deep connection to Mpasa will continue. For all involved in this mission, there is much for which to praise the Lord.