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News : Sudan

Christmas dinner & traditional healers

Christmas dinner & traditional healers – 23 Dec 2009

Tearfund has been operating in Darfur since 2004. The staff are preparing for Christmas in the refugee camps but the work is relentless. A Tearfund nutritionist reports on how training traditional healers and using a high-energy peanut paste is dramatically reducing malnutrition rates.

Sakina, a traditional healer

The wind lifts the plastic sheet covering Sakina’s roof blowing dust into her small dwelling as she busies herself with her herbal remedies treating patients that come to her for healthcare. Sakina is a traditional healer. One man waiting for his turn, has burnt his foot in a fire. A teenager comes in with a stomach upset. As Sakina treats these members of her community she notices a woman approaching with a small lifeless body in her arms. She beckons the lady in expecting the child to start crying but there is only silence. She looks at the child who struggles to sit up on her mothers lap and whose breathing is almost non existent.

Sakina has seen this before. She has seen it countless times. She is glad that she has recently had training from Tearfund on how to check whether the child is truly malnourished and how to then refer the child to a Tearfund feeding centre. She had a traditional way of dealing with children who are malnourished but it often didn’t work and children died. Sakina learnt about traditional healing through her grandmother who was a traditional healer. When she was a young girl she used to watch her grandmother treat patients and she then took on the practice herself.

She still uses one of the methods of traditional healing with these children but has discontinued the other. She used to take sugar and rub it into the child’s palette until the palette would bleed, believing that this would help to remove any toxins making the child malnourished. She no longer uses this method but she still takes the bark from a tree believed to have healing properties and ties it around the child’s wrists, ankles and waist.

Since receiving the Tearfund training she now also uses the coloured MUAC tape placing it on the mid upper arm of the child checking to see if it is within the referral criteria (red in colour). When she finds the arm is in that bracket she refers the mother to the Tearfund nutrition centre. If the child is not malnourished, she still gives the mother advice on feeding practices and on how to prevent the child from becoming malnourished.

Sakina says; ‘Before I never knew about nutrition and could not give advice to the mothers apart from the traditional healing that I used on the child. Now Tearfund have taught me about nutrition and I feel that I can really help these children. It is good that the child not only receives help from my traditional healing, but is also able to receive medication and food from the Tearfund nutrition centre. Through these two methods the child is healed much quicker. I am grateful to Tearfund for the training they have given me’.

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In Darfur the first option that mothers turn to when their child is sick is to take them to a traditional healer. By training these healers, Tearfund is now able to reach malnourished children quicker as they are referred by the healers to the nutrition centres and therefore Tearfund can assist them before their situation gets too desperate. The traditional healers themselves are grateful to Tearfund for the training they have received and feel that this has increased their knowledge and understanding on nutrition which they previously knew little about. Because of the strong belief in traditional healing in Darfur, Tearfund does not try to influence the healers into giving up all their traditional methods of healing, but rather encourages them to integrate internationally recognised methods of diagnosis and treatment into their traditional practise.

Peanut paste, a Christmas dinner

Christmas dinner for the malnourished children is a simple affair. At the Tearfund feeding centres the children receive plumpynut (a peanut paste with micronutrients, high protein and high energy) or a premix consisting of a corn soya blend, with sugar and oil. This is dependant on whether the children are moderately malnourished or severely malnourished. It doesn’t taste great but it has a miraculous effect on the children and helps them regain a healthy weight quickly.

Tearfund’s Disaster Management Team (DMT) has been operating in Darfur since 2004. Last year, Tearfund’s teams provided over 137,000 people with access to clean water, and constructed sanitation facilities for around 50,000 people. Almost 100,000 women and children attended weekly health clubs, over 19,000 farmers received seeds and tools, over 6000 children were treated for malnutrition through Tearfund’s feeding centres and more than 26,000 at risk children were given food to prevent malnutrition.

Kidnapped Irish aid worker set free

Kidnapped Irish aid worker set free – 17 Oct 2009

Two kidnapped aid workers from the Irish aid agency GOAL were released this morning in Sudan’s troubled Darfur region after more than 100 days in captivity, a government official said.

Sharon Commins (32), from Clontarf, and her colleague Hilda Kawuki (42), a nutritionist from Uganda, were abducted at gunpoint after armed men stormed their compound in the north Darfur town of Kutum on July 3rd last.

“They were released earlier this morning,” Sudan’s state minister for humanitarian affairs, Abdel Baqi al-Jailani, said.

‘It is a real relief to know that Sharon and Hilda are free’ says Reuben Coulter, Chief Executive of Tearfund Ireland ‘Our prayers have been answered’

Sharon was a colleague of Reuben during the 2 years he worked with GOAL as operations manager for North Sudan.

Tearfund in Darfur

Reuben Coulter, Chief Executive of Tearfund Ireland, worked with Tearfund’s Disaster Management Team (DMT) in Darfur for almost 2 years as a public health manager. ‘Two of my Sudanese staff were killed in a riot in the displaced-people’s camps in 2005’ says Reuben ‘Darfur is an extremely dangerous place and aid workers face daily risks to bring relief to the people.’

Tearfund’s Disaster Management Team (DMT) has been operating in Darfur since 2004. Last year, Tearfund’s teams provided over 137,000 people with access to clean water, and constructed sanitation facilities for around 50,000 people. Almost 100,000 women and children attended weekly health clubs, over 19,000 farmers received seeds and tools, over 6000 children were treated for malnutrition through Tearfund’s feeding centres and more than 26,000 at risk children were given food to prevent malnutrition.

2009 marks the sixth year of the recent conflict in Darfur. An estimated 200,000 people have been killed and over 2 million displaced. Two thirds of the population is dependent on aid for basic survival. There are about 250,000 refugees from Darfur currently living in Chad.

‘But for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my saviour; my God will hear me’ Micah 7: 7

Please pray for:

  • Recovery from the ordeal and peace for the families of both women .
  • The political will among the UN and other major governments to move the peace process forward in Darfur, for the establishment of justice and for the cessation of hostilities.
  • The protection of Tearfund and partner staff as they go about their daily work in a very insecure environment.
  • That Tearfund and other organisations would have the finances and resources to fill the gaps created by recently expelled aid organisations

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