One of the nuns spoke to the photographer with glimmering eyes, saying, “None of our babies die anymore, we have a huge success with this.”
In the war-torn city of Bangui, Central African Republic, a mission of Catholic nuns are fighting malnutrition in one of the most innovative ways possible: by growing a bounty of vitamin and protein-rich spirulina in the backyard behind their health center.
Nuns at the St. Joseph Health Center have seen some of the worst side effects from war between Muslim groups and Christians in the crumbling capitol city of Bangui. Since 2012, thousands of lives have been lost, and hundreds of thousands more have been displaced from their homes due to conflict between the religious groups.
According to Sister Margherita Floris, who has been the driving force of the medical center for more than 20 years, one of the saddest effects of the conflict has been malnutrition.
Below she cradles a child who has found refuge and security at St. Josephs Health Center.
Sebastian Rich was the brave photographer who ventured into the war-ravaged territory of Central African Republic to capture the innovative deeds being carried out by nuns at the St. Joseph Health Center. In conversation with the photographer, Sister Margherita said the number of children being treated for acute malnutrition in Bangui “is so so many, too many, I can’t count, but we try to do our very best.”
The sisters who reside at the health center serve women and children with pre and post-natal care. They do their best to alleviate the suffering of children with acute malnutrition, but due to lack of supplies, have had to literally taken matters into their own hands.
Instead of waiting for high protein supplements from the NGOs to arrive, which more often than not don’t because they get held up due to security issues across the country, the nuns grow protein and vitamin-rich blue-green algae in their own backyard.
The sisters first learned of the benefits spirulina might offer to those they aid when a French pharmacist passed through a few years ago and gifted them the formula and the technical skills to grow the blue-green algae behind their center.
Though the U.S.’s National Institutes of Health reports that early research on the use of this type of algae to aid malnutrition in infants and children has been mixed, undernourished children who were given spirulina with a combination of other food gained weight. For this reason and others, the sisters did not hold back on begging and borrowing supplies from the local community to single-handedly build the concrete tanks that would eventually grow the algae.
And their effort has been met with incredible results. Sister Margherita spoke to Rich with a sparkle in her eye, saying, “none of our babies die anymore, we have a huge success with this.”
Because Spirulina contains all of the essential amino acids, plus minerals like iron, it is a great protein source to be utilized by all people, and especially grown and harvested in rural locations with minimal supplies and/or nutritious food. More communities in third-world countries could most definitely thrive if such as source of beneficial nutrition was invested in by organizations seeking to do good.
According to the United Nations, more children will die in CAR from malnutrition and related diseases than from bullets. Death from malnutrition is even more deadly in the rainy season because diarrhea and malaria are then at their peak. Sadly, it is estimated that 28,000 children in CAR will suffer from acute malnutrition this year alone.
The sisters of St. Joseph are helping to reduce this shocking statistic, however, and will hopefully inspire other health centers in rural and urban locations to follow suit as the world progresses.