Dr. Wendy LeMarquand, former head of Mother’s Union of Gambella, receives an honorary degree from Wycliffe College

On May 7, Dr. Wendy LeMarquand was a awarded an honorary degree, Doctor of Sacred Letters, honoris causa, by Wycliffe College, an Anglican theological college in the University of Toronto. This degree was awarded in recognition of Wendy’s work among the Mothers’ Union of Gambella in the Episcopal Area of the Horn of Africa during the time when Mama Wendy and her husband, Bishop Grant, were living in Ethiopia. Much of Mama Wendy’s time in Gambella was devoted to helping the Mothers’ Union leaders to learn basic ideas about health, which could save the lives of their children. Women learned stories about malaria, nutrition, clean water and other basic information. These stories were then brought to many local villages and to refugee camps around the Gambella region. Many children’s lives were saved through this programme. Although Bishop Grant and Dr Wendy had to leave the Horn of Africa because of Wendy’s health, the programme she started is on-going and is now completely African led.

In addition to receiving this honor from Wycliffe College, Dr. LeMarquand was also the Convocation speaker. In her speech, Dr. Wendy started by thanking Wycliffe for considering work done with the poor as “theology put into practice”. Then, Dr. LeMarquand spoke a bit about her ministry in Gambella, which exceeded 5 years, to give the audience a glimpse of life in Ethiopia. She explained the generosity of the Ethiopians, who share the little they have with the new refugees from South Sudan, who had no warning of war possibility due to lack of telecommunications. Dr. Wendy also emphasized that the rate of unemployment reaches 90%; one employee would usually supports 16 adults, plus children. “To many visitors, joy on their faces stands out the most, especially during worship” Said Dr. Wendy, who reasoned, “As they know, they are loved; suffering doesn’t destroy their joy”. “Most countries have many dioceses, our diocese has many countries” Dr. LeMarquand said about our diocese, which embraced all the work being done in the Gambella region. Later, Dr. Wendy spoke about her programme, which rescued 50 babies a year by teaching the uneducated mothers stories about primary health concepts, saving them from the witch doctor methods that lead to death of children, and followed by coffee ceremony made by the Ethiopian ladies to reach their friends. Dr. Wendy LeMarquand concluded her speech with the need of a “Biblical Worldview” for effective healing to take place. Her full address can be viewed below.

Sewing Lessons at the Mother’s Union

Wendy LeMarquand shares from her January Quarterly Report to Anglican Aid, Australia, which supports the Mother’s Union program in Gambella, Ethiopia, which addresses challenges of health, poverty, intertribal tension, and spirituality. At recent meetings, the women have learned vocational skills that they will teach to others upon returning to their home villages.

Sometimes you can just hear the thought. “Oh Yeah! Right! Like we can do THAT!”

Embarrassed smiles and eyes rolling to the ceiling, the Mothers’ Union Representatives didn’t need to say it – it was clear that the act of threading a needle was was going to be an impossibility. Louise had made it look easy, effortless, hopelessly unattainable!

“Now we are going to teach you how to thread a needle just like we learned to do it in our country,” I said.

The women were bemused as we handed out the coloured index cards, together with a thick piece of string and a blunt home-made “needle” (a wire with a loop through which they could easily thread the string). Embarrassment turned to incredulity as the women realised how easy it was to “thread” the needle in and out of the holes pre-punched into the two index cards that they could “sew” together to make a pocket-like holder to hang on the wall. Next we handed out large darning needles into whose large holes it was easy to thread normal thread. As real needles with progressively smaller holes were handed out and successfully threaded, incredulity turned to delight!

“Wow, we can REALLY do this!!!”

Again, the women didn’t need to say it aloud. The smiles said it all!

Learning skills that can potentially be used to generate income is one of the many ways women can be empowered to provide healthy and nurturing homes for their young children.

You Made Us Teachers

The smell of coffee wafts from fresh beans roasting over a fire in Western Ethiopia, and a few women wander toward the scent. Have a cup, says the Mother’s Union representative, smiling warmly at the newcomers. Stay for a while. We have knowledge to share.

The coffee ceremony is an invitation to a lesson, facilitated by participants in the Mother’s Union monthly teaching sessions at the Gambella Anglican Center. Dr. Wendy LeMarquand and her colleagues train representatives from churches across the region on nutrition, hygiene, water purification, basic medical care and practical skills.  The teaching topic is selected with input from the students, who then return home and teach their communities, sharing knowledge about healthy living as well as the Bible lessons learned through drama.

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Mother’s Union participants act out a story from Matthew 25.

This month, coffee ceremonies will invite women to a lesson on the Moringa plant, a valuable source of nutrition in resource-poor communities. Moringa contains large quantities of Vitamins A, B, and C, as well as protein and other minerals, all of which are scarce in the local diet. Participants learned how to plant, grow, and harvest the plant, and all of them returned home with seedlings for their church compound.

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Participants with a Moringa seedling.

This training was requested by the Mother’s Union representatives, who are taking increasing ownership over the program. The women identify needs in their communities, encourage one another through shyness and challenges, and exchange ideas and strategies for approaching others with new knowledge. In a culture of displacement and dependency, the Mother’s Union participants boldly say, “we know we can help our communities.”

“We are seeing a difference.”

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Cham teaches others to crochet bags.

Preventing Child Mortality in Gambella

In 2013, the Mothers’ Union leaders in Gambella started a training program to address four challenges that they identified; health, poverty, inter-tribal tension and spirituality. In order to address these challenges, the Mothers’ Union is providing theological and practical skills to women across 70 villages and refugee camps. This is done through a ‘train-the-trainer’ program, which trains 3,000 women and empowers them to affect change in their own communities.

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The May Mothers’ Union teaching event looked at the causes of recurrent diarrhea. The Gambella region far exceeds Ethiopia’s infant/child mortality of 90/1000 live births. Diarrhea is one of the five major causes of infant and childhood death.

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We practiced making Oral Rehydration Solution using a technique that required neither measuring spoons nor expertise, but is reliable and reproducible. Oral Rehydration Solution has saved hundreds of thousands of precious lives since it’s widespread use starting in the 1970’s.

Mothers Union May 2014Practicing making Oral Rehydration Solution

Eddie Ozols of Anglican Aid Australia, the major donor for our Mothers’ Union training program, asked our Anuak priest, Darash Thatha, how many children’s funerals had he held last year, and how many had he held this year. Fifty funerals last year, none this year.

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Mother’s Union representative from the Opo people, Mary Ngate looking through a magnifying glass for the first time in her life

“We do not grieve as those without hope”: Update from Gambella

“We do not grieve as those without hope” (1 Thess 4:13-14)

Next to Gambella, South Sudan is at war. Refugees are flooding into Gambella, and many have lost loved ones.. Please hold Bishop Grant and Dr Wendy LeMarquand, the clergy, the Mothers Union leaders, refugees, the 70 Anglican congregations, and those affected by violence in your prayers.

Dr. Wendy writes: “As we all sat in the tukal (hut), sisters, brothers-in-law, father, mother, grandchildren, friends and relatives, the sunlight streamed in the door, glancing off the feathers of inquisitive baby chicks, and falling softly on the faces of those who had gathered to share their grief. War had a face. It was the suffering face of our friends and colleagues in Gambella as family after family heard of this son killed, that brother gone missing, that dear friend no longer alive. I was struck that there was no denial of grief as parents and relatives shared their hope in Jesus. Death had taken the one they loved from them, and Jesus had taken their loved one from death. Both hope and grief had equal place. And we were privileged to share in this with them.”

Bishop Grant writes: “Although Gambella has thus far escaped the violence taking place across the border, one horrible incident did occur a week ago. It is unknown whether the perpetrators of this had come from across the border or were local. Last week, as the sun was setting and people were sitting down outside their tukals (huts) to eat, armed men of a different ethnic group suddenly appeared from the bush and opened fire on an Anuak village near Abol killing three people (two women, one pregnant with her first child, and one newly married young man). The men kidnapped eight children and headed back into the forest. Three of the children escaped, but five are still missing. The entire village swam across the river to escape further violence and have been living in the small village of Abol Kir where we have a small Anglican congregation. I went there today with a member of the Gambella Anglican Centre staff who is himself an Anuak priest. We brought a truck load of maize, cooking oil, coffee, sugar, mosquito nets, tarps, ground sheets, soap, and some cooking and cleaning supplies. 

The whole village gathered and I asked to hear the story of what happened. Two women spoke clearly and calmly recounting the details. I spoke about how it must be so easy to become angry and want revenge, but that taking revenge would just  make the other group want to retaliate again. I spoke about one of the hardest things that Jesus ever said: love your enemies – it doesn’t mean we don’t have enemies, obviously they are there, but he wants to change hearts – their’s and ours’. Then we prayed. One woman broke down weeping at the end of the prayer and had to be held by several other women who were afraid she would hurt herself. “She has a mental problem,” said my priest friend. “Her children are among those who are lost.” If my children had been taken like that, I would have a mental problem too!

The clergy were at the Gambella Anglican Centre this week for two days of training. We were able to talk about how the refugee situation is having an impact on the region, their churches – and themselves personally. At least half of the clergy have lost relatives in the fighting in South Sudan: one priest has lost six cousins, one has lost a son. Several have friends and relatives who are missing. Afer the clergy training days Wendy had 35 Mothers’ Union leaders here for two days of training on nutrition – but the war in South Sudan also had to be addressed. Wendy talked on Wednesday afternoon about grief and then led a time of prayer, especially for those who had lost loved ones. The demonstrative weeping that followed was intense, but neither unexpected nor inappropriate. It was a bit like a cloud burst which was briefly violent, but ultimately cleansing.”

Improving Children’s Nutrition in Gambella

The 2nd training session of the Mothers’ Union Community Education and Development Program was held in December for 35 women representing 21 Mothers’ Union groups from Nuer, Anuak, Mabaan, Dinka and Opo tribes in Gambella. The theme was ‘Good Food makes Strong Bodies.’ Pictures, stories and discussions focused on how good nutrition helps us, and about the importance of eating food from the different food groups.

The pre-project survey showed the majority of children were given a diet consisting primarily of maize (corn). Statistics from the Village Medicine Conference held in Addis Ababa in 2012 showed that on average, in Ethiopia, children eat meat only once or twice a year. Serving food from a variety of food groups (if possible) at most if not all meals, is a good starting point for teaching on nutrition. On day two, the trainees presented the nutrition teaching to one another using story and picture sets.

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This was followed by a practical skills / income generation activity session on how to crochet mats using free materials such as recycled plastic bags from the market and material from torn clothing and rags. Although sets of extra large crochet hooks were given to each Mission Centre for demonstration purposes and to be shared with community members, participants were taught how to make home-made crochet hooks using twigs and a knife.

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Spiritual formation sessions provided opportunities to build upon the deepening friendships developing between participants from different tribal groups.

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After these training sessions at the Gambella Anglican Centre, the Mothers’ Union representatives return to train women in their local villages. Some of these training sessions exceeded expected numbers. For example, the Mothers Union in Pinyadu Refugee Camp held 4 separate training days on clean water with 125, 135, 109 and 123 participants respectively. Participant feedback included “we never realised that when a well person drinks from the same cup as a sick person, the well person could become sick” and “one woman has made a table on which to dry her dishes in the sun and now all her neighbours are using it.

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Training on Clean Water with the Mothers Union in Gambella

In a recent survey conducted by the Anglican Church in Gambella, Ethiopia, it was found that an average of 2 to 4 children survived per an average of 9 to 11 children born into the family. Most of these children die under age 5 from communicable disease and malaria.

With the support of Anglican Aid, a three year training program for the Mothers Union has started to address issues of poverty and health. The Mother’s Union is an integral part of the Anglican Church in Gambella, and is actively engaged in literacy programs, church activities, practical help, prayer and visitations to the sick. The new training program will expand the role of the Mothers Union, providing theological and practical skills to women across 70 villages. This will be done through a ‘train-the-trainer’ program, which will empower women to affect change in their own communities.

Dr. Wendy LeMarquand, the project co-ordinator, reports on the first training session. “On September 4th and 5th, we hosted 34 women representing 20 distinct Mothers’ Union groups functioning out of our 14 Mission Centres spread throughout the Gambella region.

It was wonderful to see how intently the women listened to the introductory story dealing with issues of how we learn and how we can work together to help take care of problems in the community. And it was a delight to see how much they enjoyed using pictures and story-telling as they later practiced teaching this to one another! They had lots of fun looking through magnifying glasses and binoculars in the session on how we are able to see things that contaminate water, and they were amazed (and quite horrified!) at the pictures of microorganisms shown to them on my computer!

Our practice sessions on solar water purification, water filter construction, clean water dispensers and dish drying racks were full of laughter, good questions and good discussion. When each of the representatives left to return to their Mission Centres, they carried the materials to make their own clean water dispensers, carrying these simple, inexpensive and locally available items as if they were carrying costly treasure.

These ‘water dispensers’ that our representatives will make during their own community demonstration/teaching sessions will replace the common open (and never washed) communal pot of water (which is usually kept inside the church office, in the dark), and into which one unwashed cup is passed from one coughing adult to one feverish child, to another with diarrhea, etc.

Some were moved to tears to think that what they are learning may save the lives of their precious children. To think that the occurrence and re-occurrence of diarrhea is something that can be taken care of and prevented was a new concept to many. To communicate these important truths in a way that is fun, non-judgmental and memorable is one of the main goals of the program.

Our Mothers’ Union representatives will return to teach what they have learned by holding a teaching day for all of our 1500 Mothers’ Union members at the Mission Centres, and then by holding a second teaching day at our 60+ local churches where each Mothers’ Union member is encouraged to invite and teach at least one community guest.

The Mothers Union in Gambella requires further support for these training sessions. Please contact Bishop Grant and Dr Wendy LeMarquand for further information

 

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