Tag: West Africa

Oct 13 2009

The miracle tree

By Joanna Sabally, CFCA project specialist for the Africa region

Moringa leavesI was a Peace Corps volunteer in a rural community in the Gambia, West Africa from 2003-2005. I had an opportunity to learn more about moringa oliefeira, also known as the ìMiracle Tree.î As part of my training, I learned about the nutritional benefits and uses of moringa, which was already widespread in the area. Moringa trees are small but mighty; they have an extremely high content of several vitamins and minerals, including calcium, iron, vitamin C. It also has high protein content.

Organizations in the region were promoting its use to combat malnutrition in pregnant women and young children. Generally, families in my community used the moringa plant to make leaf sauce, but there are many other uses to the plant as well. I promoted the more intensive use of moringa leaves as a healthy supplement to food, and encouraged women not to dump water drained from moringa sauces, but to drink it as a tea instead.

I grew the moringa tree intensively in my backyard and dried its leaves in the shade, so as not to lose nutrients. I would pound the leaves with a mortar and pestle and sifted them to make moringa powder. Although the moringa leaf has a somewhat strong smell and flavor, a few tablespoons of the powder can be blended into any sauce as a nutrition supplement without impacting the flavor too much. I ate the powder frequently myself, and worked with each family in the village to sensitize them about all the benefits of the plant. Adding about four tablespoons a day to a child or pregnant motherís daily food intake can make a dramatic difference in their health.

Moringa seeds can also be used to purify water, the seed pods can be eaten, and the bark and roots have medicinal uses, although parts of the roots are slightly poisonous. It does truly seem to be a ìmiracle tree.î

Dec 23 2008

A Christmas of coming together

The following blog entry was written by Rev. Kelly Demo, an Episcopal priest who preaches for CFCA. From 1990 to 1991, she served as a volunteer for International Christian Youth Exchange in Sierra Leone, West Africa.

Just outside my little house there was a large boulder upon which both lizards and I enjoyed lying. One evening very close to Christmas, I was sprawled out on my rock enjoying conversation with a sweet 8-year-old Sierra Leonean named John. We talked many nights about a great many things, and that night he asked me about Christmas in America. I had been missing my family, so I waxed on about my memories of childhood Christmases at my grandparentsí home, of going to midnight Mass, and of Santa Claus.

We lay silently for several minutes looking up at the stars, and finally John said, ìSanta Claus doesnít come to Africa.î
†I looked at him and was overcome with sadness. He fully believed in Santa Claus. He had heard about this guy who travels around the world bringing gifts to good boys and girls. However, neither John nor any of his friends had ever received anything from Santa. He judged himself and his Christmas by Western standards, and he simply could not measure up.

The irony in this is that most Westerners long for the exact kind of Christmas that John and so many others in developing countries have. Christmas in America is generally a time of frenzied activity, of spending money and feeling tired, guilty, lonely, anxious. Then there are the precious moments of joy, of connection and Christís peace that come and go too soon and leave us yearning for more.†

Just yesterday, three friends and I tried to meet for a cup of coffee before Christmas. We all love each other dearly and draw strength and encouragement from one another. But one had to meet her mom to go shopping for her kids, one had to meet with a contractor who is remodeling her home, one rushed off to work, and I had my own errands. Nothing is more important than our relationships, yet the tyranny of the urgent always supersedes that which is important.

Imagine instead, Christmas where many families come together to cook and eat and sing and play and celebrate. There is no pressure or expectation to buy gifts. There is nothing more urgent in the world than to sit down with your elders and listen to stories. There is no errand that is more important than visiting a friend you have not seen in a long time. And yes, Virginia, a place where there is no Santa Claus. That is the kind of Christmas that my little friend John would have along with billions of others around the world.

That is one of the many gifts the poor have to offer us. They stand as a witness to our Christmases past, the past that we look to with nostalgia. A Christmas when Jesus is truly at the center of the celebration as we welcome him, a homeless child, into our hearts and into our world.

We here at CFCA wish you a peace-filled Christmas. Please keep the children, elderly and their families whom we serve in your prayers, just as you remain in ours.