The Magical Moringa Tree
(I’m grateful to Presbyterian Mission Co-Workers Inge Sthreshley, who works with the Garden Project in Kinshasa, and Nancy Haninger, a nurse/midwife working with a pilot project in Tshikaji, for their work and for educating me about these projects.)
In my open letter to my son Teo at the beginning of this trip, I wrote about the problems of severe malnourishment that are evident among the children almost everywhere one looks in this country. By now, it should be no surprise to anyone that our partner churches, the Presbyterian Church of Kinshasa and the Presbyterian Church in the Congo, understand this to be a direct challenge to the church. The most exciting response to that challenge that I’ve seen are the community health projects that center around the Moringa Tree.
Here’s why I think the tree is a miracle. The Moringa grows quickly in any tropical climate. Within six months of planting a seed or a piece of trunk, one can cut leaves from the tree to eat. The leaves can be eaten (kind of like cooked spinach), or dried, ground over a screen for several days, and ground into a fine powder that can be added to almost anything as a nutrient supplement.
Check out these statistics on the nutritious value of Moringa leaves, from a book called “The Tree of Life” published by Church World Services in 1999. “For a child aged 1-3, a 100g serving of fresh cooked leaves would provide all his/her daily requirements of calcium, about 75% of his iron and half his protein needs, as well as important amounts of potassium, B vitamins, copper and all the essential amino acids. As little as 20 grams of leaves would provide a child with all the vitamins A and C he needs.”
When the leaves are ground into powder and used as a supplement by nursing mothers or children who add one rounded tablespoon to their food three times a day, the results are even more miraculous. The powder is high in Protein, Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium, Iron, and Vitamins A and C. The powder can also be baked into Moringa Cookies (that I’m told actually taste like cookies), and sold for a fraction of the cost of regular bread.
In Kinshasa, Inge tells me there are thousands of trees that have been planted. The first seeds are planted on the properties of Presbyterian churches, schools, and clinics. As soon as the tree begins to mature, the cuttings are offered to women to plant in their own yards.
I visited the pilot project up country at Tshikaji with Nancy, and got to meet with one of the promoters there. The project is housed in a nutrition center next door to Good Shepherd Hospital. The Center identifies children who are highly malnourished and invites their mothers (with their other children) to live at the center for a short period of time where their children can be offered a special diet and monitored for progress in their growth.
The Moringa project itself is energized by volunteers from the village of Tshikaji who are trained as health promoters. They have been trained to educate tribal leaders and the mothers in the village about malnutrition and how to help their children become healthy using the Moringa tree. Hundreds of the trees have been planted in and around the center, where there is also a small production center for the powder. As in Kinshasa, women are encouraged to take the cuttings from the trees to plant them in their own yards.
In the area around Tshikaji, more than sixty percent of the children meet the World Health Organization’s definition of malnourished. In Kinshasa, urban poverty is a grim backdrop to the problems of malnutrition that are widespread among the children. I thank God for the magic of the Moringa Tree and the wonderful church volunteers from the DR Congo and from the United States who are promoting its growth.