By Edward Hoyt
The first child I meet at the Blessed (now Saint) John Paul II Center in Yalgo, Burkina Faso, is Adama. He seems inquisitive, so I pick him up and place him on my lap. Adama and I examine each other as Sister Pauline Drouin tells us about the clinic’s services and procedures.
Sister Pauline (originally from Canada), a Marianite Sister of Holy Cross, and her colleagues, Sister Elvira Brown (from New Orleans) and Sister Pascaline Tougma (from Burkina Faso), started the program from scratch. They had no promotional tools when they launched it, except a classic Catholic one: making announcements at Sunday Mass. The next day, 200 people showed up, concerned about the nutritional health of their children—more than 27 percent of Burkinabé children under 5 are malnourished. Most of these arriving folks were Muslims who had gotten word of the clinic through their Catholic neighbors.
After providing a brief history of the clinic, Sister Pauline shows us her scale and demonstrates how she weighs the children, measures their height and limb thickness, and monitors their growth. After she examines them, she notes their measurements in green, yellow and red ink, depending on the degree of their malnutrition, in record books. Sister Pauline suggests using a child to demonstrate the process, and I volunteer my new buddy, Adama, who seems to like Sister’s care very much.
As Adama is being weighed and measured, I begin to wonder how endangered my new friend might be. So, as the lecture concludes and my group heads toward the door, I sneak over to Sister’s book and peek at her data to see how old Adama is. Expecting to find a number somewhere between 14 and 18 months, I spot the name “Adama” next to the words 4 ans (4 years). “That can’t be right,” I think. The child seems about 16 months old. How can this be possible? As our party files outside, I think about rifling through the book to see if there can possibly be another Adama, but ethics get the best of me.
What I learn outside the clinic clears up my confusion. There, on mats under a tree, sit about 15 smiling women feeding their children a porridge of millet grain, oil and water infused with peanut, fish proteins, soy, and sugar. As my group counts the ratio of children to mothers, I find myself solving the mystery of Adama.
It turns out, there are many Adamas (translation: Adam), and quite a few Hawwahs (translation: Eve), among the children. The incidence of twin births among these women, many from a nomadic tribe in the region, is abnormally high—and welcomed. For these mothers, twins represent the opportunity for new beginnings (and thus, the prevalence of those names). But twins can also be an unexpected burden, especially since their mothers, who have limited diets, can produce only so much milk. That’s why the women we meet are overjoyed that they can now meet the nutritional needs of their children—and that they have found a peer group of fellow twin mommies.
At the end of our visit, I learn that little Adama is about 2 years old, weighing in at 18½ pounds. I conclude that something must have gotten lost in translation, because that still strikes me as impossibly underweight. Ten children have died since the program started, the sisters say, many of them twins. But, through the support of Catholic Relief Services, these three sisters and the people of Holy Family Parish in Yalgo are able to help many more flourish and bless our world. I pray that young Adama is one of them.
I pray, of course, for them all.
Edward Hoyt is a CRS writer, editor and web producer. He is based in Baltimore, Maryland.