Bangui, Central African Republic: Dawn had barely broken over Bangui, the capital city of the war torn Central African Republic. For a few minutes the warm golden glow of the early morning sun gave the beleaguered city a picture postcard look.
A morning light that us photographers covet, ‘The Golden Hour’ as we call it. The light is softer at dawn, with a depth of contrast that we find desirable. But this moment is very short and vanishes all too quickly as the sun slowly rises to its zenith.
Unfortunately, this so-called golden hour can give an illusion of comfort to any given subject, and in the case of the crumbling and broken city of Bangui, it needs all the help it can get.
But on this occasion I will not photographically camouflage or misrepresent the effects of a terrible, vicious civil war that has ripped this country and its capital apart. My cameras reluctantly remain at my side. I look at the rising sun accusingly and step through the rusting gates of the St Joseph’s Medical Centre.
St Joseph’s has seen the worst come through its gates in a war that has claimed the lives of so many; but by far the worst and saddest blight is “Malnutrition,” Sister Magherita Floris, who has been the driving force of the medical centre for over twenty years.
She tells me that 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 nuns of the centre indeed ‘do their best’ to try and alleviate—and very successfully too—the suffering of children with acute malnutrition. They have quite literally taken matters into their own hands.
Instead of waiting for high protein supplements from well meaning NGOs, which more often than not do not arrive because of security issues across the country, the nuns took the advice of a passing French Pharmacist, who gave them the formula and the technical skills to grow the vitamin rich green algae Spirulina in their own back yard.
With materials begged and borrowed from the local community the nuns single-handedly built the concrete tanks that would eventually grow the protein rich algae and save the lives of hundreds of babies and children.
Spirulina contains a total of 18 amino acids, in the exact proportions as mothers’ breast milk. The super rich algae has eight complete amino acids, regarded as essential for the human body.
Sister Magherita’s eyes sparkle with well deserved satisfaction as she tells me “none of our babies die anymore, we have a huge success with this.”
According to the United Nations, more children die from malnutrition and related diseases than from bullets. Malnutrition is even more deadly in the rainy season, when diarrhoea and malaria are at their peak. Both diseases put the lives of already malnourished children in danger. It is estimated 28,000 children will suffer from acute malnutrition this year alone.
The sisters of St Joseph’s have gone a little way to reduce this staggering number. Nutritionists globally have repeatedly recommended to governments that spirulina be used on a large scale to combat malnutrition because of its excellent nutritional value as well as its cost effectiveness.