Grandma Kisum was sad and helpless about her grandson’s condition. She didn’t know how else to treat him. He was getting worse by the day and she had exhausted all her different concoction recipes garnered over the years from her
rich child rearing experience. Going from one native doctor to another had proven futile this time around as her grandson wasn’t getting any better. He was very weak and frail, with a bloating stomach. His legs were swollen, his eyes bulging, almost getting out of their sockets and his head seemed to be increasing in size. Grandma Kisum had raised her kids and many other children and grandchildren and had seen them suffer from different kinds of health ailments but she had never seen an illness as the one her grandson was having. What could she possibly do to save her grand -son’s life from this unknown illness? She was old, lonely, frail and too weak to move around. She was in total confusion.
She was left in Barombong in Mundum II, an enclaved village in the interior part of Bafut some 75km from Bamenda town to take care of her grandchildren; 4-year-old Kisum Junior and his younger sister. Her son, Junior’s father, fell in a cross fire between the military and a separatist group where he died. His young wife, still shaken by the ordeal, had fled to the city in search of better living conditions, leaving her poor peasant mother-in-law to take care of her children. Age has taken its toll on Grandma Kisum; she has become weak and unable to work larger portions of her farm in order to have extra crops for commercial purposes. To make matters worse, her meager farm proceeds could barely feed her and her grandchildren. Even if she could manage to work an extra portion of farmland, she wouldn’t
have had the strength to transport the crops to the nearest market, which is situated 25km from her community, in a hilly topography that can only be covered on foot. All these limitations were further compounded by Junior’s condition that needed constant care. Grandma Kisum was in a fix.
Life in Barombong has always been difficult as the topography hindered regular business. The current violent crisis in the region has made the situation worse, as there is almost no way for farmers to sell their farm produce in order to have money for other basic necessities. To add to the woes of the community, the only source of drinking water in the village was damaged during confrontations, forcing villagers to travel long distances down the valley in search of a clean source of drinking water. When they finally stumble on the precious fluid, the hilly topography of the area makes it difficult to carry a substantial amount. Imagine the situation for grandma Kisum! A herculean task for an old frail woman with two dependent underage grandkids.
The people in Barombong village do not only struggle with keeping up with their source of livelihood and access to safe drinking water, but also face challenges accessing healthcare services. They have no health care unit in the area and for them to get to the closest health care unit sometimes takes two to three travel days, with many dreaded encounters with armed forces at multiple check points on the road. As a result of these, many people in this community turn to native doctors for their health care needs.
“When the nutrition support worker brought Kisum Junior’s case to my attention, I was eager to see this child myself’’, said the Nutrition Focal Person for the Mundum area- Mrs Kulka Comfort Ethamu, who had to move for half the journey (close to 5 hours trekking) and met Kisum Junior and his grandmother mid –way at the village square. “As soon as I set eyes on the boy and his grandmother, chills ran through my body”, she explained. A flush of empathy ran through her entire being, as she gazed at the weary pair. Grandma started crying when she was informed that her grandson had Severe Acute Malnutrition with other complications. For the past six months, he has been ill with this strange illness which was uncommon in their community. She had imagined he had every other thing except for malnutrition. “How did my boy get here, all this while I was thinking it was witchcraft” She wailed. It was a market day and the people around gathered round to know why grandma Kisum was crying and they too were shocked to learn that what they had suspected to be witchcraft, turned out to be malnutrition. The nutrition focal person immediately referred the boy to the hospital since his condition was critical. She put them on the bus for Bamenda, paid their fare, gave them an allowance and a referral note to take along before she could continue on her rounds in the Mundum area.
When they arrived the hospital, he was immediately attended to and was placed on F75, F100 and on Oxygen with some doctors and counselors assigned to take care of him. Despite all the efforts of the multi-disciplinary team assigned to Junior’s case, he gave up the ghost four days later. It was a sad and heart-breaking situation. Grandma had to find a way to transport her grandson’s mortal remains but she had no means. Without support, they wouldn’t have made it to the hospital. Grandma Kisum was not sure she will have enough strength to move back to the village after this sad incident.
Again, the CBC and UNICEF answered present to take care of the hospital and transportation bills. Though Junior was gone, the Mundum people learned a great lesson. As the nutrition support worker reports, community members have gained an unprecedented interest in learning to cook balanced meals with locally available food items. As the saying goes, blessings sometimes come in the form of disappointment. Junior paid the price for their eyes to be opened to the reality of malnutrition and the myth of witchcraft in every unexplainable situation. As the community head says, “never again shall we lose a child in this community the way we did Junior”.
With the ongoing crisis, one can predict that the situation of malnutrition in children will worsen. Within the months and years ahead, it can be projected that, hundreds of children in the Northwest and Southwest Regions will be malnourished if nothing is done to remedy the situation.
By Vivian Maku