The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Health huts

ELCA project provides health care and education in rural Senegal

Three-year-old Issa looks terrified. He doesn't say a word as his wide, brown eyes fixate on the man in a white doctor's coat. Even as his mother converses with the man, Issa doesn't move his eyes or change his fearful expression.

Then the man speaks softly to the child: "Open your mouth." Issa obeys and the man peers inside. After only a few seconds, there's a diagnosis: "He has malaria and these red sores are from the fever."

As the consultation finishes, the boy, whose name means "Jesus" in Arabic, begins to relax. His ordeal at the "health hut" is over.

Issa has just met El Hadj Diankha, a health worker in a village of 1,100 people in the interior of Senegal, West Africa. Diankha is one of 10 such workers, along with 10 traditional birth attendants, who are part of an ELCA-supported health-care project in Linguère and surrounding villages, an area that is almost 100 percent Muslim.

For 15 years, beginning at age 18, Diankha has been a health worker — without pay. "I do it to help the families, the people," he says.

And the help is needed. "The health huts provide very accessible, inexpensive, basic health care," says Anne Langdji, an ELCA missionary. "When there are no health huts, a child with malaria may have to take a 15-mile ride in a horse-cart just to get five chloroquine tablets (to treat malaria)."

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Embracing diversity