John and Gwenda Fletcher - April 2017 Update
Dem. Rep. of Congo
When we first met Idriss, he was 12 years old. He came to our house seeking medical treatment for his friend Jean, who had a sore leg. The two boys had formed a bond when they met at a center for homeless children a few years earlier. Jean was diagnosed with osteomyelitis (an infection of the bone) and admitted to Good Shepherd Hospital where over the next several months of treatment, he slowly recovered. Throughout Jean’s hospitalization, Idriss slept on the floor beside him, brought him food, helped him get to the bathroom, cajoled him into taking his meds, entertained him, and otherwise played the role of patient guardian. That was quite a responsibility for a 12-year-old, but Idriss had grown up fast in the year since his mother died and he was left on his own.
Idriss was born with albinism (a congenital disorder characterized by the complete or partial absence of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes), and his father had abandoned him and his mother shortly after he was born. In Congo, people with albinism are said to be “people without a race” and they are widely discriminated against and ostracized. The biggest medical threat here to people with albinism is skin cancer. The combination of an equatorial climate, lack of education about prevention, lack of access to medical care for early diagnosis, and lack of funds with which to seek treatment results in a high incidence of skin cancer among people with albinism in sub-Saharan Africa. I cannot find reliable statistics for Congo, but a group working in Tanzania reports that only two percent of people with albinism in Tanzania survive skin cancer to reach the age of 40.
As I write this, Idriss, now 18 years old, is waiting at the hospital with two friends with albinism who will undergo surgery to have cancerous tumors removed from their heads and faces. Both of the patients, 37-year-old François and 44-year-old Anne, are unemployed and desperately poor. Their hospital bills are expected to be about $400 each, and there is no way either of them can pay for their care. But thanks to many of you who generously donate to the Medical Benevolence Foundation (MBF) for charity care at Good Shepherd Hospital, they can be treated. Idriss will again play the role of patient guardian and will help François and Anne throughout their hospitalization.
Idriss, François and Anne are members of the 4,500-member Kananga Association for People with Albinism, an association Idriss was involved in creating and of which he is vice-president. Two of the association’s top goals are to educate people with albinism about skin cancer prevention and to educate the general population about what albinism is and is not in an effort to reduce discrimination. In 2014, the United Nations adopted a resolution naming June 13th International Albinism Awareness Day. The Kananga Association is busy planning how it will mark the occasion this year.
Idriss is learning the ropes of political activism through his participation in the association, but he is not planning on a career in politics. His dream is to be a pastor. He leads the youth group at his church, loves to read and discuss the Bible, is in charge of his church’s Wednesday night services, and is an active member of one of his church’s prayer circles. He is attending a CPC (Congolese Presbyterian Church) secondary school and hopes to attend the CPC’s Sheppards and Lapsley University to study theology when he completes secondary school. (Idriss isn’t attending school at the moment because the primary and secondary schools in our area have been closed since early December due to the civil unrest we are experiencing right now. But when schools resume Idriss will continue with his 11th grade studies.)
The plight of people in Congo affected by albinism may be something of which you were unaware, but through your support of the CPC’s education and medical ministries you are helping to make a difference for many of them. John and I are grateful for your gifts for our support, which enable us to serve God in Congo and to see firsthand the lives that are touched by your generosity.
John and Gwenda Fletcher
Read more about the Fletcher's ministry by clicking HERE.
$10,000 for support funds