14-year-old Marie lives with her father, Alexandre, her mother, Ntumba, and her siblings: 4-year-old Mubuyi Tshimanga, 6-year-old Musungayi Andre, 8-year-old Munamba Angel, 10-year-old Kankonde Moise, and 12-year-old Kena Tshimanga. With grandparents, aunts, and cousins, her family of 13 live in a two room hut with a thatched roof. A few wooden chairs are the only furniture the family have.
Marie lives in a small village outside of Kananga, Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, called Tubuluku, which means ‘antelopes’. Marie is a bright young girl with big dreams, but there is a sadness in her eyes. Marie’s mother is in the nearby health clinic with a staph infection that has caused a huge abscess on her right side. It has become very serious. As a result, Marie has taken on many of the household duties. At the age of 14, she’s forced to take on the role of an adult. After cooking for her brothers and sisters, she sweeps up the husks from palm nuts she crushes. A resourceful and clever girl, she saves the husks to use as kindling for the fire. Marie and her siblings all sleep together in one room, huddled together for warmth, covered by an old, torn mosquito net.
Marie’s family was desperately hungry when World Vision visited them. Because her mother is sick and her father spends his days tending to her at the clinic, there is no money for food. Because there isn’t any cassava flour and cornmeal to make fufu (a Congolese staple - a bread-like dish), Marie and her siblings pick potato leaves from the garden. Marie sharpens a knife on a rock and uses it to chop the leaves into small pieces. She holds a bunch tightly in her left hand because she knows how precious these ingredients are – they will provide
food for her starving family. Her cousin, also named Marie Ngalula, pulls some wood from a pile and arranges it between three rocks that will hold the pot. She yanks some thatch from the roof and uses it for kindling.
Because they have no oil or salt, the recipe is uncomplicated. The greens are stuck in a pot of water and boiled until they become soft. They look like spinach when they’re done. As luck would have it, a kind neighbor sends a few drops of oil which Marie mixes with the water. Her grandfather sends a little fufu - a huge treat for the empty bellies that share the small pot of greens.
Later, Marie visited her mother at the clinic. She didn’t want her mother to worry, so she didn’t tell her how bad things had become in the house.
“We’ve gone three days without eating anything but potato leaves.” Marie said, weak, but still smiling at her sick mother. “We are lucky to have that. We’ve had to endure the hunger, but we are still hopeful that things will change. We will be OK, we will manage, Mama. Hunger never killed anyone.”
Unfortunately, she’s wrong. According to the World Health Organisation, very single hour of every day, 300 children die because of malnutrition. It's an underlying cause of more than a third of children's deaths – 2.6 million every year.
Marie and her siblings went to the World Vision Child-Friendly Space where, thanks to a newly introduced feeding program, they each got a nutritious bowl of porridge made from soy, maize, peanuts, maringa and sugar.
Marie’s father is deeply upset and disappointed in his inability to send Marie back to school.
“Marie is very intelligent,” he said. “She has a brilliant mind, and I wish more than anything, that we could afford to send her to school to improve it. I’m so proud of her. Not only is she very clever, she is also a very kind person. I’d like to send her back to school but I can’t afford it. I’d like if she could further her studies even as far as university so that she can help me take care of her brothers and sisters someday.