I have asked myself this question more than once in Africa. The thought is a very depressing one. But it seems like we went from one diarrhea episode to the next, and we were at the point where I could hardly sleep at night waiting for one of the girls to start throwing up. Then they both got malaria at once. At that point, I was ready to call it quits. I am so glad for the encouragement of my colleagues. Things are going much better now! Here's a few of the things I learned.

 

1. Pray! Coming to Africa, my worst fear was that my kids would always be sick. And the first couple months, they certainly were. Looking back now, I see it as a precious time where I had to face my fears, my faith, and the reality of God's love. These things are certainly not too small for God. We have seen so many prayers answered and we are so thankful.

 

2. Filter your drinking water. We carry a Sawyer filter everywhere we go and it has made a dramatic difference.

 

3. Build the immune system. When we first moved to a small village it was overwhelming to think of the amount of dirt and germs my children came into contact with. But one of the senior members of our organization encouraged me not to worry so much about germs, but more about keeping their immune system strong. Did you know a large part of the immune system is based in the intestines? You can feed the beneficial flora in your gut with lots of fermented products. When we have access to refrigeration, we eat lots of yogurt. Also, our people in West Africa have several fermented dishes that we learned to like and eat as often as we can. On the other hand, sugar and refined starches do not help your intestinal health so you may want to cut back some on those. We also take a probiotic supplement sometimes. Especially if it has been necessary to take an antibiotic for any reason, try to rebuild your intestinal health.

 

4. Set up a hand washing station. We do not have running water so my husband came up with a nifty way to solve this problem. He connected a small faucet to a bucket with a lid and built a kid-size table for it. A basin catches the water and a bar of soap hangs from a string on the bucket handle. Now, my girls can wash their hands easily.

 

5. Breastfeed, if you can. You won't have nearly as many worries about clean water, sterilized bottles, etc. My youngest is currently twenty months old and (shhh!) I'm still nursing her. I'm not at all sure I would do so in the States but it really does wonders for the immune system. Plus, if they do get sick, you can nurse and be sure to keep them hydrated. Obviously, not everyone can do this. But it is a thought to consider.

 

6. Consider new allergies. Neither of my children was allergic to anything in the US. But after more puke episodes than I'd like to remember, i finally figured out that my youngest is allergic to African (true) yams, and it causes projectile vomiting. Thank you very much, it was SUCH a relief to find a solution for that problem.

 

7. Find a malaria preventative you're happy with if malaria is a problem in your area. Okay, it's hard to be happy about having to take any preventative but malaria is truly dangerous for children. Also,  use nets, etc.

 

8. Teach your children not to put anything or their unwashed hands in their mouths. And yes, that's easier said than done and we are still hardcore working on this one.

 

9. De-worm regularly. Wear sandals or shoes outside since some types of worms enter through the feet.

 

10. Rinse dishes and raw vegetables with water with a few drops of bleach. If desired, rinse again in clean drinking water.

 

11. Lastly, try to have everyone get enough rest. It does wonders for your health. And with that said, I'm going to sign off. Goodnight! :-)

 

What are some of the things you've found helpful for your family's health?

Note: Sometimes even when we're doing all the "right" things, our children will still get sick! Don't blame yourself . . . and hang in there! It won't last forever, even if it feels like it!

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