"I was shocked at what I saw"Missions and Outreach
It's hard to throw something at Icel Rodriguez that she hasn't already seen. As the Director of Global Missions for the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church, she understands the magnitude of need worldwide.
However, when she returned to Angola for two weeks late last year, well, let's give her the microphone.
"In complete honesty, I was shocked at what I saw," she said. "There was a severe resurgence in malnutrition in children under five years old."
Malnutrition on this level goes well beyond simple hunger or food insecurity.
"Malnutrition leaves these children vulnerable to parasites and malaria," she said. "Statistics show 50% of these children will die. This is a potentially fatal condition.
"Out of 250 children that have been seen over the last 18 months at the Quessua Mission’s
hospital, only 18 had gained healthy weight."
So, with a servant's heart as big as the sky, Rodriguez returned home and went to work as the hands and feet of Jesus. She knocked on doors, and God opened them, supply aid in massive and unexpected ways," Conference Director of Missional Engagement Clarke Campbell-Evans said.
"Over the last couple of years, the Florida Conference has emphasized feeding hungry people through the Fill the Table Initiative. Icel Rodriguez has led an international effort to help also fill the table of our overseas partners. I have been blown away by the response of financial gifts to make this work, Christ's work, possible."
She won't take the credit, though.
"It's God's work," she said. "This is about God and what he is doing; it's not about me."
For three years, Angola has been in a severe drought brought about by climate change. Crop production decreased by nearly 40%, bringing economic chaos to the nation.
"Millions of people in southern Angola are on the brink of starvation, caught between the devastating effects of climate change and the land diversion to commercial cattle farming," said
Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International's Director for East and Southern Africa.
"This drought – the worst in 40 years – has torn through traditional communities who had been struggling to survive since they were dispossessed of vast swathes of grazing land."
The COVID-19 pandemic made a life-threatening situation worse.
"For the last four or five years, Quessua Mission in East Angola provided lunch on Sundays for more than 700 children and teenagers who came to church," she said. "When COVID hit, they had to stop doing it."
Want to help?There are multiple ways to donate.
Follow this link, or text ANGOLA to 844-635-1026.
Donations also can be made by check, payable to the “Florida Conference Treasurer” and mailed to: Florida United Methodist Center, Attn: Icel Rodriguez, 450 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue, Lakeland, FL 33815. Write: Angola Feeding #100125 on the memo line
Providing enough nutrition to make a dent in this catastrophe required many things to fall into place, but God put Rodriguez in this spot to help make that happen. There were bureaucracies and logistics to overcome, and while patience usually is a virtue, urgency took precedence.
She worked with UNICEF-Denmark to partner for procurement services, which enables governments and other partners to leverage UNICEF's expertise to meet essential supply needs
A process that normally takes a long time came together quickly.
"For me, it is a miracle. God made that happen," Rodriguez said. "We had all the documents we needed, the background stories, and all that.
"Once we had that partnership, they sent me a link to their supply catalog. That's when I realized the enormity of this relationship."
The cooperation with UNICEF meant that the needy could receive much more aid than if workers tried to go it alone. That partnership also meant they had a better chance of getting the aid where it needed to go.
"The logistics in Angola are a nightmare," she said. "We could buy the Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) used globally to treat severe acute malnutrition through UNICEF, but how do we transport them to the mission stations? As much as we would love to buy the larger food containers, we don't have the logistics to distribute them.
"But after I talked with UNICEF, they said if we buy the stuff, they will take care of getting it out of the port and getting it to the station. Lo and behold, the supply and procurement specialist is also the guy who has been looking three years for a partner in Angola willing to produce something locally."
While RUTF (also known as Plumpy ‘Nut) is the immediate need, there also is an urgent need for affordable medicine and vaccines. UNICEF joins with the Conference to help there, too.
"One malaria treatment we buy here (in the United States) through a nonprofit for an adult in Angola is $5.30," Rodriguez said. "With UNICEF, it's 69 cents.
"We can buy directly from UNICEF now. We have already finalized the purchase of over $22,000 worth of malaria treatments and other life-saving medicines to be administered at no cost to the most vulnerable, In the next few months, our goal is to buy 1,000 shipments cartons of RUTF at $50,000 to get started distributing that food to severely malnourished children. We have a person trained by UNICEF to do that."
While addressing the immediate need is critical, the mission to help our partners at the Quessua Mission provide long term solutions to malnutrition is equally important. That work also is underway as local production at Quessua of the RUTF is being considered.
"She has tirelessly worked to extend our hunger-fighting work with our partners in Angola," Campbell-Evans said.
"If you know Icel, she does not easily give up, and because of her work, we recently signed that agreement with UNICEF and now have the opportunity to more economically alleviate the malnutrition plaguing the region."
It's a long road ahead, but Rodriguez knows that with God behind it, this will be successful.
"We are seeing a miracle," she said. "God is working in this. It is amazing to see how it's coming together. It's all about God."
Joe Henderson is News Content Editor for FLUMC.org.
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