It was love at first hug. The moment Susie Keefer locked eyes and arms with baby Miriam, she knew she was destined to care for Miriam and help countless other children from the Mpasa Nutrition Program in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
On Susie and husband Ed’s first service mission in 2010 to this extremely impoverished community in Congo, volunteers assisted with the daunting task of feeding undernourished children in a rural village. Susie decided to return the next year, and that was when she met Miriam. “I picked her up, never to put her down again during the trip,” Susie recounts with a smile in her voice. “I just knew we had to adopt her,” she decided thoughtfully during her long journey home.
Susie returned to visit during the holidays in 2011, and began the rigorous, bureaucratic and lengthy process of adopting Miriam. But Keefer, a retired special education teacher from the Indian River and Cape Henlopen school districts, was a determined mom. With the support of her husband and their daughter Jaclyn, Susie spent several months making Miriam’s adoption possible.
Miriam’s father and older brother also approved of the adoption. Unfortunately, her father died in 2012, essentially making Miriam an orphan in the care of her brother until the adoption could be finalized. With the help of the nutrition center’s founder, Dr. Rebecca Yohadi, and interpreter Adolph Yambayamba, the adoption was at last finalized. (Yambayamba an amazing man in his own rite with an arsenal of nine languages and dialects!)
Today, Yambayamba is also the “sentry” for the center to protect the children as well as the coveted freshwater well on the premise. He is one of eleven employees of the center, rapidly expanded from serving 65 children to up to 350-450 daily.
How is this made possible? Enter Miriam’s Table, a nonprofit based in Lewes that was launched in 2014 by Susie Keefer and tireless volunteer board members, which includes daughter Jaclyn.
The board and several other volunteers help raise funds to continue the mission of the growing Mpasa community center. The program continues to assist children with nutrition, but also plans to develop a general and women’s medical facility.
As you know, southern Delaware is known for its generous minded people. Donors to Miriam’s Table are no exception. According to Keefer, a gift of $155 helps to feed one child for a full year. The nonprofit also holds successful fundraisers, including fan favorite, Beach Bingo, which recently tallied $11,000 in one night. “Dine Out for Miriam’s Table” takes place at participating restaurants that donate up to 15% of their proceeds on a given night during Delaware’s off season. (Their next one is Thursday, April 27th at Henlopen City Oyster House, Rehoboth Beach.)
The Keefers’ church, Bethel United Methodist of Lewes, and Beebe Hospital volunteers have also provided significant help to the organization through volunteer sewing programs. New shirts for the boys and dresses for the girls are packed and carted to Congo in Susie’s own limited luggage every year since shipping of any goods otherwise is virtually nonexistent, she explains.
Miriam’s Table continues to be an essential link for the families of Mpasa. The nearest facilities are miles away, and transportation is sparse. The children’s death rate is alarmingly high, mainly due to malnutrition and waterborne illnesses such a malaria and typhoid. Dehydration is also deadly, but thankfully (and shout out to Ed Keefer for his assistance), a well has been installed on the property, ensuring untainted water.
Miriam Keefer is now 14 and a student in Beacon Middle School. She is very active and an accomplished equestrian. She and sister Jaclyn have accompanied Susie on several annual trips to Mpasa. This summer, Miriam’s best friend and her mother will be accompanying them for the first time.
In November, Miriam will celebrate ten years with the Keefers. Although, according to her mother, she announced her decision to only speak English instead of her native Mangala, she will always be linked to Mpasa. She has met her “belly mom,” too. Her “table,” is definitely full.
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