It was love at first hug. The moment Susie Keefer locked eyes and arms with baby Miriam, 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’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, and she just didn’t want me to put her down,” Susie recounts with a smile in her voice.
Returning at Christmas (2011), Susie met Miriam’s father. That spring, 2012, she learned of the father’s death, and it was Susie’s husband, Ed who planted the idea of adoption. When Susie returned with daughter, Jaclyn, in August, they learned from Adolpho Yambayamba, the Mission Coordinator, the adoption was possible and decided to start the process.
Susie walked 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 with the help of the nutrition center’s founder, Dr. Rebecca Yohadi, and Mission Coordinator, Adolph Yambayamba. (Yambayamba an amazing man in his own rite with an arsenal of nine languages and dialects! As the Mission Coordinator, he oversees many programs in Congo and throughout the United Methodist Church.)
This adoption just cemented the growing ties between continents all the more, and from small seeds, Miriam’s Table has grown to feed 350-400 children daily!
How is all 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 medical facility for children, men and women.
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 $15,000 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, has also provided significant help to the organization through volunteer sewing programs. New shorts 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 illnesses such a malaria and typhoid. Dehydration is also deadly, but thankfully (and shout out to Ed Keefer for his assistance working on the well at Mpasa center), 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, she’s thriving in her new home, she will always be linked to Mpasa. She has met her “belly mom,” too. Her “table,” is definitely full, and so are the hearts of all who are blessed to give to this worthy cause.
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