Nuns process the algae at St. Joseph. Photo by Sebastian Rich for PBS NewsHour.

Nuns process the algae at St. Joseph. Photo by Sebastian Rich for PBS NewsHour.

Sebastian Rich reports on PBS Newshour about the Central African Republic city of Bangui, which has been caught in the crossfire between warring Muslim and Christian groups, ripping the country and its capital apart. The St. Joseph Health Centre has seen the worst of the worst come through its doorway in a war that has claimed thousands of lives and displaced hundreds of thousands since December 2012.

One of the saddest effects of the conflict has been malnutrition, says Sister Margherita Floris, who has been the driving force of the medical center for more than 20 years. “The number of children being treated for acute malnutrition in Bangui is so so many, too many, I can’t count, but we try to do our very best.”

The nuns of the Center, who serve women and children with pre- and post-natal care, have recently taken matters into their own hands. Instead of waiting for high protein supplements from NGO’s, which more often than not get held up because of security issues across the country, a couple of years ago the nuns took the advice of a passing French pharmacist who gave them the formula and the technical skills to grow the vitamin rich green algae spirulina in their own back yard.

With materials begged and borrowed from the local community, the nuns single-handedly built the concrete tanks that would eventually grow the algae.

Nuns at the St. Joseph Health Centre in Bangui, Central African Republic, grow their own algae as a supplement for malnourished children who have suffered the ravages of war since 2013. Photo by Sebastian Rich for PBS NewsHour.

Nuns at the St. Joseph Health Centre in Bangui, Central African Republic, grow their own algae as a supplement for malnourished children who have suffered the ravages of war since 2013. Photo by Sebastian Rich for PBS NewsHour.

Spirulina contains all of the essential amino acids plus minerals like iron. The algae is also a good source of protein, according to the USDA. “None of our babies die anymore, we have a huge success with this,” says Sister Margherita.