Nyirabigeyo, a 20-year-old Congolese refugee, shares just about everything with her first child, a 4-month-old baby boy named Shema. Her tiny mud home in Rwanda’s Kiziba Refugee Camp, her bed, her love.
But there’s on thing mother and son do not have in common: malaria.
Nyirbigeyo was bitten more than five years ago by a mosquito carrying the deadly disease. She suffered from fever, shivers, and vomiting, and had to be hospitalized with medication to recover. The consequences could have been even worse if she’d been a young child or expecting mother, two of the groups most vulnerable to malaria.
This week, she received an insecticide-treated bed net from Nothing But Nets during a trip to Rwanda with our partners at WWE. Our campaign Director Chris Helfrich helped hang the white, life-saving net over Nyirbigeyo’s bed, tying the corners to the wooden rafters of her plastic sheet roof. It was the middle of the day, but in a crowded camp with no electricity, Nyirbigeyo’s windowless back room was nearly pitch black.
“I really appreciate having this net,” she told us. “We’re going to use it.”
Six additional family members sleep on a mattress on the floor of the other tiny room. With three bed nets total, every relative can sleep safely from malaria.
Her story is Nothing But Nets’ story. With every bed net our supporters help us to distribute, families across sub-Saharan Africa are protected from this preventable disease. And the progress shows. At Kiziba, where more than 16,000 refugees live atop a hill at the end of a steep and winding red dirt road, malaria rates are relatively low. That’s thanks in large part to bed nets, according to one of the camp’s two doctors.
As Kiziba grows and new babies are born there, expanding families need more bed nets. This January, UN Refugee Agency workers at the camp distributed 4,500 life-saving bed nets to children under 5. During the rainy season, drainage becomes a problem in Kiziba, established in 1996 and a two- to three-hour walk from the nearest town. And standing water attracts breeding mosquitoes.
Nothing But Nets and WWE Divas Alicia Fox and Natalya passed out 200-some life-saving bed nets to mothers and babies gathered in their finest clothes. Most of these refugee families have fled violence in Democratic Republic of the Congo. The adjustment to camp life is a difficult one: land is scarce in Kiziba, but most Congolese are accustomed to having plenty of land to farm. The babies in their mothers’ arms cried as Alicia and Natalya laughed and danced with the grateful mothers, with the women breaking into joyful song.
We hope to have brought a bit of happiness and health to these families whose lives are so hard. New mother Nyirbigeyo, thankful for a family covered in bed nets, hopes that Americans are inspired to help.
“Help us,” she said, “so we can get out of this life being a refugee.”