The stage was magicly built by 8 a.m. and the tents and sound system were ready to go. Government officials and local NGO (non-governmental organization) workers from all over Bangui began to file in as the dancers kept the crowd entertained. A mosquito net hung in the center of the field – a symbolic gesture of why we were gathered on this day. Men in uniform lined the field, adding to the formality of the launch. The VIPs in attendance and the fanfare at the event demonstrated how important this net distribution is in the Central African Republic. The Prime Minster arrived and we were set to begin the launch. After a few speakers shared some remarks, including the local UNICEF representative, several of us, myself included, were invited to distribute nets to a few of the local families in solidarity with the thousands of families who would be receiving nets over the next few days in four provinces across the country.
Immediately following the ceremony, we had the opportunity to walk down the street to the Bede Clinic where a net distribution was already underway. Hundreds of mothers and children waited in line with their vouchers to receive their net. Our local partners had gone house to house months before to register each family and provide them with a voucher. Now, the day had come when they could present that voucher to redeem their free mosquito net. There was a feeling of anticipation in the air; the mothers waiting in line clearly understood the importance of receiving their net. This day had come none too soon.
As we left the Bede Clinic, we visited with families and Mandy Moore was able help mothers hang their new nets in their homes. I stayed outside and played with the dozens of kids who were with us by that time! Their smiles and laughter left me with an amazing, positive feeling about the community and the hope for the children’s health in the weeks, months and years to come.
Over the course of the next few days, a net distribution like the one we participated in will take place in four provinces across the country. Hundreds of thousands of nets will be handed out to families…mothers and fathers that will now be able to protect their families from malaria. There is more work to be done — more provinces to cover — but today marked the start of something very important here in CAR.
Just now, while I was writing this blog, long-time Nothing But Nets supporter Lynda Commale wrote me an email to commend me on my work here in the Central African Republic. While I can’t tell you how grateful I was for the email (and glad to know my blogs are being read!), it is not me who deserves the thanks. The thanks goes to you Lynda and your entire family, and to all our NET-Raisers and partners and every single one of our supporters for all YOU have done and all you continue to do to make this campaign a success — helping us save lives by preventing malaria.
Providing a family with a mosquito net is providing them with hope — and I think that’s about the greatest gift anyone can give.