October 24, 2009 – Kampala, Uganda
I am in Africa! Wow. This is amazing and terrifying. I spoke with Anthony (my husband) and the kids, and Katherine still has a fever. It is extraordinarily difficult for me to find peace with being here while she is sick and in need of her mommy. I am grateful to Adrianna for letting me call home daily. I hope to get news tomorrow that Katherine’s fever has broken. I will be less anxious and not heartbroken.
October 25, 2009
Today we had the opportunity to witness life in a camp. We visited Tetugu, an IDP camp. We had the great privilege to provide 200 nets to the health clinic. Almost 100 percent of the camp residents do not have nets, but there is a dire need. We were able to see the statistics for the month of September, and malaria has taken a severe toll on the lives of these Internally Displaced Residents (IDPs). More nets are needed, and to be frank, they were needed yesterday.
We also went to a village where IDP residents have made their new homes. The residents were incredibly gracious and showed us around their village. There were a handful of huts and about 30 people lived there; all were related in some way. We did not have the opportunity to give them nets because when it comes to distributions, the new villages are not as high of a priority as IDP and refugee camps. It was heartbreaking and excruciating to hear their plea for nets. They wanted one net for the elder but we still could not provide it. UNHCR determines the priority, and sadly, the new villages are not on the list as of now. We hope that after this observation and distribution trip the new villages will become top priority before the New Year.
I cannot say this clearly enough – mosquito nets treated with insecticide are the best prevention against malaria. Children are dying as we speak because they are not protected with a net. We need more nets. The people here are starting anew after surviving civil war and cannot afford them. We must help.
At the village, we met a mother who buried her child yesterday due to malaria. I was devastated talking to the mother, but embarrassed that I left her village without giving out nets. Please continue your support to this incredible project. Remember, malaria is preventable, but people need the nets. Please help these mothers to protect their children and themselves. Many of them are widows, having lost their husbands during the war. Please send more nets. I assure you they are desperately needed and will be given to the families who will be forever grateful for this simple gift.
October 27, 2009
This is my first time to the African continent. It has been such an adventure to travel here and explore Uganda. Distributing mosquito nets is our top priority of course, but it is difficult to see the extraordinary array of problems that the refugees, residents of the IDP camps, and the newly settled villagers face. Starvation is a massive issue. Everyone we met and observed is starving. Children’s bellies are distended and all youth and adults are thin and frail. Disease is rampant everywhere. Malaria is the number one disease. We learned that most camps see 150-200 malaria cases weekly. This is an astounding number. When you are surrounded by so many problems it is often difficult to determine where to begin or how to help.
I spent the time pondering how I got here and how my family became so passionate about distributing nets to families in need. I was reminded of my initial thoughts over three years ago when my daughter Katherine and I joined Nothing But Nets to help those in need. I remember thinking then that the families in many African countries have so much suffering through hunger, extreme poverty, difficult living conditions, war and rebel attacks, malaria and many other deadly diseases. I remember thinking malaria should not be one of their worries. Malaria, a disease that can be prevented by using an insecticide-treated net. Malaria, a disease that can be cured if diagnosed and treated. Malaria should be eliminated from their list of worries.
Mothers and fathers should not have to worry about mosquitoes biting and transmitting this disease. Mothers and fathers should not have to choose between purchasing a net or purchasing food for their one meal a day. Malaria should not be on that list. They have enough of a struggle and I believe with all my heart that we can help them fight this deadly disease. It is inconceivable that every 30 seconds a child loses his or her life to malaria. It is unacceptable that parents are burying their children when we can help them eliminate malaria. I have seen it with my own eyes. Nets work well – very well. And the families that have them stay healthy and malaria-free.
Over the past three days while in Gulu, Uganda, I slept under my net and was extremely grateful. I am terrified of malaria. It is an awful disease but I was lucky to have my net. Because of your support, we were able to cover refugee camp residents, and began to cover IDP camp residents and survivors of the war. They need your help desperately.
There is often a stereotype for the terms “refugee” and “internally displaced people.” To help you understand who these people are, I want you to think of yourself, your neighbors, your parents, and family. These individuals are just that – families, friends, neighbors – who were innocently forced to leave their homes because they were afraid and felt unsafe.
I know that civil war and rebel fighting in African nations is frustrating and incomprehensible. Why? Why do these rebels do what they do? The people that they terrify and force away from their homes did nothing to deserve it. They left behind all they knew. Kenyans, Sudanese, Congolese, and Ugandans are attempting to start anew in IDP and refugee camps, where living conditions are inconceivable.
You can help them eliminate one of their many worries. $10 buys a net that will protect them from malaria and help eliminate this disease. Please consider this awesome gift of life that you can share with another human being and their family. I know tonight I will sleep better knowing that many families have a net over them tonight because of the awesome work you and Nothing But Nets have provided. Please continue to support this campaign. It is so simple, but so important. Thank you!
October 28, 2008
We traveled three hours south of Gulu to Kiryandongo refugee camp for our final net distribution. We provided 1,000 nets to the camp, which houses approximately 4,600 residents. We took a driving tour of the entire camp, and saw the schools, health clinic, and small villages scattered among beautiful, lush countryside and mountain ranges. The view was breathtaking. Our drive was effective because once we returned, all the camp residents were waiting for us to distribute nets.
Mothers and children were everywhere, anxious and excited to receive their nets. It was decided to first distribute to pregnant mothers and moms with children five years of age or younger. Once we began, the women charged forward forcefully to ensure they were not missed or forgotten. To them, this net is a basic need of life in Uganda, but is has been a basic need they were living without. They were going to do what they had to, to get a net. Once the majority of the nets were distributed and the crowd calmed, we were warmly thanked with song and dance from the mothers and children. It was so beautiful and unforgettable.
During the distribution I was approached by a young man who asked for a net. I told him only pregnant women and mothers were getting them now. He said he had a wife and two children. I told him to quickly bring them to us and then they could get a net. He returned shortly and told me he could not find them. He thought they went to get water which was quite far. I continued to give out nets to the mothers but he remained close and patient. I was quite aware of his presence and the calm, patient look he had while watching us do our work.
During our distribution, as if one cue, the African sky broke into a storm and the wind and rain fell heavily upon us. We continued as if nothing had changed. This young man remained as we neared completion and he approached me yet again. His words were soft, gentle, and kind. He said, “Please, may I have a net for my family before you run out? Please, please, I am here for my wife. I cannot find her.”
Yet another difficult decision needed to be made. I asked him to stand under the tree to stay dry and wait for me so I could try to get him a net. I found the UNHCR leaders and thankfully, I was permitted to give a net to this gracious, patient father.
When I retuned, I asked him his name. He replied, “Simon.” I told Simon that he may have a net for his family. Adrianna Logalbo, Director of Nothing But Nets, asked Simon if we could come to his home to hang it with him. He excitedly replied, “Yes, of course. You are most welcome.”
While the dark, stormy African sky dropped buckets of rain on us, we trekked through the mud and fields to Simon’s hut. Simon proudly told us that he built this hut himself. He and his family are refugees from Kenya. They had to leave during the election riots because it was unsafe for his family. He would like to return but is too afraid for his children. While I hung his net, he told me about his two children. He has a 6-year-old boy who attends primary school and a two-year-old daughter. He showed me where they study and the maps and materials he uses to teach his son to read and count numbers.
Simon proudly shared with me the furniture he had built himself. He told me of the fertile land he grows crops on to provide for his family. Simon was proud of the home he built and his work ethic was seen in every thatch and branch of his hut.
I have two children, too. My daughter is eight and my son is six. We read together and count together, and as a family, we take pride in our work and family life. Does that sound familiar to you? Do you see yourself in Simon? I certainly did. I know I will think of Simon and his family when I am teaching my children. I will think of Simon’s wife when she proudly cooks food to her family. I will often think of Simon and his family as they prepare for bed by rolling out their mat and small blankets on the mud floor. Once their mat is set up and the four of them are ready for sleep, they will have a mosquito net surrounding and protecting them.
I know this because I personally hung it myself. And with every knot I pulled, every step I climbed to make the net even and comfortable, I felt the burden of worry due to malaria lift off Simon’s shoulders. He was so happy. He continually thanked all of us with the most sincere gratitude. It was a beautiful moment, one I will carry with me for a lifetime.
Thank you Simon for not giving up. Thank you for your perseverance and dedication to your family to get a net. I wish you well and will keep you in my thoughts and prayers. God Bless you, Simon.