I returned to Washington, DC this past Saturday night after spending a week and a half in the Central African Republic. After having a wonderfully healthy meal full of fresh vegetables, something we were not able to get in CAR, I sat down to begin looking through my photographs. The days we spent in-country were so packed with activity that I wanted to take time to fully digest the experience.
On the surface, the Central African Republic is a country of no infrastructure and little resources. As I previously described, the potholes in the roads turned a one mile trip into a 20 minute journey, without any traffic. The constant heavy rains brought out mini-mudslides along the red clay roads and made driving difficult and walking even harder. The standing water left by the rains only served to enhance breeding grounds for mosquitoes, as we experienced with their constant biting each night. The heat and humidity during the daytime is intense, and with little clean drinking water people reach for whatever water they can find. While the brilliant colors of the red clay roads against the lush green trees and fields makes for a pretty scene, life in the Central African Republic is certainly challenging.
In contrast to the difficult surroundings where one might expect to find pessimism or despair, we instead found hope and smiles. The children were like children anywhere in the world. They were curious when they saw us in their villages, and they easily caught on to our digital cameras, always insisting on seeing their portrait right after it was captured. They laughed, sang songs, and readily welcomed us into their homes.
As a crowd formed around us and some accidental pushing took place, I was always heartened to see a young child pick up an even younger sibling to protect them from any unexpected jostling. Communities look out for each other and families come first. This is why the opportunity to receive a bed net –- the opportunity for a mother or father to protect their children from malaria — was happily welcomed. The communities understood the threat of malaria and how a bed net could greatly protect them from a disease that has touched so many of their friends and family. Houses were prepared with nails and string as mothers eagerly awaited to hang their bed nets.
In addition to the lasting impression of the smiling children, the incredible hours that our on-the-ground partners put into launching this bed net distribution will always remain with me. PSI, ACAMS, UNICEF, and the Mentor Initiative have dedicated staff who work tirelessly to make sure bed nets get out to those who need them. These partners went out months ago to register every household in the country and provide them with a voucher to redeem at the distribution sites. They went community to community to educate families on proper use of the net and answered questions from families. They involve faith leaders, community leaders, school systems, and the general public so that there is pride and ownership in the process. I would like to extend our sincere thanks to all of our partners for their dedication to making sure the families of CAR can sleep safely every night, and for assuring them they’re not alone in the fight against malaria.
Although the progress is immense, I should note that our work is not yet over. Our partners are poised to finish covering the Central African Republic with mosquito nets — another 400,000 nets need to be distributed by the end of the year in 10 more districts around the country to complete the important task of getting a net to every family. Continue to spread the buzz and tell your NET-works! Together, we can provide families in the Central African Republic with hope that their children no longer have to suffer from this devastating disease. Together, we can send nets and save lives.