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Delivering Hope to Refugees in Uganda

March 27, 2009


“Refugees in these camps have survived losing their homes, violence and genocide - they should not then die of a mosquito bite."
-Elizabeth Gore, Executive Director, Nothing But Nets

In the Nakivale refugee camp in Uganda, more than 40,000 refugees fleeing violence in nearby Sudan live in cramped and dusty conditions.  The rainy season is fast approaching and the residents – mostly women and children – are threatened by malaria. 

We are working with the UN High Commission for Refugees to fill the urgent need for 275,000 long-lasting, insecticide-treated bed nets to 27 camps where the malaria burden is the highest amongst all the African refugee camps – Uganda, Sudan, Kenya and Tanzania.  Malaria is the number one killer of refugees in Africa.

Elizabeth Gore, Executive Director of our Nothing But Nets campaign, traveled to Nakivale in March 2009 to distribute bed nets with two of our celebrity champions – Platinum recording artists Gavin DeGraw and television star Tom Cavanagh.  Check out the clip below for scenes from the field.


 Oruchinga Refugee Camp, Uganda
Wednesday, March 11

Imagine how you would teach a classroom full of children from four different countries, speaking six different languages, and with generally low literacy rates. The Oruchinga refugee camp hosts close to 3,000 refugees, mostly from Rwanda but also including refugees from Burundi and the DRC. We had the privilege to visit the primary school within the camp, which actually brings together both refugee and national (Ugandan) students. Gavin DeGraw and Tom Cavanagh talked to the young students about malaria and shared the news that after school, the children would be receiving bed nets. In one class, Tom asked how many had ever suffered from malaria. Every student raised their hand…

Not only do the teachers work hard to help the students retain their lessons in spite of all the obstacles mentioned above - they also are teaching the children about health! The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) requires the teachers to educate the students on malaria control. And we were about to see just what that means. 

Just before the net distribution started later that day (our last to achieve complete coverage in Orunchinga, yay!), we were given a presentation by nine students from the primary and secondary schools. These kids had won an art contest and got to present their drawings to the "famous Americans." To our complete amazement, the school art contest was themed "Stop Malaria."

Each young person, including three girls, presented their very own masterpiece. The drawings depicted cutting grass, cleaning up stagnant water, sleeping under nets and getting treatment at the clinic. My favorite showed what would happen if a family did not sleep under their net – let’s just say it was a photo-like depiction of barf and poo…it got a good laugh from us Americans and the students alike.

The children that won did not actually all speak the same language and were refugees from different homes, but they communicated perfectly through their art. We left incredibly impressed with the school’s ability to get the message across that nets save lives, even without words.

Nakivale refugee camp, Uganda
Tuesday, March 10

Sitting under a roof made of UNHCR plastic sheeting while squeezing into a mud-brick house just 8ft by 10ft, on my left is Eliza, a 40-year-old refugee from the Congo. She is a polio survivor sitting in a homemade wheelchair with a baby on her lap. To my right is Tom Cavanagh, Hollywood star and producer. Tom and I were helping Eliza hang the mosquito nets she just received this morning during a net distribution.

But possibly a better way to describe this experience would be: to my left - Eliza, an amazing woman full of life and joy. And to my right – Tom, a champion for malaria prevention and a newfound friend for all of the people in this refugee camp.

Today we joined the second to last bed net distribution needed for full coverage at the Nakivale refugee camp in Uganda. Hosting more than 40,000 refugees largely from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, and Rwanda, this camp will hopefully no longer have to fight off a terrible killer, malaria. Due to the outpouring of support from Nothing But Nets donors, every bed in this camp will be covered by a life-saving Long Lasting Insecticide-Treated Net by Friday.

Later in the afternoon, we walked through the Somali zone with singer-songwriter Gavin DeGraw and community health worker and Somali refugee Sheikl Niedel.  We learned about the community mobilization going on around malaria prevention. Again, perhaps a better description would be: we walked through an inspiring Somali village with Gavin, every little kid’s best friend here, and Sheikl, an entrepreneurial life-saver of the Somali people.

Sheikl engaged the youth of his village to start a club and teach malaria prevention and proper net usage. The 25 youth in this club got Gavin’s full attention explaining how they go house to house every Thursday to ensure the nets are properly hung. Sheikl was our newfound hero: a few nets and amazing kids, and the mortality rate in this village has dropped to zero since nets were first distributed in this area in November.

Today was an exciting, full day with Tom and Gavin – two champions for malaria prevention and now, friends of the refugees in Nakivale.

Monday, March 9

Driving down a dirt road today in Uganda, we were reminiscing that two and a half years ago, several of us at the UN Foundation were sitting around a small table in Elizabeth’s office, brainstorming. We had a great opportunity in front of us: how could we build off the incredible success of the Rick Reilly Nothing But Nets article that hit newsstands on May 1, 2006, and had resulted in over $1 million raised in a few short weeks?

We didn’t know if the American public would rally around this cause, a disease which few of us will ever have firsthand experience with, but is killing a child every 30 seconds. We didn’t know if we would find partners to help us push out the simple message that malaria kills and nets save lives. But we were given this opportunity to raise awareness and funds to prevent malaria – and we knew we needed to make it happen.

When we look back on it, we laugh because at the time, one could fit all the advocates raising awareness for malaria in one room. But now there are over 100,000 of you!
It is extra-special for us to both be here in Uganda, visiting refugee camps, helping distribute life-saving bed nets, and reporting back on the incredible work all of you have done. Over the last two years we have worked tirelessly alongside many talented and dedicated people at the UN Foundation, as well as our committed partners, to build the Nothing But Nets campaign and push it out far and wide.

And now, two and a half years later, together we have all raised $25 million and distributed nearly 2.5 million bed nets.

We sometimes refer to the Campaign adoringly as “the little campaign that could.” We surely have more to do, but sitting here in Uganda, it is incredible to think about how far we have come from that small table nearly three years ago.

Stay tuned for more updates from Uganda over the course of the week!

And thank you for your amazing support.
- Elizabeth and Adrianna

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