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Global Problems Can be Solved


Selam: The bravest girl in Ethiopia, fighting malaria

December 2, 2009

Elizabeth McKee Gore, the UN Foundation’s executive director of global partnerships, just wrapped up an extensive trip to Ethiopia, which brought her from rural villages to urban centers to everywhere in between. And while it’s hard to re-create such a dynamic trip in words, Elizabeth is doing exactly that with a blog series on her incredible experiences.

Elizabeth’s on-the-ground stories capture just how far the work of the UN Foundation and its UN partners reaches, whether in health or education, refugees or adolescent girls, peacekeeping or clean water. Take a minute to read these posts, and learn how the United Nations Foundation is creating a more peaceful, prosperous, and just world. (Read the sixth post here.)




Selam, an Eritrean girl I met today, might be the most beautiful child I have ever seen. At only seven years old, Selam walked by herself across the border from Eritrea into Ethiopia. She was trying to locate family members who might be in the refugee camps. Imagine being seven and making a journey like that. Her bravery astounded me! 

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) found her and brought her to the Mai-Aini camp where she joined 300 other unaccompanied and separated youths who were found along the border. Some locals called these children “parasites” because they are so young and need more care than the adults in the camp. In most refugee camps, unaccompanied youth or orphans are placed with families or women who can care for them. However, Mai-Aini is unique because the camp has an 80 percent male population. Many of the men are fleeing conscription in the Eritrean army.  Therefore, there are not enough women refugees in the camp to care for these children. 

We met Selam during a home visit after distributing long-lasting insecticide-treated mosquito nets to the refugees. Malaria is the largest killer of refugees in Africa and is the largest cause of morbidity in Mai-Aini camp. The UN Foundation’s Nothing But Nets campaign has been raising funds to provide nets through UNHCR to refugees in 15 countries across Africa.

Sitting with Selam and seeing her try out her new bed net, I couldn’t imagine a situation where a girl had walked all that way and arrived safely to UNHCR’s Mai-Aini camp, and could potentially die of something as small and trivial as a mosquito bite. That would be inexcusable. In contrast, before my eyes, Selam sat beautifully under her new net and displayed it proudly to all of us. She is beautiful, brave and will now be healthy and malaria-free.

To send more nets to refugee children like Selam, donate to Nothing But Nets.

Read the first story in this series.

* Photo credit: David Evans