At home I only would hear about malaria on the news and read about it in class. In Uganda, malaria is a factor of every night, every week, and every month. After years and years of hearing this word, “malaria,” when did I get passionate about raising awareness? When I held my homestay sister, Tessy, through the night as she stared up at me with fearful, cloudy eyes while bullets of sweat dropped down her forehead and she shivered uncontrollably in December 2014. I’ve seen children pass out in the school compound, lay weak on the classroom floor, and knock on my door at nighttime scared and sick this past year and a half all due to this preventable disease. So that is why I am and will always devote my time and energy to this field of work.
A small word with an insurmountable impact.
A small bug holding the fate of Uganda on a thread. Just one bug, one bite, and your life could be cut short. Four syllables with a separate bite of their own as they sting the hearts of my friends, my community, my pupils, and my family in Uganda. My home.
Out of the 29 teachers at my school, 10 of them have lost a child to malaria. One third have outlived their kids, a painful and life-shattering occurrence for any parent in the world. Of the 100 pupils I administered the reading assessment to, 79 pupils have had malaria before and 61 have been treated more than once. And of the 1,800 pupils at my school, every one of them raised their hand when asked if they knew someone who had died from this powerful parasite. The statistics are so much more than alarming and heartbreaking for me; what hurts the most is looking into these fearful eyes full of sorrow and knowing how preventable this sickness truly is.
The symbolic irony I have discovered in malaria is sickening. Physiologically, malaria is characterized by an intermittent cycle of fevers while the parasite multiplies exponentially in your liver and red blood cells. Every 4-8 hours, it hits. I have heard stories and witnessed the consequences of malaria in society and it is just as horrific. Pupils are terribly sick, can’t perform well in school, and are beaten for not participating in class. These children then stay home where they are beaten for not being able to perform their household chores. Eventually, some will get tested and receive treatment for their malaria if they can afford it. They recover, return to school, and are beaten for their absenteeism. It is never-ending. Yet, it is avoidable.
As a Peace Corps Volunteer I cannot craft up a cure to malaria today or tomorrow. I cannot bring back the daughters, brothers, and mothers who are mourned for every day. I cannot take away the grief in the hearts of their survivors. I recognize I am one person; I am one person who can make a huge impact. You are one person who can do the same. Through our individual efforts to raise awareness and educate our communities we can rid the world of this horrific international killer. What are you waiting for?
April is World Malaria Month and the awareness raised by Peace Corps Volunteers during this month and throughout the year is unbelievably inspirational. Volunteers worldwide work to “STOMP Out Malaria” by teaching their schools, organizations, villages, and friends about transmission, prevention, and treatment of the parasite. We hold workshops, we train health officials, we visit homes and villages, we teach net repair. To you it may seem like a lot of work but to us it’s an effort to keep our families safe.
Maybe you’ll read this and carry on with your day because you know that you have no risk of contracting malaria where you are geographically. That’s okay. Maybe you’ll never learn how malaria is transmitted and you’ll never teach anyone about the female anopheles mosquito. That’s fine. If all you take from these paragraphs is my next statement, that’s wonderful.
It could be worse.
It could be worse.
And it is worse all across the world.
When your car is broken down and you’re late for dinner think of those four words and savor the clean air you’re breathing. Appreciate the privilege of having a job, your health, and the ability to stand outside at night without the potential of one mosquito ending your life. It can be worse and it can be better, too. And it will all be better once we do our part in educating the world.