Katharine McPhee shares her malaria story for Mozzy Air0Comments
Your stories on malaria provide powerful content to help us raise awareness and save lives. Real life stories are the cornerstone feature of our month long awareness campaign Mozzy Air, which launched for World Mosquito Day on 20 August.
Through Mozzy Air we are profiling a range of remarkable personal accounts, from health workers in Namibia working on the frontline to fight malaria through to well known supporters such as US Smash star Katharine McPhee. Katharine visited West Africa earlier this year with our colleagues at Malaria No More in the US and we are delighted to be featuring her story below in Mozzy Air from Monday 3 September.
By Katharine McPhee:
Earlier this year I went on a trip to multiple locations in Africa, where I learned that although I can’t save the world, I can help save one life.
Our first destination with Malaria No More was Ghana, where the country is fighting the disease with the help of the US and UK governments and a bunch of passionate and capable local and international partners including Malaria No More UK. The country is on track to make sure that every household is protected with a mosquito net by the end of 2012. Results so far are encouraging: net usage among the most vulnerable groups – pregnant women and young children – increased more than 360% following the first regional campaign. It was a privilege to see this transformation firsthand!
We then flew on to Burkina Faso, a very personal journey for me. I have wanted to visit ever since the pre-school I built, Nioko, broke ground there a few years ago. I couldn’t attend the opening because of work, but I was determined to get there one day. I just didn’t expect that day to come so soon and with a greater purpose than even education itself.
Patricia, the school’s headmistress, emailed while I was filming Smash saying she had not been able to respond because she had contracted malaria. Her students were also missing class because of repeated bouts with the disease. I came to learn that malaria is the leading cause of school absenteeism on the African continent causing up to 10 million missed days of school each year.
I couldn’t wait to see the school for the first time. The morning of our visit, I woke up as excited as Christmas morning. Would the school be what I expected? Was Patricia as lovely and effective as I’d imagined? Are the kids happy there? Are they learning? All of those questions were answered in the first few minutes of our visit. The visit was everything and more than I could have ever imagined. Picture a huge plot of land with a pre-school, secondary school, as well as a health clinic and an orphanage. On the surface it didn’t look like much, but underneath there was this amazing place that offered education to young women and children – things I had taken for granted.
As soon as we arrived, hundreds of kids charged toward us with smiles on their faces. They lined up, sang songs and raised a flag to signal our arrival to the rest of the school children. Then they all went to class as we wiped tears from our eyes. We were all so moved. Never had we seen so much poverty but so much joy and enthusiasm to greet total strangers: us.
We then headed to the clinic, where three babies had been born the night before, including teeny twins. When we stopped by, at least one hundred mothers were lined up outside the clinic, seeking shade from the 47 degree heat, with babies bundled on their backs. (Some 400 to 600 babies are born there every year!) Sometimes, the only way you could tell there was a child was from seeing two tiny feet poking out from the swaddle of cloth on their mother’s back.
Inside the clinic, the mums that had given birth the night before were sitting up and chatting with each other as their babies rested next to them. And as I handed a net to each of the new mums, they were overjoyed with the gift of a net and that their newborns wouldn’t go a single night exposed to the dangers of malaria-infected mosquito bites.
Since returning to the States, I get asked all the time if the trip was “life changing.” That is a difficult question because my life is pretty much the same. I am either in the studio working on a record or shooting the show. But, what did definitely change is my perspective. There are so many people and children by no fault of their own who are in great need. I came away understanding that I would not be able to save the world but maybe in some way, I could help save even one person or one child. Sometimes I can feel overwhelmed that there is too much to do and I am only one person, and so I get frozen and do nothing. But if I look at things in terms of one child or one person it is not as overwhelming, especially with malaria. One net can cover two kids at night and costs £5. My perspective on the needs and how to help has totally changed. I came away touched by the fact that something as simple as a mosquito net could make such a difference in the life of a baby, student, headmistress, or a new mother.
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