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By: Chris Helfrich

A Brighter Future, Wrapped Up in a Bed Net

June 8, 2017
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Sometimes you meet people that you know you’ll never forget, even if you don’t ever see them again. That happened yesterday during our trip to Gihembe refugee camp with our newest campaign partner, rock band Dawes. Gihembe is an overcrowded camp of more than 14,000 people living atop a hill in northern Rwanda near the Ugandan border. We met an amazing and resilient family of eight from Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In 1996, the family fled to Gihembe to escape war after their father was killed in the violence.

This family is led by 36-year-old Kezia, ill with an undiagnosed ailment. Her eldest child, 17-year-old Viviane, helps her care for the other six children, ages 5 to 14. Viviane is the kind of person you instantly recognize as destined for greatness. She is smart, enthusiastic, outgoing, charming, and speaks almost flawless English. She practically shines against Gihembe’s isolated, often bleak surroundings. Viviane communicated with us eloquently despite the fact that her mother speaks no English, she grew up inside Gihembe’s boundaries, and her schooling ended years ago (only a primary education is guaranteed at the camp). This is a young woman who, cultural differences aside, wouldn’t seem out of place as a freshman on a university campus.

Viviane and her seven relatives live in a small mud home that’s roughly 200 square feet, covered by a roof of white plastic sheeting. The house stands out from its neighbors. Outside, Viviane has painted decorations; inside she and her 14-year-old sister Ingabire have scrawled Bible verses in several languages across in black paint across the whitewashed walls. “I love you” is written across one wall, along with scripture preaching devotion and gratitude. The family sleeps together in a small room with nothing more than blankets and a few thin mattresses covering the dirt floor. Until this week, the eight of them slept side-by-side without the bed nets critical to protecting the family from malaria. Viviane explained how Ingabire, sick with malaria, spent over two months in the camp’s hospital last year fighting the deadly disease.

I asked Viviane about her dreams for the future, thinking she would tell me how she wanted to be a doctor, professor, or journalist. She does dream of someday leaving the camp and pursuing a job. But that wasn’t her answer. Her number one dream, she told us, is “for my mother to get better.”

A bed net won’t give Viviane everything this bright teenager deserves. But it’s a simple and effective way to help. Life-saving bed nets will keep her whole family safe from a disease that remains one of the top killers of refugees across the region. And it’s a symbol to Viviane, and other refugees like her, that the outside world hasn’t forgotten about them. She has almost nothing, but focuses on being thankful for what little she does have.  A simple net means a great deal to her.

So think of Viviane on your next two trips to Starbucks—do you really need that overpriced latte? Instead, spend $10 to send a net. You might just save a life.

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