Last week, I was at Fugnido Refugee Camp in Gambella, Ethiopia with a team from Orkin, one of our partners. There was one day on the trip I will never forget.
The sun was blazing down. It was nearly 40 degrees C (over 100 degrees F) as we walked through Fugnido refugee camp today. The camp is home to over 20,000 Sudanese refugees who have been living here for up to 20 years. We walked through the camp with Abiy, a field officer with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). The tukuls (round, thatch homes) are arranged in clusters, enclosed by a stick fence.
Abiy invited me to choose which house to visit, and I chose a random cluster of tukuls. We entered, and I saw a woman stirring porridge over the fire. It was about noon – lunch time. She welcomed us, perhaps a bit reluctantly as most would when five strangers walk in to your home. But Abiy is well-recognized by all. Children shout his name as he passes and men stop to shake his hand. But it shows the trust the refugees have in Abiy and UNHCR. He has lived in this hot, lowland area, just 60 miles from the Sudan border and a two-hour drive from the closest town of Gambella, for over seven years now.
As much as she seemed reluctant, the woman also seemed honored to have visitors. Perhaps it will provide a good story over dinner that night. She stopped stirring her porridge and welcomed us into her home. I expected it to be cooler – but it wasn’t. The heat penetrated the thatch roof.
And there, in the midst of her home a net was hanging from the roof – its four corners tied to sticks in the roof and the walls. After some conversation I learned that this woman, Adut, is the mother of four small children. I explained that we were happy to see the mosquito net hanging in her home, and she quickly shuttled us outside to show the net hanging outside her home.
Outside? But of course. It’s too hot for everyone in the family to sleep inside so she has found a way to hang her net outside. It was impressive to see — and encouraging. Here in some of the hottest, harshest conditions, families are still using the nets to prevent malaria. They too are Sleeping Out to Prevent Malaria.
My experience was replicated over and over again that day. In each and every home we entered, a bed net was hanging. It is clear: people use these bed nets to save lives.
I think about all the times in the last three years that I have been asked if the nets are really being used. I saw it with my own eyes. They are indeed.
Let’s end malaria deaths by 2015 – and continue that commitment today by sending a net and saving a life.