This past summer I traveled to Zambia, Africa to continue documenting the relief work being done in this predominantly rural farming country against such rampant killers as malaria. Malaria is a disease of the blood that is caused by a parasite, which is transmitted from person to person by mosquito. In Sub-Saharan Africa almost everyone you meet and speak with has personally had, or knows someone who has had malaria in their lifetime. If treated immediately the disease is manageable, but the difference between those who can defend against malaria and those who suffer at it's hands comes down to one simple thing: status.
While poverty in a country such as Zambia is widespread, few realize just how prevalent the class system still is to their culture. While the threshold of wealth may be lower, there is still a definite separation of those who are considered the wealthy, upper class, and those living in poverty and - most often - extreme poverty.
One early morning on our way to Kitwe, Zambia we stopped at a village located several kilometers away to observe and document the preventative effects that bed nets can have on a community - a story I have been following and continuing to document over the last two years. In this village we were brought to the home of one family in particular where we met Jacob, a sweet, beautiful child who had just turned 8-years-old.
His brothers and sisters played around in the open dirt patch just to the side of their home, staying cool in the shade as best they could. And there in the midst of their games, lay their brother, Jacob. Upon first glance Jacob appeared to be just like the rest of the children, resting and staying cool from the hot arid fall sun. But Jacob was not like the other children who surrounded him.
Since birth Jacob has dealt with occasional cases of epileptic seizures that his family had been able to keep managed. While any seizure can be extremely dangerous, and potentially fatal, Jacob's condition was being well looked after. He began to grow and become strong like all the other children, but due to his family's extreme poverty Jacob's mother was not able to provide a bed net for her family, nor medication (a daily and far more expensive option) to keep her children safe.
About a year ago Jacob was bitten by a mosquito, most likely while he was sleeping, and due to the intense fever brought on by the malaria parasite, his epileptic episodes intensified within a matter of hours. His mother was able to take him the the hospital and get the proper medication to save her son, but alas, it was too late. One of the seizures Jacob suffered damaged his brain so badly that he was left unable to talk, stand up, eat normally, the list goes on. Jacob's once bright and exciting future was taken from him.
This is how Jacob spends his days now, sitting on a mat on the ground floor, outside with his siblings as they run back and forth. This little boy, with all the potential and promise in the world now waits in the dirt, broken and beaten by a disease which is so easily preventable. He is left waiting for nothing short of a miracle.
I'm not sure I've ever experienced as hard a moment in my life as that morning; walking up and hearing this family's story, seeing this little child robbed of his life, seeing the hurt and pain he must be going through, and especially that of his family. And then, to walk away, unsure if I will ever see Jacob again, unsure if somehow that miracle will, in fact, play out, not sure if this story will ever have a happily ever after. But what I do know is this; before leaving our time with his family, we were able to give Jacob's family hope. Hope in the form of a bed net. A bed net that this family now can protect themselves with. A first line in defense against a disease that can be so easily done away with in, and with the help of, first-world nations.
Tonight at 7pm, Night of Nets, a locally grown campaign to help raise money to provide this EXACT same hope, is putting on an event to help bring this preventative solution to thousands more families across parts of Sub-Saharan Africa and beyond. Tonight you can be a part of helping children living in extreme poverty avoid becoming similar stories such as Jacob's. Tonight you can be a part of helping end Malaria and it's crippling hold on thousands of innocent adults and children living with the threat of this deadly disease.
Come out to Cornerstone University's Men's Soccer game at 7pm tonight to learn more about this cause, this disease, and how you can be an active member in helping bring this preventative solutions to countless more Jacobs.
I can't quite say what Jacob was thinking that morning, or if he could make sense of who we were, this group of very obvious American travelers that visited his home. I can't know for certain if he understood what was happening, or if he was relieved. I cannot know for sure, but the faint smile that lit up his face when he saw us makes me believe that just maybe, somehow beyond my own understanding of rationality and sense, that Jacob knew in that moment that he was safe from the thing that almost took his life. But clearly not his spirit.