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From April to October so much happened, way more than we ever expected.

It has been so wonderful to see things come together for the girls’ hostel building.
It is now November 8th and we have a brick wall, latrines and bathing rooms and a hostel building. Next we are working on a kitchen.
The rent at our present location will not run out till the end of 2022 so we still have time to get things done.
We are so grateful to all the donors who have helped us to reach this far. Also we are grateful to the TH team and our builder, John.

 

 

The land was a dense part of Bugoma forest in western Uganda near Lake Albert in the Kyangwali Refugee Camp.

It is now called “Maratatu.”

It became difficult to distribute food to all the refugees in the camp, both the ones living there and the new refugees coming in. This area, now known as Maratatu was a space left for farming. The dense trees were cut down three times, making the area to be called, Maratatu, meaning “three times” in Kiswahili.

Maratatu is a new village in Kyangwali Refugee Camp near Lake Albert, a large lake that separates Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The refugees were living a hard life where they cut down poles from the bush. Some took them up to the camp and others carried them down to Lake Albert shores.

The refugees lived like that from year 2000 up, but it was not easy. They called this, “Kaza Roho” meaning, “Strengthen your heart.”

Now the Congolese refugees who had come from 1996 to present worried of great hunger with no gardens because the space is now used to accommodate new Congolese refugees. Before this, gardening was a way to sustain life. In years past, people could be seen walking in the early morning before the sun came up. They were carrying their pangas to begin a day of “digging.”  Now life has changed and those refugees who had spent a large part of their lives in Kyangwali Refugee Camp are back on food rations.

Before visiting Kagoma Reception area we spent time with the Camp Commandant, Jolly. She was kind to let us all sit at a table and she gave updates and the history of Kyangwali. If you look at past blogs, you can see that this is not new to me or to Think Humanity. We did have new visitors and others that had only visited once before, so it was not only good to give them the history, but good to share this time with Jolly.

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Our April-May Think Humanity team. Curt Austin, Jim Heckel, Alibankoha Bridget, Beth Heckel, Deana Austin and Kevin Arnold. Commandant, Ms. Jolly Kebirungi in the center.

Maratatu is now a sea of white UNHCR tarps. Home to tens of thousands of Congolese, mostly women and children. Just over the border in the Congo ethnic tension caused Lendu groups to attack the Hema with machetes, spears, bows and arrows. They burned down more than 1,000 of homes and killed 60,000 people. Now more than 100,000 people are displaced with approximately 45,000 in Uganda since December 2017.

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Maratatu is no longer a place for refugees to grow their food, but a sea of white UNHCR tarps as far as you can see.

The motives of the Lendu is unclear, but it is said that sharing land with minerals and politics plays a part in this. Also the Lendu believe that Ituri province is their place. They say that the Hema, who migrated from Uganda, don’t have a place there. I am sure it is more difficult to understand and has been going off and on now for many years.

Since December 2017, men were staying behind to protect their property while putting their families on rickety boats for a six to ten-hour ride across Lake Albert. Some even used paddle boats and it could take nearly three days to reach safety on the shores of Uganda.

In the beginning boat owners would take advantage by charging a lot of money to take people over. They would overcrowd their boats which caused some drownings. Later on, once it became evident that people were going to be going back and forth, the International Organization of Migration (IOM) began sending boats and bringing women and children over to Uganda.

 

The refugees landed on the shore in Uganda in small fishing villages, such as Sebarogo and Nsonga. At first they were taking the long, upward trek to Kyangwali Refugee Camp, but soon the Medical Team International and other organizations began setting up tents to receive them. Due to lack of sanitation the children began to defecate wherever and the conditions became so bad that there was a cholera outbreak. With more than three thousand people arriving per day, it was hard for organizations to keep up with the influx. Before it was under control 40 people  died of cholera and 2,000 were infected.

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Nsonga fishing village where refugees from the Congo were coming over on boats.

 

We visited Nsonga. The first thing we saw was a sign warning about cholera, yet we were told it had been under control for a couple of weeks. Our driver parked next to a running sewage ditch. The smell was a mix of sewage and rotted fish. Old fishing boats were on the shore and some naked children were sleeping in the shadows to keep out of the sun. There was a MTI tent set up. Congolese refugees lined up. They were first sprayed down with a disinfectant then sent to stand in line for medical health screening. While we were there the numbers were not huge, but they were ready to receive a large group that evening from Bunia.

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MTI set up quick shelters where their workers asked medical questions and received the Congolese from Ituri into Uganda.

 

This was just the beginning of a big process. From here the refugees would be taken to Kagoma Reception Area in Kyangwali Refugee Camp where they would be registered and given a wristband. They would be given vaccinations, a pot for cooking, a tarp for their home, a plot of land and a few other household items.

The first child I saw was wearing an oversized brown dress that was falling off her body. The eyes were staring at us as we got out of the rented matatu (taxi). Most were excited -jumping all over and trying to hold our hands. Others seems to look blankly. Those are the ones that I saw. The children had their wrist bands on -they were now officially refugees. The Congo was no longer their home.

 

The people were fed a simple porridge cooked under an open tent in large pots. There were bags of food from US AID. One large bag said “green dried peas” while others we could not make out the contents.

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Many large steaming pot were boiling getting ready to feed the new arrivals as curious people peeked over the wall to see the visitors.

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Bags of food, most likely flour to make porridge, were also in the food tent.

A beautiful Congolese woman looked down at me from above as if offering me something to eat.

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After visiting the reception area we went to Maratatu. I thought it would not be so close and was looking down at my phone when Jim made a comment as if in disbelief. I looked up and saw the white UNHCR tarps everywhere as far as you could see on both the left and right of our vehicle.

 

When we pulled up we were greeted by hundreds of children. I saw no parents, no families…only many children all wanting to hold our hands and greet us. I’ve heard that there are at least 800 children who were sent on boat without a parent or guardian. The Red Cross will try to help them find their families, but meanwhile, it is a very difficult situation for the children to be in the camp alone.

We drove up near the Medical Team International tent. The doctor on our board was also a volunteer with MTI and later would go up to Adjumani, near the Sudan border.

He asked some questions. There were no doctors there and the only one to get advice from was 80 km away in Hoima.

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The children did not cross the doorway line into the MTI building.

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Photo by Jim Heckel

After visiting the MTI building we began walking. The children were excited and were in front of us, beside us and behind us. Bridget pointed out where not to step. There were not enough latrines and the children had defecated wherever they could. They had even used the newly worn dirt path. The children were dancing and screaming in happiness around us when I looked down to see dozens of bare feet stepping in the human feces. My mind is thinking, no wonder that there was a cholera outbreak here. It was almost sickening, but no fault of their own. At that point, and I am embarrassed to admit it, I was very somber and wanted to be away from what I have just seen. I looked on the ground around me to see many piles of feces. I could even make out what they contained. Light in color, a looser stool almost like a cow patty. Some were full of what appeared to be undigested corn. I wanted to watch where I was stepping, but the children were too many. I could only see them hopping up and down in front of me, some with big smiles.
It was at that time when the children began to point at their stomachs and mouths saying, “biscuit.” They were hungry. I answered in Kiswahili saying, “Hapana biscuit.” I almost felt cruel to tell them I had nothing.

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The children were everywhere you looked. You couldn’t take a step without children on every side of you.

We had come to visit Maratatu, but now I am wondering why we were there. We had nothing to offer at this time. It seemed wrong. The more children I saw pointing to their stomachs the more helpless I began to feel. Their loud voices started to make me spin; the heat, the children surrounding me, the helplessness that I felt. I began to run. With each step I sped up faster and faster. The children began to run with me. The faster I ran, the faster they ran. What was I running from? I had been in similar situations before, but never had I reacted this way.
I recognized the voice on my right and a hand was placed on my shoulder. “Are you okay?” Stuart asked me. Stuart is our health administrator. He ran next to me. We arrived at our matatu and he asked our driver, Sadiki, to open the side door. I got inside and just took a breath.

 

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Our matatu (taxi) was named “Nothing but prayers.”

I had never had this happen in eleven years. I have been slightly annoyed before (from heat, etc). I was not annoyed at the children. I was annoyed at myself. I wanted to be a part of helping these children, yet doing nothing to make a difference. I wish I had sweets or biscuits, anything. I had nothing.
Everybody got into the matatu. We drove away and children chased the vehicle yelling in Swahili, “Bazungu bako nakula kula. Bako na kula kula.” I am not sure why they were saying, “The white people are eating. You are eating a lot.” They must have assumed we had food, which made me feel worse since they had asked for biscuits and we gave them nothing.

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We visited the camp three times during this trip. I guess that means “Three times” or “Maratatu.”
We did give out mosquito nets, birthing kits and had a health day for women. This helped many refugees, but it did not help this group of new people. Things are still too unorganized. There is just no way to go into that area and get something done. Chaos is the only word for it right now.  When we go back things may be more organized into blocks with a chairperson for each block.
I just want to make a difference.
The world however, is a beautiful and hurting place. I cannot get many visions and experiences out of my head. 20+ trips and it has to affect you in some way. The last trip however is still fresh in my mind. …”often though, they hurt.”
“Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life ― and travel ― leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks ― on your body or on your heart ― are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt.”
– Anthony Bourdain

 

 

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How do we make a difference when something is so big?
I feel tied up in knots. My heart is pumping fast. Where do we turn?
I see the photos. So many women and children. First getting off boats after 8 – 10 hours traveling across Lake Albert to Uganda leaving behind their lives in the Congo.
I know this place well. Since 2007 it has been like a second home. While refugees come and go and things slowly changed, these photos just overwhelm me. It is a new land. I do not recognize this place any longer.
See the miles and miles of UNHCR tarps. Is that home? How long will they be here?

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We will try and do our part. We have 3,000 mosquito nets. This will help some, but considering the thousands who are new to Kyangwali, will it keep malaria down?
I tell myself, it has to help. It has to make a difference. It will. It has to.
Right now, due to cholera in the camp, we have nowhere to stay. Where will we sleep while in the camp? We have never had this happen before.
My prayer is that one day war, violence, injustice, hatred, discrimination, oppression…so many words that I wish I never had to ever use, would end.
Thank you to all who have joined this effort to fight for these innocent women and children.
God be with them. God calm my restless spirit.
BE STILL
Beth Heckel, Founder
Achieving means nothing without purpose
2017 in Brief – From the Executive Director
“Achieving means nothing without purpose.”
Donors, you made a huge impact in 2017
  • Four large mosquito net distributions in five different villages totaling 5,500 with another 2,660 mosquito nets ready to distribute soon.
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At the bed net distribution last February in Karujumba Village

 

  • Healthcare provided at the TH Kyangwali Health Center for approximately 7,200 people. (not counting outreach programs and health days) Cases of malaria have decreased due to our concentration of mosquito nets near the TH Kyangwali Health Center.
  • 800 birthing kits were given to pregnant women in western Uganda.
  • 1,200 ultrasounds at the Think Humanity Kyangwali Health Center.
  • Two Women’s Health Days at the clinic that helped 108 people and an outreach program that served 105 children who received medical treatment and vaccinations.
  • Education for 51 children from Uganda, Congo, Rwanda and South Sudan ranging from nursery school to university.
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Kelline, from Kyangwali Refugee Camp, graduated from Nursery School 2017

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Hilltop High School students 2017

  • Three special Visitation Days for parents and guardians at the Think Humanity Girls’ Hostel Hoima.
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Parent and Guardian Visitation Day July 2017

 

  • Fair trade products made in Uganda were purchased. The socio-economic development program teaches women a skill and helps to develop their community.
  • Six water wells were constructed and two were repaired.
  • A third brick classroom and a latrine were constructed at Moonlight Primary School.
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Moonlight Nursery and Primary School in Wagesa. Classrooms 1, 2 and 3

 

  • Trip to Uganda June-July.
  • Emergency humanitarian efforts for children after our nurse was murdered and after our past director died from unknown causes.
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Damascene’s children in Kyangwali Refugee Camp, Uganda

 

  • Our first group of girl students passed through the Think Humanity Girls’ Hostel (senior 1-6) and two have found employment before they even receive their diplomas! With 85 percent unemployment in the region, this already shows the success of our program.
  • We held our 5th Annual Leadership Summit in Hoima. The theme was “Portrait of a Hero(oine). “ We were honored to have Hon. Byenkya Catherine Joy, Minister for Health Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom as our guess speaker.
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Honorary Byenkya Catherine Joy, Minister for Health Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom

 

Miscellaneous quotes from Think Humanity Uganda:
“You got us from zero, and now we are hero!” – Nurse Jane
“You are around all the time, not like rain that comes and goes.” – Student Hellen
“Outstanding actions create a positive change.” – Student Tonny
We hope that you have a tremendous 2017 and once again, thank you for all your support.
Beth Heckel,
Founder and Executive Director
Think Humanity

Kyangwali Refugee Camp

 

 

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Think Humanity thanks our donors for saving lives through donating towards mosquito nets.
We sent funds early enough to hold a bed net distribution to benefit 1,500 families on December 31, 2017, a great way to end 2017.
In addition to the 1,500 mosquito nets, the Think Humanity volunteers gave out 53 birthing kits. The kits were donated by Birthing Kit Foundation Australia.
The village of Kihojo comprises of Alur people who come from northwest Uganda near the borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. Kihojo, however is in Hoima District which is further south away from the violence of those two bordering countries.
As for the day at Kihojo, this is the part of the report that we received:
“ The people were so welcoming and helpful through out from the start of name collection to the distribution day. They were so grateful, only as always many went back without nets due to the big number of people which was more than the nets. Local leaders and their people were so helpful and organised, which made it so easy for the distribution.”
The Think Humanity team spent their final day of 2017 volunteering. Those volunteer giving out mosquito nets and birthing kits were: Health care admin Stuart Tusabege, Nurse Jane Nabakooza, Finance Admin Amini Musafiri, Education Admin Alibankoha Bridget, and Think Humanity hostel students, Moonlight Phionah and Kusemererwa Flavia. (seen below)
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Jane, Moonlight, Flavia, Amini, Bridget and Stuart

As always, we demonstrated how to use the mosquito net properly by using people from the community.

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Think Humanity Nurse Jane on left makes sure that everybody knows how to use a mosquito net properly.

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Bridget is giving out a birthing kit to this pregnant woman. Pregnant women also received mosquito nets, because they are more susceptible to getting malaria.

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This is a photo showing how these people live. The kitchen is outside. This mother holds her net close to her knowing that her family will be protected from the deadly mosquito that causes malaria. Thank you donors!

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Thank you donors for providing mosquito nets to children in Kihojo Village this Christmas.

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This young boy holds on to his new mosquito net. This picture has been cropped, but it would be nice to return to this village to provide chldren with clothing.

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I can only imagine that this child is thanking the donors for this mosquito net.

Two young mothers, perhaps ages 14 or 15, are shown with babies on their backs. This is the age that Think Humanity takes in girls for our hostel (senior 1 or in USA 8th grade). We would love to make a difference and to see that young girls get an education instead of being forced into early marriages or having children before they are fully developed themselves. This is why our girl education program is so important.
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Young mother with baby strapped to her back in Kihojo Village, Uganda.

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A young girl in Kihojo receives a mosquito net to protect her and her baby from getting malaria.

More photos and details will be shared later. It is the middle of the night in Uganda and our team is tired. They will provide a report later. Thank you so much donors. I am posting a list of names below.
We will hold another distribution in April 2018. Some donations came in later and others delayed due to online sites that hold the money for 2-4 weeks. We also sold Christmas ornaments and we do not have all those funds yet. As of today we have sold 706 Christmas ornaments. Ornaments sales went towards the purchase of mosquito nets. We have enough to purchase 2,012 more mosquito nets for April 2018 to total 3,512 mosquito nets from our 7th Annual Bed Nets 4 Life Christmas Campaign. Thank you!

Derek Nichols, Yishai Statter Family, Beth and Jim Heckel, Dave and Hilda Smith, Ron and Caroline Larson, John and Constance Boose, Candis Verhey, Ann Martin, James and Jeannie Wahl, Price Elementary 5th grade class in Anaheim, California, James and Sallie Dakins, anonymous, Joyce and Robert Elder, James Reents, Eric and Cindy Beltzer, Chris and Lorry Tornow, Bob & Peggy O’Doherty, Curt and Deana Austin, Hilary Steinberger, Cynthia Peterson, Donnie Gladfelter, Matt Cozadd, John VonAllmen, Barbara McClean, Karen Williams, Joanne Schlafer, Karen Backstein, Tom Reagor, Susan Higgins, Kara Pease-Marshall, Rhonda Cronan, Jessica Morgan, Melissa Beck, Sosamma Samuel-Brunett, Kim Krattiger, Sue Wahlert, Linda Kirscht, Kerri Bevard, Jonas Nteziyaremye, Kirsta Britton, Emily Panetsos, Robyn Bartley, Melissa Obert, Sherry Wells, Don and Kelli Arnold, Meredith Bradbury, Molly Christine Patterson, York, Rick & Collete Markwardt, Beret Strong, Al and Rosemary Habenicht, Terri and Bob Stewart, Sharon Clevenger, Tim and Debbie Pico, Nikita Vanzie-Williams and She’s Mixed, Joe and Pam Bolesta, Tom Beaman, Bill Temple and Xiubo Xu, Joe and Debbie Bergholz, Steven and Tami Roskamp, Steven Meyer, Nathan and Mary Dixon, Lauren Scott Trust, Patricia Jones (in honor of KevinArnold), Ron and Nancy Schwiesow, Shirley Heckel, Carey Scott, Sandy Howell-Klepper, Laura Moore, Kathy Jennings, M’Leigha Buchanan, Kel Darnell, Michael & Shauna Newton, Cathy Henderson, Emily Mancinelli, Paul and Susan Williamson, Greg and Pam Weech, David and Jennifer Hanes, Andrew and Pam Howard, Sonya Gustafson, Prairie IT Haxtun, Colorado, Anonymous, Elva Davila, Jim and Lisa Skinner, Melissa Armour, Crate and Barrel, Anonymous, Robert Wahl, James and Sara Preston, Rich and Kay Thuesen, Joshua (Gideon), Lisa Callicott, John & Linda Palmisano, Jeff and Mara Rusciolelli, Jim Payton, Ryan and Shelley Fredricey, Jaelyn Eberle and David Taylor, David and Luan Ezra and Scott and Ruth Sprain. Also thanks to the 6th Annual Think Humanity Golf Tournament for a portion of these nets.
Those that sold ornaments: Faith Fellowship Church in Melbourne Florida, Katie Smith at Dillon Family Medicine in South Carolina, Wesche Jewelers in Melbourne, Florida, Happy Healthy Human Cafe at Indian Harbour Beach, Florida, Brown’s Shoe Fit Longmont Colorado, Red Frog Coffee in Longmont, Colorado, Lisa Connelly Richard inWashington, Abby Jones Indian, Erica Edwards Dane Delane Salon Studio, North Carolina, Colorado Coffee Company Stacy Kliner in Loveland, Colorado, Ascension Catholic Community in Melbourne, Florida, Pineda Presbyterian Church in Melbourne, Florida, Sue Giddings, Zion Lutheran Church – Loveland, Deana and Curt Austin, Connie England and Debbie Stelzer (all who held events), Dr. William Reents and Kathy, Cynthia Rauschenberger, Jim Heckel, Denise Duncan and many others who volunteered their time this Christmas season and all that made purchases on Etsy and at our fundraising events. (too many to list!) Special thanks to Margo Wilder and Allen for donating to off-set our big loss when a box from Uganda with 300 Christmas ornaments got lost in the mail. (and to this date have never been found). All these people above have helped in many special ways.

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Malaria kills more African children than any other disease. There is currently no vaccine available to prevent malaria. Due to abject poverty, most families in Uganda cannot afford to purchase a bed net or treatment.

Long-lasting Insecticide-treated bed nets (LLINs) have been shown to be the most cost effective prevention method against malaria.
With donations to Think Humanity, the TH team can purchase, transport and educate communities on the importance of bed nets and demonstrate how to use them properly.
It is not too late to send an end of year donation to Think Humanity. http://www.thinkhumanity.org/donate Happy New Year!

 

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Sincerely,

Beth Heckel, Founder Think Humanity

 

 

The Tattered  Shirt

January 2011. Trip 6 to Uganda.

This trip, January 2011, we brought along little wooden cars made by retired men in Colorado. We also gave children Crocs shoes. While playing with some children at St. Patrick’s Guest House in Kyangwali Refugee Camp, there was one particular boy that caught my eye. He had on one of the dirtiest, holiest shirt I had seen; and I had seen many.

 

 

I interrupted the boys playing and asked that boy if I could take his photo. The child seemed so sad. I went to my room and came back with a new t-shirt. His face changed completely. He held up his old shirt and continued to smile.

 

What happened next though is what surprised and confused me. He left with both shirts. About ten minutes later he returned. He resumed playing with the cars and his friends.

He was wearing the old shirt and there was no sign of the new shirt. (But he was still smiling!) I asked him and he said he took it home to put it away. To this child, his old shirt still had value.

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Here is my conclusion.

  • There is still value in the most tattered clothing
  • Discover joy in the smallest things
  • Invest in the lives of others
  • Hope (and smiles) can be given from the most surprising gifts
  • Nothing is insignificant to those living in abject poverty
  • Practice empathy– understand the feelings and behaviors of others
  • Don’t judge. Something that one considers worthless may be considered valuable to someone else. This showed me that the boy valued his new shirt so much that he couldn’t use it till the old was “worn” out according to his standards.
  • Help one child at a time
  • “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.” Proverbs 19:17

“If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”-  1 John 3:17

Today you can change a life, even if you make a child smile. – Beth

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This is Victoria. She lives in Kyangwali Refugee Camp in Uganda. She is the youngest child of Congolese parents.

She is just one of the children whose life has been saved from malaria, thanks to amazing donors like you.

Dear Friends, Family and Supporters,

Many of you donated to our 2015 Annual Bed Nets 4 Life Christmas Campaign. Because of you, we were able to protect 5,000 refugees from the deadly mosquito that causes malaria. We are appreciative more than words can express.

As the need for these life-saving nets continues, we hope you can stand next to us on our malaria-fighting mission again this year.

This holiday season, we are asking for your help to provide 5,000 more bed nets to three villages in Kyangwali sub-county in Hoima District, Uganda.

Every day 350 children under the age of five die from malaria in Uganda. Let’s help to change that statistic together.

Long-Lasting Insecticide-Treated Bed Nets (LLIN) will last up to five years and, according to the World Health Organization, they are the most cost-effective prevention method against malaria. Four children can fit under each bed net and the parents can be reassured that their children are protected as they sleep.

We would be so grateful if you can help us with at least one $5 mosquito net. If you prefer not to donate on Razoo, you can donate from the website at thinkhumanity.org.

Can you help us prevent malaria this holiday season by providing children with bed nets?

Have a wonderful Christmas, happy holidays and a Happy New Year.

Many thanks in advance,

Beth Heckel, Think Humanity Founder and Executive Director

MALARIA KILLS – MOSQUITO NETS SAVE LIVES

#GivingTuesday

Think Humanity or visit Razoo fundraiser to help out.

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