Malaria: Up Close & Personal : /

April 25th is World Malaria Day. Over 450,000 people (mainly children) die each year from this preventable disease and millions (216,000,000) get really sick. Since many (90%) of these folks live in sub-Saharan Africa, malaria compounds an already challenging context of health-related and economic issues.

Go figure if half your country has malaria at some point during the year productivity will be low.

I knew a little something about malaria before moving to Tanzania in 2002 (a year of taking Lariam while globetrotting for a safe-water initiative definitely weirded me into a strong dislike of the disease.) Deciding that Lariam-induced weirdness was not an option, I purchased the suggested bed net and went into late night mosquito alert mode: splat, splat, DIE MOSQUITOES DIE.

In the first months while trying to learn the HIV/AIDS context I visited Kagera (in the northwest corner of Tanzania) for a few weeks to meet with our 600+ community volunteers there, community representatives, women’s groups, and AIDS patients.

Meeting with community groups to understand their concerns and priorities – “when you think of your children late at night, what keeps you awake?” – time & time again malaria came into the dialogue. I spoke with one mother who lost four children to the disease.

Heart-breaking to see her tears & hear her fears for her other children.

At that time in Tanzania, where malaria in many districts is endemic, (ie, you can catch it all year around), 70,000 children died each year from the disease.

After that Kagera visit I went back to our Dar office galvanized to do something more about malaria & began coordinating with our Programs Division to highlight this issue. We already wove simple malaria prevention into our long-term community development projects and had several special child-health programs that did extraordinary community health at the village level, but more was needed! So, we galvanized special projects from the Australia & New Zealand governments, UNICEF & generous donors.

Then, with CARE Tanzania, we co-founded TaNAAM (the Tanzanian NGO Alliance Against Malaria) with a cross section of NGOs, pharmaceuticals and major malaria stakeholders to coordinate national activities.

Partnering again with CARE TZ, we launched into the TNVS (an insecticide treated net voucher scheme) doing medical training, social marketing & awareness campaigns in every district of Tanzania. Using best practices from smaller projects in the project design, taking the project to scale required 8 promotion and training teams moving simultaneously in several districts at a time – no small challenge!

During evaluation visits ‘twas so exciting to see local performance groups communicating in local languages, tribal dances & skits demonstrating bed net prevention, diagnosis & treatment. In many of these places nets had never been available, but that’s why with this disease it takes lots of folks to make a difference.

Net manufacturers, distribution network builders, social marketing, health professionals, government health infrastructure, pharmaceutical companies – all working together.

Colleagues in our Arusha National Office began calling me the Malaria Queen, since our Dar division opened our doors to host this project and our Marketing Team designed the media campaigns, logos, events (& since their humble director – moi – backstopped the whole Promotion half, including rural BCC teams) of the multi-million dollar grant from the Global Fund for HIV/AIDS, TB & Malaria.

All this time I (somewhat zealously) used my bed net at home and while traveling. Our National Director, George, insisted each director visit every region at least once a year. Since we supported 126 projects in 12 regions that meant I traveled half of every month, mostly to rural areas and to our refugee programs in Kigoma.

I managed to avoid malaria for three years until traveling to Uganda for a regional conference. Asking the guesthouse desk clerk for a net, he said ‘you don’t need one here.’ Waking up at 3:00AM with mosquitoes all over the wall and bites all over my arm, needless to say the next night I insisted.

Two weeks later in Arusha for important international meetings, my temperature skyrocketed to 104 while my joints screamed with prickly pain. Did I mention being on crutches at the time?  (click here to read more about that..) 

That’s when I met malaria, up close & personal.

During this episode I learned more about the African lesson of ‘being with.’ My Leadership Team colleagues (all African) came to visit me (this, after being up all night, dazedly fevered, with my hair sticking out every which way.)  But that is the African way!

‘Being with’ each other in painful times, showing you care by being there.

A hard lesson I had learned early on that also made childhood malaria deaths in Tanzania more than just statistics. After three miscarriages my vibrant assistant, Joylline, had a beautiful baby girl, Hope, my first year in Dar es Salaam. Little baby Hope became the darling of our Dar office. At 18 months Hope died from malaria and pneumonia.

A crushing death, as is the death of each and every child who dies from this disease.

During baby Hope’s first hospital stay (of many) I sent flowers and needed supplies. I didn’t want to intrude until I noticed our team members eying me askance. Finally, Happiness blurted out, “Madam you must visit, Joylline will think you don’t care!”

Yikes. I got it and visited right away. Then became first in line at every funeral, wedding, engagement because I did care and that is What You Do in Africa.

You show up. You share the pain, you share the joy. It’s that ‘being with’ thing.

Facing death, illness and tough times can be challenging, but what I love about the African way – you realize you are not alone as the pain is shared across family, friends and the community.

These years later many more children are alive because people around the world have joined their hands, hearts and pocketbooks to attack malaria with prevention, education campaigns and better treatment. There’s lots to celebrate – from 1 million annual malaria deaths to less than 500,000 per year – but there are still many little Hopes out there, who need us to show up.

Not just on World Malaria Day, but every day of the year!

grace, peace & malaria, malaria

Virginia : )

p.s. Buying a $10 net for a family really saves lives. Our project proved it, like so many others around the world.

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Snapshot & Whatnot: An (owlish) April Visitor

Last week whilst recovering from surgery & flu blues, we had a special visitor in the back-est regions of our backyard…

A Barred Owl!!  As often happens, just as I prepared to take a closer pic (crunching through the brush) our visitor woke up & flew away, but still, how cool is that?

An owl sighting, especially for owl groupies (like me.)

Dashing off to RavenCon – a science fiction/fantasy/very cool weekend convention (yes, Virginia is feeling much better, thanks for all the well wishing!)

Here’s a quickie quote to mind munch…

“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” Albert Einstein

grace, peace & owls (& howls) of fun

Virginia : )

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Divine Light-Holders (needed!)

Virginia has been off the blogging grid after having surgery last week & tending to her flu-bug infested brother this week. Unfortunately, some of his germy symptoms matriculated & now sis has it, too. So for today, here’s something previously posted given news of continued conflict on the border of the Gaza Strip.

One of my most treasured memories of the Middle East was carrying the special Easter ‘Sabt al Noor’ light from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem to the Orthodox Christian community in Gaza. This involved receiving candlelight from the priests in Jerusalem and (very carefully) making sure it stayed lit during the 2-hour car ride, plus the journey on foot through the Israeli/Gaza border where the whole Christian community turned out for a paraded caravan in buses and cars (with special Orthodox crosiers poking out windows) to accompany the light all the winding way to the heart of old Gaza City.

For some (geopolitical) reason Abuna George, the Orthodox Palestinian priest, could not get out of Gaza, but as an American I could get in to help facilitate one of the most important rituals of the church year. Middle Eastern Orthodox Christians seriously fast (no meat or dairy) the whole of Lent, but when they receive the Sabt a Noor light on Easter Saturday, fasting ends & rejoicing begins.

When I first met Abuna George in Gaza he almost had a fit because I was about to step into a part of the 4th century Byzantine church (just following my male colleagues) where no women were allowed. But then, 5 years later, he called & asked ME (not my new male boss) to bring the Sabt al Noor light to Gaza.

Five years of countless visits in and out of the Gaza Strip as a relief & development worker based in Bethlehem and many precious times shared with Abuna George & his family, friends, children in refugee camps, and communities all over Gaza.

That was awhile ago, but unfortunately, some things never change.

Extremism. Bombings. Conflict. Injustice. Suffering.

Children & civilians paying the terrible price: death and loss amidst piles of rubble.

I don’t care about your politics, or theology, or religion, this is about PEOPLE: mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons & daughters – children.  ALL beloved of God.

“We are all people with souls, sparks of the divine.” Henri Nouwen

Both sides of this current conflict need soldiers of peace and love. Maybe the Middle East seems far away to friends in America and around the far corners of the globe – but we all can be soldiers of peace and light as we get down on our knees and pray, pray, pray.

Not hellfire and brimstone prayers we might like to see fall on our enemies, but heartfelt cries for peace and reconciliation, for love and light to shine in the darkness, for the construction of new bridges of understanding – a miracle amidst the current rubble of oppressive conflict.

“Never was font so clear, undimmed and bright; from it alone, I know proceeds all Light although ’tis night.”    (Saint John of the Cross)

Please pray that the Light of the Love of God will enter Gaza somehow today, that sparks of the divine within the peoples on both sides of the border will burst into flames of compassion for all (on both sides of the border.) That the desire for peace will grow somehow in the rubble of the battered hearts and imbroglios on all sides.

May we also let the Light of God into our hearts today – for ALL people. No matter how deeply buried sparks of the divine reside, we all need God’s Light to lift whatever darkness may cloud our vision to see clearly the sparks of humanity around us: Israelis for Palestinians, Palestinians for Israelis, Russians for Ukrainians & Ukrainians for Russians, for HIV/AIDS victims, for all those of the fringe of society (& even the beanheads running things.)

Letting the Light of God in, may it gush out of our hearts with compassionate concern & love for all – like holders of the Sabt al Noor light across conflicted borders.

grace, peace & divine Light-holders

    Virginia

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons (& daughters) of God.”  (Matthew 5:9)

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Snapshot & Whatnot: Broken World Beauty

Here’s a quickie pic taken last year while visiting the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Snapshot:

U.S. Botanical Garden Conservatory

& Whatnot:

“Finding beauty in a broken world is creating beauty in the world we find.”

Terry Tempest Williams (author & environmentalist)

Here’s to finding beauty in broken places – God’s heavenly paintbrushes busy around us and within us – and letting that beauty bubble forth as a fountain of hope for others.

Like a rose in the rubble!

grace, peace & broken-world beauty

Virginia : )

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Easter Joy, Joy, Joy & Glorias!

From here @ Roses in the Rubble, Virginia wishes all a blessed Easter. May the resurrected Love & Joy of Jesus strengthen our hearts with extra doses of grace & peace today – and every day.

Putting on Easter-ish music this morning (a bit bleary-eyed after the 3 hour+ Easter Vigil last nite) Virginia started with Gospel grooves, then moved on to her Choral playlist. Too many glorious favorites to share (at one time) but will share an ear-taste of one of the most uplifting choral pieces of all time, Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, op.123.

Visiting Bonn years ago, I made a day trip into Cologne to see the magnificent Cathedral. As a remembrance, and as a Beethoven groupie (I took a full semester class at uni on his symphonies) I asked a clerk at a nearby CD shop for his favorite Beethoven choral composition. He directed me to Sir Georg Solti’s rendition of the Missa Solemnis.

Back in Bethlehem (where I lived at the time) this CD transported my boombox & flat into a place of worship. And, to think, Beethoven was completely deaf when he wrote this piece.

Here’s a YouTube snapshot of the Gloria: Quoniam tu solus Sanctus

“For Thou alone are holy.

Thou alone art Lord.

Thou alone art most high, O Jesus Christ.

Together with the Holy Spirit

in the glory of God the Father.

Amen.

Glory to God in the highest. “

grace, peace & Resurrection Easter Joy!

Virginia : )

p.s. This concludes the Lenten challenge (Lent+ Holy Week + Easter Triduum) post-a-day gig here @ Roses in the Rubble. Thank you for joining Virginia on this journey –  and for the special encouragement to keep going that seemed to come in bursts on days she didn’t want to post anything! Virginia will now return to her intermittent blogging schedule (one, or if she’s feeling really prolific, two posts a week.) 🙂

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Betwixt & Between: Resurrection Hope

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Romans 15:13

At the end of Good Friday’s crucifixion Jesus is laid to rest in a tomb. Imagine what it must have been like for Mary and His followers who stood at the cross, and those, like Peter, who failed Jesus and fled.

Although Jesus told them about the Resurrection, they didn’t get it. All they saw was the suffering death of their Savior – an executed exhibition of rejection.

It’s hard to stand in that place betwixt and between our hopes and dreams when we don’t understand what’s going on around us. We may ask, ‘where are you, God?’ when crosses of suffering in our lives are too much for us to bear. We may lose hope.

We might stumble and fail as we follow Jesus along the Via Dolorosa. For Peter, imagine the anguish he must have felt denying Christ, not just once but THREE TIMES.

Not just dashed hopes, but deep doldrums of despairing failure.

Yet in those places betwixt and between, of questioning, between a rock and a hard place when we don’t see a way out and all is dark — there is hope. Jesus didn’t stay in that grave, He arose.

That’s what Easter is about: Resurrected Love, Resurrection Joy, Resurrection Hope.

Hope that is a gift of God. Hope packaged with grace to keep us standing like Mary at the foot of the cross. Hope wrapped with mercy and forgiveness, since on the cross Jesus atoned for our transgressions, our failures, stumbles and falls. Hope with second (& third) chances that lifted Peter, who failed Jesus miserably, yet forgiven, became the rock upon which Jesus built His church – still standing (even if a bit tottering) 2,000 years later.

“There is no cross, big or small, in our life which the Lord does not share with us.” Pope Francis

Whenever & wherever we are betwixt and between, Christ is with us. If we believe & accept the gift of hope God has given us, we can hope in Christ and be His hope to the despairing bits of ourselves – and to others.

Touched by His love, betwixt & between.

grace, peace & resurrection Hope

Virginia : )

“Let your groanings be not for what once was but for what will soon be!” Joni Eareckson Tada

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Mending Broken Hearts @ The Cross

It’s Good Friday (for a few more hours.) Here’s a reflection written & shared previously (but still good) along with a song from one of my favorite singers.

Good Friday: Jesus is rejected, beaten, mocked, whipped, and scourged. After carrying a heavy cross, nails pierce His hands and His feet.

There He hangs on the cross, suffering for you and me; suffering for us and all humanity.

“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”  (Luke 23:34)

Easter is coming, but the Suffering Christ is here for us, with us, in our suffering. Can we draw closer to the cross?

To stand, like Mary.

Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother…” (John 19:25)

At the foot of the cross, Mary must have wondered amidst flashbacks of angels, shepherds, wise men, kingly gifts, and miracles of water into wine. How came her son, the Messiah, to hang like a common criminal on a cross?

Yet, in sorrow Mary stood. With the faith of her ‘yes’ to Angel Gabriel and to God, 33 years later she stands at the foot of the cross. Confused and bewildered? Most likely, yet Mary still stands with Jesus.

Maybe our suffering is so great it’s hard to move forward; maybe it’s crushing our spirits and our will to do. Perhaps we’ve stumbled, taken a tumble, and it’s hard to stand after a fall.

But, look at Christ on the cross, suffering. He’s here for me, and for you. Do we have faith, like Mary, to stand even if our hearts are breaking? Even if we don’t fully understand?

Here’s one of Sarah Hart’s songs from her Above Earth’s Lamentation compilation (about which I have previously blogged) – Praying with a Broken Heart, sung with Matt Maher. Be blessed to give it a listen via this YouTube video.

grace, peace & praying hearts

Virginia

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