"I will volunteer for the Red Cross forever - as long as I live."
When Malawi Red Cross Volunteer Misinart Mjembe, 32, says these words, her eyes brim with tears. Surrounded by children recently vaccinated against measles and polio during a campaign funded by the American Red Cross as part of the Measles & Rubella Initiative, Mjembe knows the importance of these vaccines first hand. Struck with polio at age 10, Mjembe, now a mother of three, stays connected to her community by volunteering with the Red Cross and helping ensure her children and others don't share her painful fate.
From 2012 to 2013, the number of children who died of measles every day dropped from 430 to 330, an impressive feat. Globally, Red Cross volunteers play a critical role to make sure these numbers keep going down. As social mobilizers, they canvas their communities, going door to door to let their neighbors know about the upcoming campaign. Many times, they return during the campaign itself to bring anyone needing assistance. And once the campaign has ended, volunteers often return, answering any questions about normal reactions to vaccines and generally checking in.
Mjembe was just one of 30,000 Malawi Red Cross volunteers that helped to vaccinate 2.5 million children in 11 districts across the country. Ethel Chisale, 26, is another such volunteer. And like Mjembe, Chisale has a personal motive driving her actions. In 2010, a severe measles outbreak in the south African country resulted in 134,000 cases and more than 300 deaths. Chisale was one of those cases.
“I am motivated to prevent others from experiencing the same thing I did,” Chisale says. “As much as I suffered, I am convinced it is entirely preventable, so I am actively involved.”
In the district of Mchingi in Malawi, she tells Marita Positain, 42—whose two children, Letira, 5 and Proffesor, 1 are both vaccination ages—about her story and convinces her to have them vaccinated.
“I have suffered,” Chisale says. “I volunteer because I don’t want others to have to go through the same thing. I am a living testimony to the importance of vaccines.”
Further south in Blantyre, Friday Gobah takes his part in the measles campaign seriously. Now 31, he started volunteering at just 17 when as a high school student, he witnessed a stampede at a sporting event that left many people injured and even several dead. Not wanting to feel hopeless to help again, he went to the Red Cross district office to volunteer and learn first aid.
Following the 2010 outbreak, he again signed up to volunteer.
"I am a life member," he says about volunteering with the Red Cross. "I will not leave Red Cross up until my last breath. It is now in my heart. I love to help and I help people."
For more information about the American Red Cross and its partnership in the Measles & Rubella Initiative, visit redcross.org.
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