By Gabriele Neumayr-Stof, Europe 2 Region Coordinator
Upon first impression, one might wonder how a village in Cambodia hindered by extreme poverty and filled with basic huts that many call home could be transformed into a vaccination campaign site. But UNICEF and its local supporters make it work, in Cambodia and villages around the world.
Volunteers are selected to spread the word about upcoming immunization campaigns. They share the dates weeks before the campaigns and educate the community about the importance of the tetanus vaccine. Mothers come, some with long journeys, and gather in front of a hut to receive their vaccines from UNICEF-supported health workers.
There was a willingness of mothers toward vaccinations; they want to do the best for their children. I felt the mother-child bond intensely. We really are helping protect the connection in countries around the world like Cambodia. Our donations are helping protect mothers and their babies from the cruel disease. They are the reason why we are committed to raising funds in our districts.
Looking into the eyes of mothers, listening to them and feeling their gratitude, touched me.
One woman told me that one of her children died shortly after birth. She did not know why. Only after she was educated by the health workers did she understand the risks of infection without having received proper doses of the tetanus vaccine. Since then, she has learned about the dangers of traditional customs such as brushing the umbilical cord with ashes, cow dung or spider webs, and she has received the necessary vaccinations. This too is the effect of what The Eliminate Project helps make possible and shows the influence of our donations.
UNICEF trains local health volunteers to ensure information arrives in the villages. We attended one of the trainings. The presentation was translated to us. More important for me was to observe the voices and faces, each curious and interested in what they were hearing. Quiet but forceful words made all aware of how they can affect the life and death of their children.
Then each group developed strategies for their village on flipcharts. I will never forget the commitment of these health volunteers, being responsible for the educational communication in their village, and being proud to be selected specifically for this purpose.
I asked why they had taken on this task. Their response: They would like to contribute to better health in their village and achieve a better future.
The atmosphere was so intimate that some even talked about their own experiences, including one of the men. He lost his mother and his sister because of tetanus. He repeated again and again how happy he was that he got the opportunity to educate people and prevent others from this fate. He made this mission his personal goal in life.
I am so thankful for these personal experiences. I will never forget the grateful and hopeful faces.