Fighting Malaria: Travel Logs of Two Faiths Act Fellows, By Rebecca Oyen and Amy McNair

Posted on November 5th, 2009 | Filed under Best Practices/Non-Profit, Faith and Politics, InterViews, IR News and Events, On Campus


In an old office building on a nondescript street corner in London, there is a room filled with young people.  It is a rainy day in early August, and they are gathered together to talk about their lives.  These people would describe themselves as Muslims, Jews, Evangelical Christians, Sikhs, Humanists, and Buddhists. They are men, women, leaders, activists, gay people, straight people, supporters of Palestine, supporters of Israel. The list could go on and on, because their differences are deep-seated and significant.

When many people imagine this room, they would only see conflict and think of impossibility. We, however, were in that room, and we are part of a program that decided to look at the situation differently.

This year we are part of the Faiths Act Fellowship, a joint project of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation and Interfaith Youth Core. This fellowship is the first of its kind and brings together religiously diverse young people to help create a new approach to interfaith work.  It does not focus solely on engaging people in interfaith dialogue or gathering people to participate in one-time service projects.  Rather, we are creating a global grassroots interfaith movement focused on taking action against pressing poverty issues.

We have been selected as two of 30 fellows from across the U.S., UK, and Canada to serve as inter-religious ambassadors for the United Nation's Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs are a set of eight time-bound targets established to meet the needs of the world's poorest.  In the year 2000, they were created and agreed upon by all the major world leaders and supported by all the major development institutions. In the course of our fellowship year, we are raising awareness and mobilizing people to achieve the MDGs and, more specifically, to eradicate deaths from malaria (which is part of MDG 6). As young people, we are involved in interfaith work because, in both of our lives, religion has served as a catalyst for action.  It is the shared values of compassion and service that compel us to work together to fight injustice.

During training this summer, we had the opportunity to travel to Tanzania with seven other Fellows. We spent three weeks there at the world renowned Tanzanian Training Centre for International Health (TTCIH). Seven hours south of Dar es Salaam, itself surrounded in every direction by two hours of nearly impassable dirt roads, lies the rural town of Ifakara, where TTCIH is located. During our stay there, we studied under some of the leading doctors and researchers at the Ifakara Health Institute, and saw how malaria affects communities and individuals on the ground in sub-Saharan Africa – where 90% of the one million deaths a year from malaria occur. Ifakara literally means the “place where you go to die” in Swahili, and that is still the harsh reality for many of the locals. For example, while doing rounds with the doctors at the hospital, we met a ten month old boy named Godlisten. He was sick with malaria for the third time in his young life, and his mother was tired and out of money and options. It's stories like Godlisten and his mother's that motivates us and the people we met in Tanzania to continue in the fight against malaria. It's not about nameless faces or scary statistics. It's about global community, and ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to live a life not limited by this treatable and preventable disease. Researchers at TTCIH understand this, and are working around the clock to find solutions.  Because of their efforts, malaria in Ifakara is more under control now than it has ever been before.

While we were in Ifakara, we had the opportunity to meet local faith leaders that are active in addressing the needs of their community.  After attending Catholic services at the local church one Sunday, we met Father Mpinge, the priest of the congregation. Over dinner, he told us about his hopes for the community, and he explained the interfaith efforts that are already occurring there.  He casually mentioned to us that the Sheikh of the local mosque was his best friend, and he said they were currently talking about how they could work together.  We noticed this often when we spoke to people in Tanzania - that interfaith work was happening naturally. Neighbor to neighbor, friend to friend. It wasn't a program or a twelve-step process; people saw needs in their community and joined together to work on them.  Just as they can learn from us about being more intentional in their interfaith interactions, we can also learn from them about how to look out for our fellow community members regardless of religious differences.

The final few days of our trip in Africa were spent on the island of Zanzibar, off the coast of Tanzania. We met with the director of their Malaria Control Program, and he told us how, in 2003, the positivity rate for malaria there was 41%. In 2008, that number was down to .3%. Through an incredible collaborative effort involving everyone from religious leaders to teenagers to politicians to young mothers, they have essentially eradicated malaria on Zanzibar. By establishing village-level community health committees, they have forged successful links between local communities and health facilities. Importantly, they have recognized that including community religious leaders is an integral part of maintaining these links.  There is still work to be done there, but it is a poignant testament to what can be done, and how quickly change can happen.

By working across faith lines to address global social justice issues, we are simultaneously acting to change the perception of the role of religion in the world.  Four billion people say that faith is a part of their identity.  If this global community can see past their differences and serve together, we believe there's no problem too difficult to solve.  Often times, religious action is associated with violent extremism or stagnant conversations unattached to real outcomes. We are part of a generation of articulate, intelligent, passionate young people, who are turning this conversation in a different direction.  It is a direction towards understanding and meaningful connections and a direction towards common action driven by shared values. We hope this change will ultimately save millions of people from the scourge of malaria.

westminster abbeyRebecca Oyen and Amy McNair are Faiths Act Fellows. Rebecca grew up in Orlando, FL, and has spent the last four years in Amherst, MA. She recently graduated Summa Cum Laude from Amherst College with a joint degree in Anthropology and Women’s and Gender Studies. Rebecca also loves music and sang in an a cappella group at Amherst. Amy graduated last June from Seattle Pacific University with a degree in Public Policy and Law and hopes to attend law school in the near future. An avid traveler, Amy has been to Africa three times doing various development and healthcare work. A random fact about Amy is that she went sky diving to make sure she was not afraid of heights. She highly recommends it.

This article was subsequently republished on the Tikkun Daily Blog.

4 Responses to “Fighting Malaria: Travel Logs of Two Faiths Act Fellows, By Rebecca Oyen and Amy McNair”

  1. NYAKWEBA JOSEPH OBONDI says:

    Im Joseph from Kenya and Director of Joy bringers kenya .
    Network of young people living with HIV/AIDS More about me and joybringers Visit http://www.joybringers.co.ke

    THE JOY BRINGERS KENYA ELDORET

    MR JOSEPH OBONDI NYAKWEBA
    Ministry of youths and Health Elected Representative Coordinator Rift Valley Province
    I am the Executive Director and the founder Joy bringers Kenya, Eldoret, Rift valley province.
    I have been living positively with HIV/AIDS for seven years since I knew my status in January of 2002 when by then I was down with illness and my CD-4 count was less than 3, my body weight was staggering 26 kgs.
    I have been on ARV’s since January 2002 January where I was administered the first regimen, to 2004 March which refused to work on me necessitating me to move to the 2nd regimen this has since enabled my CD4 cell count to move from 125 to 855 and my kilograms have also increased considerably from 58 to 63.
    I have been living positively since 2002 I was Elected from Eldoret to represent youths at the Nairobi conference
    JOY BRINGERS KENYA
    OUR MOTTO
    Empowering live s through Income Generation Activities
    OUR MISSION
    To be economically empower people in the community
    So that they are able to provide for themselves and their family contribute to the good living of every Kenyan
    OUR VISION
    To become the best makers and producers of Commercial Craft Worldwide.

    HUMAN INTEREST STORY

    Joseph The founder Joy bringers Self Help Group in Eldoret Kenya is the Net work of Young People Living with HIV/AIDS in Kenya I Joseph Am Young people living with HIV and AIDS who had been for a long stigmatized, Marginalized and discriminated against by their colleagues at their places of work and their family members at home and was condemned and abused by my Christian Church leaders,About my HIV Status and as a young boy and I was not allowed to attend the Church prayers . At that time I faced a lot of Stigma and Discrimination from my Christian Community and the my Families members place of work and friends since they believe that being HIV Positive is a sin or accurse for for being promiscuous. I didn’t stop but went ahead for a network for young people living with HIV/AIDS and Christians Youths living with HIV/AIDS in Kenya by the name The joy bringers self help group at that time I did a lot of Advocacy on prevention and access treatment among the people who live with HIV/AIDS .The Joy bringers Self Help Group prides itself as a pioneer youth led group which champions the fight of HIV/AIDS from the constituency level, the group’s activities are unique and cuts across all gender irrespective of social and economical classes.
    Members of the group are trained in various fields ranging from Home and community based care and support to behavior change and communication, armed with the knowledge of HIV/AIDS the group has managed to educate, share experience and contributed positively to the government call to fight against HIV/AIDS. Since its inception in 2005 the group has been involved in various activities targeting its members, the community and People living with
    HIV/AIDS in Kenya with common interests fighting against HIV/AIDS. The activities include Home and Community based care(HCBC) program, Outreach program, Home visit program, Giving Support to the HIV Positive Children and Orphans, Giving support to Hiv Positive people ,widows and widowers Group therapy sessions and Job creation through income generating activities(IGA’s).
    BACKGROUND IN KENYA
    Most People living with HIV and AIDS after diagnosis lost their jobs because of Stigma and Discrimination in Kenya were not able to get an employment and those still in stigma could not continue providing for themselves and their families. Great support is needed to empower the young people with HIV/AIDS in Kenya in order to continue with their lives and empower themselves. The joy bringers self help group for PLWHAS was founded by a person living with HIV/AIDS in Kenya with an objective to economically empower positive adolescent and youth to re discover themselves and contribute to the good living of these youth.

    METHODES
    Joy bringer Self Help Group for Young People Living with HIV/AIDS in Kenya is having A workshop by the name Joy bringers Workshop an avenue where People Living with HIV and AIDS would be able to continue with their normal lives even after diagnosis. Joy Bringers Self Help group created an avenue to nurture PLWHAs and young people living with HIV/AIDS talents through income generating activities like making commercial crafts ,Jeweler’s’ ,Bead work ,HIV/AIDS Ribbons, Tailoring and Dress marking, Painting ,Printing,Computor Training Centre ,HIV/AIDS Counseling ,Youth friendly services ,Group Therapy ,Bro test club (B.T.C) psychosocial care and support.

    RESULTS
    Over 30,000 of these items have been sold world wide to date, including HIV advocacy ribbon, this has led to an enrollment of more youth changing their perception about living with HIV and AIDS. 20 Commercial sex workers and have been saved from the streets where they used to exchange sex for money they are working at Joy bringers workshop. HIV positive youth are also able to provide for themselves and their families. They are now empowered economically and continue with their normal lives.
    Behavior change among PLWHAs has also helped reduced the new number of people getting infected with HIV.
    OUR CONTACTS US FOR ANY SUPPORT AND DONATION
    P. O. BOX 4606 03100, GPO Eldoret
    Phone: +254 725 801 424
    Email: joybringerselfhelpgroup@yahoo.com /
    joybringerskenyaselfhelp@gmail.com
    Website:www.joybringers.co.ke

  2. jones ndungu says:

    Good work Joy bringers