The gossamer thread, part 1: Three families

Tomorrow is World Malaria Day -- a moment to remember the lives of children, families, and communities devastated by this preventable, treatable disease that we can stop.

Today, we open a two-part series with the stories of three families in Mozambique who have been affected by malaria. Make sure you check back tomorrow to read about a family whose lives have been transformed by the simple miracle of bed nets.

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Malaria strikes again

When neighbors learn that 16-month-old Zaita Antonia has died, life in the village grinds to a halt. Men come in from the fields. A rousing game of soccer is silenced. Women stop cooking and gather to comfort the baby’s mother, Rosa.

The noises of life are replaced by sounds of death: hushed voices, a woman’s uncontrollable sobs. Only the breeze that rustles the leaves of the cashew trees sounds the same.

Women gather inside Rosa’s house. A small coffin, freshly crafted, waits outside. In a forested glen about a mile from the house, the men have dug a grave for baby Zaita, shaded by tall trees against the warm winter sun.

Inside the hut, Rosa weeps, especially when the coffin is carried inside. She must relinquish all of baby Zaita’s belongings: her tiny clothes, her shoes, the brightly colored cloth that Rosa would have used to cocoon Zaita and keep her close. Rosa’s husband is visiting a sick relative and is still making the journey back. In a place with little money and few cars, transportation takes time.

The villagers walk quietly through the tall elephant grass to the cemetery, past empty fields and small gardens of sorghum, maize, and peanuts. One man leads the procession, holding high a roughly-hewn wooden cross. Two other men follow, carrying the casket.

Villagers in Mozambique attend a funeral service for 16-month-old Zaita Antonia, who died from malaria. (Photo: Jon Warren/World Vision)

The men stand along the graveside while the women sit. Everyone is silent, including Rosa. In Mozambican tradition, there is no crying at a funeral. Crying will disturb the person who has died.

All of Zaita’s possessions are buried with her body. The men cut pieces of wood, laying them over the coffin to protect it from the soil. They use what tools they have -- shovels and a metal bowl -- to fill the hole. The women sweep the graveside clean with tree branches, and then the cross is placed at the top of the mound. The men say a few words about baby Zaita -- who she was, and who she might have been.

With that, the service is over. In sorrow, the villagers glide home through the tall elephant grass. Rosa goes back to her hut. Inside, she can cry again.

Edu fights for life

Some 32 kilometers away, a father is hoping and praying that his son will survive the terrible disease. Boniface Toneca, 23, has done everything in his power to keep his 3-year-old son, Edu, alive.

Edu became sick about a month ago. “I went to the clinic [nearly 50 miles away],” Boniface says. “The nurse tried everything.”

With baby Edu not getting any better, Boniface panicked. He helped his pregnant wife, Hortencia, and the baby onto the back of his bicycle and began to ride.

When he arrived at the hospital, the unexpected happened. Hortencia delivered. She is now staying in the maternity ward with the new baby, while Boniface is in the ward for the sickest of children.

Boniface has not seen his new baby, who has no name. His concern must be first for his sick child. And he is concerned about his livelihood. “I am a farmer, but I can’t do any farming,” he says. His sorghum is ready to harvest.

“With no one home, people could steal my harvest,” he adds, holding Edu closer. “I just want my child to get better.”

Boniface holds his baby son, Edu, who is very ill with malaria. (Photo: Jon Warren/World Vision)

Boniface epitomizes what malaria does to families in Mozambique. This harvest is his investment -- his savings plan for next year. But because of malaria, he cannot farm.

“How can you expect me to progress with a life like this?” he asks. “I have to watch over my child. It is really hard for me to see my child like this. And there is nothing I can give him.”

The family has no mosquito nets for protection. “In our village, the mosquitoes are so bad we can’t get away from them.”

It has been a tough night. Baby Edu is still not eating. At 3 years old, he weighs less than 18 pounds. “The situation is not good,” says the nurse.

When Boniface returns to the hospital, Edu has begun to feel better. Boniface leaves a few days later, biking the nearly 50 miles back home to try and salvage his sorghum harvest, to finally name his new baby, and to hope that Edu somehow survives his childhood.

A father’s misfortune

It appears that Elsa Chibante also has malaria complications. Her mother, Zaida, 23, holds Elsa in her lap at the Muera Health Clinic. Elsa, 5, is weak and feverish. Her symptoms will not go away.

Zaida, 23, holds her malaria-stricken daughter, Elsa, 5, while waiting to see a nurse at a World Vision-built health center. (Photo: Jon Warren/World Vision)

Clinic nurse Armando Benjamin Baura says that he saw 10 cases of malaria yesterday, seven of which were children. “Most of the cases I tend here are malaria,” he says. “Seventy percent.”

Elsa’s father, Matthew, 29, has accompanied his wife and daughter to the clinic. “Today I would go to the field, but my child is still so sick I cannot go,” he says.

Matthew is worried about Elsa. “She’s coughing. She doesn’t eat well. Her breathing is hard. Her body is swelling. It’s been two weeks now,” he says.

His concerns are well grounded. His firstborn son, João, died of malaria. He was only 4 months old.

They lost Manuel next. He would be 7 if he had lived -- but malaria took him three years ago.

“It was sad,” says Matthew. “He was a lively little boy. He loved to play. But the sickness got him in two days. He passed away at our house.”

Now, Manuel’s body is buried in the family’s cemetery. “We go to visit almost every week,” Matthew says. The cross at the grave is all they have to remember him by. “There are no photos of him,” Matthew says. “Only in my mind.”

He turns his attention back to Elsa. Matthew wants his little girl to recover and contribute to the family and to this community. “With God’s help, I would like so much for her to go to school. I never got to go to school,” he says. “Maybe this little girl will be my eyes and my ears.”

If she can recover.

A few square meters of insecticide-treated, woven gossamer threads can mean the difference between the devastation of malaria and health for a family. Join with World Vision in our effort to stop this fully preventable disease.

Make a one-time donation to provide bed nets for families at risk because of malaria. These inexpensive, long-lasting nets repel disease-carrying mosquitoes when children are most vulnerable: in their sleep. You could even donate to provide nets for an entire village!

Also, consider sponsoring a child in Mozambique. For about $1 a day, your monthly gift will help provide children like Elsa with access to life-saving basics like education, medical care, clean water, nutritious food, and more!

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