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Reflections from Senegal: Kids need Kiwanis

Oct 26, 2016

Child in Senegal

By Alyson Gerwe, member of the Kiwanis Club of Cincinnati, Ohio

Hundreds of mothers are sitting under the awnings of the open air classroom area of the local medical clinic, listening and learning as their children wait quietly and patiently in their laps. We are in Senegal on a field visit with UNICEF and Kiwanis International, and I am standing amongst them gaping at the scene. I am gaping because, despite the heat and having to keep their children with them as they learn, there are so many women here. They have turned out in droves to learn how to protect their children from disease and malnutrition. And, I am gaping because I am in awe of how calm their children are. They were all so well behaved.

This is just one of the country’s medical clinics where local women come to learn about immunizations and proper nutrition for their children. They come because citizens are now better educated on how imperative vaccines are for the health of their children, and are empowered to demand quality healthcare. It used to be that diseases like maternal and neonatal tetanus (MNT) were a mystery and they had no idea how to prevent them. Now, thanks to the efforts of UNICEF and partners, community health workers and social mobilizers, they know how MNT can rob a mother of her child or a family of its mother, and that the vaccine is an easy way to prevent the tragedy of contracting it. And, because of UNICEF, they also now have access to the vaccines to protect their loved ones. UNICEF is doing amazing work in countries such as Senegal to educate the public, medical professionals and the government and to provide vaccines.

Through The Eliminate Project, Kiwanis International became the largest private funder for the global MNTE program in 2014 and 2015, building on the beginning years of the campaign’s generosity.. As a Kiwanis member, I am so proud to be a part of something this life changing. It took my breath away to be able to watch women getting vaccinated and know that their future babies won’t die from tetanus. As Kiwanis members, working to improve our own communities and going about our daily lives, it can be easy to forget that we are part of a global organization. Kiwanis is dedicated to changing not just the lives of the children in our own communities but the lives of children around the world. Partnering with UNICEF in the task of eliminating MNT has reminded me of that.

I felt so privileged to meet the people of Senegal. These generous, good-hearted people want the same things we want for our children: health, love and prosperity. Our gifts to The Eliminate Project allow us to help protect mothers and children like the ones I met from MNT.

Senegal eliminated MNT in 2012. They are excited about this accomplishment and are now looking to eliminate other diseases. There are still countries that have yet to eliminate MNT due to lack of funding. These countries are some of the more challenging countries. But, despite the challenges, UNICEF is ready to execute the vaccination campaigns as funding becomes available. Women in these countries need us to continue to donate and to fulfill our pledges so they can receive their vaccinations and give birth to healthy babies. These kids need Kiwanis.