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Fighting measles in Mozambique

Bonnie D. Parkin joins the campaign to eradicate dreaded disease in Africa

One little boy in southern Africa has his measles vaccination because of Bonnie D. Parkin.

The Relief Society general president was in Mozambique the first week of September during which time she volunteered her services for the Measles Initiative partnership the Church joined two years ago with the American Red Cross and other organizations.

During vaccinations Sept. 6 in villages near Maputo, the nation's capital, Sister Parkin helped with crowd control, including checking children's fingers for the ink mark indicating they had received their measles vaccination. She noticed one young boy did not have the ink mark.

Through a translator, she asked him why, and he responded that he was alone and afraid. "How about if I go with you?" she asked the frightened youngster. "I went in the line with him and let him hide his face in my shoulder as he got the vaccination," she told the Church News after her return to Salt Lake City.

That one boy is one of some 7 million in Mozambique to receive the vaccination during a 10-day period during September as part of the partnership between the Church and the other organizations. Sister Parkin was in Mozambique Sept. 1-8 not only to help with the initiative, but also to take part in Relief Society training in branches in the Maputo area. During her stay, she was also part of an entourage that met with Mozambique President Armando Guebuza.

"We went to orphanages and to places the Church has done (humanitarian work)," Sister Parkin said. However, she added, "the overall purpose was to witness the measles campaign."

The Measles Initiative is a long-term commitment by several humanitarian organizations to control measles deaths in Africa by vaccinating 200 million children. Leading the effort is the American Red Cross, United National Foundation, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, United Nations Children's Fund, World Health Organization and Pan American Health Organization. The Church joined the partnership in 2003 by donating $3 million — $1 million a year for three years made possible by contributions from members to the Church's Humanitarian Fund.

Experts predict the effort could prevent 1.2 million deaths over five years. (Please see Church News, Sept. 27, 2003.)

"I think the American Red Cross is a great partner," Sister Parkin said. "They do a ton of good and we really have figured out how to work well together. I think we complement each other."

Speaking of the meeting on Sept. 7 with the nation's president, Sister Parkin related that he "seemed very appreciative of what was happening for his people."

Included in that meeting were Elder William W. Parmley of the Seventy and a member of the Africa Southeast Area presidency, Julia Reynes of the American Red Cross and a representative of the Mozambique Red Cross. Also present were representatives of four television stations.

But upon her return to Salt Lake City, Sister Parkin spoke mainly of the Measles Initiative and of the part members in Mozambique played in that campaign. "Our members became a major source for volunteers to make the campaign successful. They increased self-esteem and self-worth as they volunteered to participate in this worthwhile project.

"The young people went door-to-door to tell people about the vaccinations, where to come," Sister Parkin said. She added that the Relief Society sisters in Mozambique had a very important role as well in the campaign. "They were at some of the vaccination centers. They helped with crowd control, they helped get the word out."

There are 16 branches in two districts of the Church in Mozambique, with more than 3,300 members. The Mozambique Maputo Mission was created in January this year.

Partnership

"The American Red Cross and its partners were honored to have The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by our side again, in Mozambique, working to eliminate measles deaths in Africa. Sister Bonnie Parkin was an inspiration to all as she trudged through dusty roads and the heat, taking a place among the health workers and the mothers and children like they were members of her own community. The Relief Society believes that teaching is the entrance to the heart. Working hand-in-hand in Africa, Sister Parkin teaches us all what it means to care about our neighbors half a world away." — Marsha J. Evans, President and CEO, American Red Cross.


E-mail to: julied@desnews.com