Last month, the United Nations Foundation’s Nothing But Nets campaign brought together more than 150 Champions from across the United States to discuss how to make progress in the global fight against malaria.
During the summit, we heard from Thon Moses Chol, one of the “Lost Boys of Sudan,” who had to flee his home as a child because of violence and grew up as a refugee until he moved to the U.S. in 2000. Growing up, Chol saw firsthand the devastating toll that malaria takes on refugees. In fact, it’s a leading cause of death for refugees in Africa. Last year, Nothing But Nets launched The Million Nets Pledge to provide bet nets to protect refugees and their families across sub-Saharan Africa from malaria.
We had the chance to talk to Chol about his life and his message to the world. Here are excerpts from our interview.
On his messages to policymakers and government leaders:
“When I came to this country, I came with nothing. And as a result of being given the opportunity, I was able to have something today to present to the world. So I think this is a time for the U.S. to take the leadership role.”
“[Malaria] has been defeated in the United States; it’s possible too that the U.S. can take that lead and defeat it somewhere else.”
On his message to everyday citizens about how they can get involved in the fight against malaria and in supporting refugees:
“Refugees are part of the human family. As an individual, anybody can contribute to aid through Nothing But Nets, UNHCR, or UNICEF. These are organizations that are fighting for the common cause.”
“What I can tell each individual is: Don’t ignore your own contribution. You, as an individual, can make a difference – whether a small contribution or whether you’re talking with your parents, your colleagues, your representatives, or your church. Own the issues and be able to use it in your own way to educate others. At the end of the day, if it affects one side of the world, it affects all of us because we’re all bounded in that humanity.”
“If we all come together, we’ll make an impact and that’s how we can change the world. Start with the individual and then go out there and find people who are doing similar tasks.”
“It’s a collective fight – it cannot be done by one person, but what we can do is bring more people in so that it becomes all peoples’ movement.”
On how he has stayed strong during difficult times:
“It’s knowing that there are initiatives, and there are individuals who wake up in the morning and think of others – like Nothing But Nets, like UNHCR, like ICRC, like Doctors Without Borders. I think that’s really the definition of common humanity. That’s something that we all share. When one person is in pain or is struggling, we all struggle.”
On what the world needs to do to help children in refugee camps:
“These camps were meant to be temporary; however some of them become permanent. If they become permanent, that’s all they know – like a child who was born in 1992 when I went to Kakuma, that child right now is 20-something years old. All they know is living in that refugee camp. They wake up in the morning and the first thing they want to do is go hunting for food because that’s the life. It’s a hopeless situation whereby we can all advocate. And I think raising the economical standard of camps will actually enable them to produce more opportunities because when you have economic thriving in any environment it can lead to better health, it can lead to other opportunities that these kids can be exposed to.”
“I think each child also has to be introduced, no matter what the situation is, they should know the world is supposed to be peaceful. They cannot just walk away like ‘Oh, it’s a violent place,’ and just grow with that mentality. I think in the world still there is hope. And that hope is the work like what Nothing But Nets is doing, like what UNHCR is doing. They should grow up knowing that someone is thinking about you.”
On what he learned growing up as a refugee:
“For many of us, the goal is to leave a better world than we entered. I grew up in a very violent environment; I grew up with nothing, and I just don’t want to see another child go through the same. Today, people call me a ‘Lost Boy’ from Sudan; I don’t really want to see another child going through that. And all over the world there are all these crises, and who will become the victim? The child, the mother, the elderly. So how best do we really end this crisis? We all have to work together.”
TAKE ACTION: To help protect refugees from malaria, join Nothing But Nets by visiting NothingButNets.net , following @nothingbutnets on Twitter, @nothingbutnetsofficial on Instagram, and Facebook.com/NothingButNets .