“A Shot in the Arm for Children in Africa,” Liahona, June 2006, N6–N7
In a continent trying to hold itself together politically and economically, only a few years ago measles—a disease that is almost never heard of in other parts of the world—killed more than 282,000 children each year.
Like many people, Elder DeMoine and Sister Joyce Findlay knew little of the disease until they were called as a missionary couple to help coordinate the Church’s involvement with the Measles Initiative in Ivory Coast. The Measles Initiative is a movement to immunize 200 million children in Africa sponsored by the Red Cross, UNICEF, CDC, WHO, and other agencies.
During their service, the Findlays witnessed the members in Ivory Coast volunteer by the hundreds, working long days to ensure the success of the campaign. Church members with medical training helped at vaccination sites, others knocked on countless doors to promote the campaign through education, and still more helped to gather families and children together. Even Primary children helped by submitting drawings for the campaigns. By contributing to the remarkable turnout, the Saints hoped to “show President Hinckley that they would do their best to support this unique opportunity.”
Still, providing the life-saving medicine was no easy task. Due to civil unrest, all full-time foreign missionaries, including Elder and Sister Findlay, were evacuated in November 2004 before they could complete their initial campaign. The campaign was postponed until August 2005, at which time they returned to finish the job.
This time Elder and Sister Findlay met with the partnering agencies to determine their needs and to identify ways in which the Church could best use its funds and resources. It was decided that the Church would support the Measles Initiative by providing volunteers; producing printed materials such as posters, fliers, and stickers; and supplying the Red Cross with megaphones, uniforms, and batteries. The Ministry of Health was enthusiastic about the Church’s participation and designated it an official partner in the campaign, announcing on television all the contributions the Church made.
From there, Elder and Sister Findlay set out to help organize the campaign. Ten-year-old Roseline Dekaye’s artwork was chosen to be featured on the printed materials. Her drawing was also used in both the Tanzania and Malawi campaigns.
Working under the direction of stake presidents in the area, Elder and Sister Findlay recruited the regional welfare committee as their working group. This committee coordinated volunteers from every one of the 23 wards and branches in Ivory Coast.
One of the main responsibilities of the member volunteers was to ensure that the general population knew where vaccination sites were located. To do so, many were up at 6:30 a.m. knocking on doors, educating their neighbors about the dangers of measles, and inviting them to bring their children to get vaccinated. They often took the time to physically show the people where to go, at times bringing groups to the vaccination site. The full-time missionaries wanted to help as well, so they stuck campaign stickers on their bags and encouraged their contacts to take their children to be vaccinated.
Hundreds of vaccination sites were set up in the capital city of Abidjan alone, with locations including health units, the village chief’s home, and a parking lot. Some sites were just small plastic-covered shelters beside the road.
During the first few days the people came in masses. Children filled the lines—some were accompanied by parents, but most came on their own. When the people stopped coming to the fixed vaccination sites, the teams gathered up their materials and walked through busy markets and neighborhoods looking for unvaccinated children to vaccinate on the spot.
With the help of more than 700 Church members, the measles campaign in Ivory Coast was a huge success. Vaccinating nearly 8 million children, workers met 87 percent of their goal in a country so politically divided that 50 percent is considered a good campaign success rate.
In all, members donated 40,000 hours of volunteer labor. They could be seen everywhere wearing their colorful badges, and they became quite popular and well known. In all but one of the health districts, members were the only mobilization volunteers. The health districts were grateful for their help and asked if they could contact the Church for help in future campaigns.
But more important was the spirit of love that was felt and shown by the members. The following are some of their comments about the change this opportunity made in their lives.
Digbeu Gnoleba: “I am so pleased with how the whole campaign went—many times I felt the Spirit of the Lord. I know that God has His eyes on each of us and that He knows what His children do.”
Raymond Beda: “I felt such joy serving as a volunteer. I did not have the opportunity to serve a mission, but this experience gave me the chance to feel like a missionary. It felt good.”
Franck Delord Tokpa: “Each day when the people from the Ministry came to pay the workers, they asked me to sign up so they could pay me. Every day I refused, telling them that this was a service I was doing for the community and for my church.”
Jean Bosoco Kouassi: “This has been such a positive experience. Every morning before going out, we had a prayer. We learned that we could talk to people in a way that we had never done before. Now we believe that we can open our mouths and do missionary work and do our home teaching.”