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Malaria: The disease that silences laughter


©2012 Jon Warren/WorldVision
Burial service of 16-month-old Zaita who died from malaria in Mozambique.

From World Vision, by Kari Costanza. Kari Costanza is Senior World Vision communications officer based in the U.S. She was recently on assignment in Mozambique. Here she shares a personal story from her trip.

“Today I bought a coffin.

We spent the morning in a village in Mozambique visiting Marita, a dear little girl whose best friend had died of malaria last year.

Marita was still grieving. She sat quietly while the rest of the children played in high spirits, shouting and laughing through a game of soccer.

Marita’s mother invited us to come back later for supper. Hospitality can never be refused, even when the givers have so little. Marita’s father makes just $48 a year in a country to which both people and nature have been unkind.

When we arrived back at the village at 3:00, it was eerily silent. No supper was cooking in the pot in Marita’s hut. The soccer game had ceased. If air could be somber, this air was. Even the breeze wafting through the village felt sad.

Two huts away from Marita’s, a baby had died in the time we were away, a toddler named Zaita. Zaita’s body was lying in the hut surrounded by her mother, Rosa, and women from the village, all of them weeping.

Rosa’s husband was away, visiting sick relatives. Someone had been sent to give him the news: A mosquito bite had taken his only child.

Was there anything we could do for their young neighbor? Marita’s father said, “Usually people from the village give a gift to help purchase a coffin.” I asked how much they give. “For a small coffin it might be 300 Meticals,” he said, about $10.

We stepped inside the family’s smoky hut. I pulled 300 Meticals from my wallet. “Please tell the mother how sorry we are,” I said.

I felt crushed by the loss of the baby. It was another loss for the village. Another loss for Marita.

Marita’s best friend was named Marta. She was special, said the headmaster of her school. “She would have changed something,” he said. “If she had gone to school she would have been a teacher. She would have helped someone.

Marta’s father still has a giant Marta-shaped hole in his heart. He loved his little girl and was amazed by how bright she was. Marta was clearly special, but to no one more than Marita. Since Marta’s death, Marita is not the same girl. The laughter has left her eyes.

And that is what malaria does. It silences laughter. It extinguishes bright lights, like Marta, robbing the world of a potential teacher or doctor or malaria researcher. It leaves fathers with heavy hearts and best friends alone.

Today I bought a coffin, but I will not despair.

I work for an organization that considers malaria a winnable war. A war that will be fought with insecticide-treated mosquito nets, spraying, and more. A war that will be fought on behalf of children — children like Marta and Zaita — whose lives might have been.”

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