Fishermen Take Time Off for Nets of a Life-Saving Sort

Last week, I accompanied a team from the National Malaria Center as they distributed 550 mosquito nets to more than 900 residents of Koh Rong island, off the coast of Sihanoukville.

For the residents of Koh Rong, a severe case of malaria means at least a $5 boat ride to the mainland for treatment—the equivalent of nearly a week’s earnings.

According to local malaria director Se Rithichot, the number of malaria cases in Siha­noukville municipality has dropped from 20,000 cases annually in 1994 to about 500 so far this year, thanks to the bed nets.

The number of fatalities dropped from 30 to five.

On Koh Rong, rarely does such a significant proportion of the island gather in one place. According to village Chief Seeng Liam, 35, events on such a scale happen on average only twice a year.

“It is very expensive for them to take time off from fishing,” he said.

The majority of my own personal charitable contributions takes the form of giving to people panhandling, a transaction that generally leaves me saddened. The gift’s inadequacy emphasizes a vast gulf between us.

Handing out mosquito nets has the opposite effect on the giver. To be a part of a rare coming together of community, is to see what we all have in common: Our desire to succeed personally and to built better and healthier communities.

The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard laid out a central choice in life: A man can either pursue a life of pleasure, forever hounded by boredom, or he can choose a life of duty and never run out of things to do.

As the NMC team and locals toasted with rice wine on the pier of Koh Touck village, I felt the stark reality of the choice dissipate for a moment: Truly it is pleasurable to recognize our shared duties to each other.


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