Since August 1997, The Cambodia Daily Mosquito Net Campaign has been providing nets for families too impoverished to afford them on their own.
But what inspired the campaign? The answer can be found in a newly published book by Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl Wu Dunn, titled “Thunder from the East.” The book explores many of the challenges confronting Asian countries, and within its pages Kristoff relates a story that inspired the campaign.
Kristoff had been walking in an unnamed forested region of the country when he came upon a grieving family, huddled around a dead young man in a clearing in the woods.
He approached the family carefully and asked what had happened. One of the brothers, Kaiset, had succumbed to malaria. He was the second in the family to have died from the mosquito-borne illness.
The anguish it caused the family, especially the boy’s father, Yok Yorn, was not lost on Kristoff, who wrote, “Those who say that life is cheap in Asia, that Asians see so much tragedy that they become inured to it, should have seen Yok Yorn that day.”
Yok Yorn cried out to the heavens, beat his chest, then cradled his second dead son, tears streaming down his cheeks.
“This was the smartest boy in the family,” Yok Yorn told Kristoff. “And I couldn’t save him…. We took him to the doctor….It was too late….I didn’t know it was so serious…malaria.”
Malaria is by no means incurable, with proper medication. And it is also preventable, through chemically treated nets, which can house three people. These, however, were unavailable to Yok Yorn and his family. His daughter by then was showing signs of malaria, Kristoff wrote.
They family had come to the woods to collect wood to earn extra money. The practice is still very prevalent today, and one of the main causes of malaria. Families or individuals who live near the rivers, where malaria is not always present, find themselves in the shaded forests, where malaria mosquitoes live.
“What overwhelmed me was the waste,” wrote Kristoff. “Kaiset had died for want of a few dollars, roughly the price of my bottled water that day.”