Malaria is among the greatest threats to refugees around the world. Eric Bieski, a Nothing But Nets champion who works in refugee resettlement, has seen this threat first-hand. In the interview below, Eric, who works in his community with refugee populations in resettlement and placement, tells the incredible story of a girl named Salome, who almost died from malaria shortly after her family resettled in the US from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Q: In your work, you’ve gained an understanding of the challenges that refugees face. One of the biggest threats to refugees is malaria, and you saw this first-hand through a Congolese family you work with. Could you tell us this story?
A: That family was one of my first clients. They had a baby girl named Salome. I love interacting with kids and making them laugh and smile. But when Salome’s family first arrived in the United States, Salome never really smiled: she always had a somber look on her face. One day her father called me in a panic, saying she had fallen ill and was very sick.
Paramedics came and they were wearing hazmat suits because they thought she might have Ebola. At the hospital, they found out her blood cell count was very low but they couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her. They transferred her to Hershey Medical for extensive testing, and there they discovered she had malaria. I went a week later to pick her up – and it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life...
Salome was running around the hospital room, kicking a soccer ball, smiling and laughing like every child should. When I picked her up, and she smiled – that was the first time I’d ever seen her smile at me before. It dawned on me that there are thousands, if not millions, of “Salome’s” in the world living with malaria, but Salome was lucky enough to come to the United States. The doctor said that if she and her family were still in the refugee camp that Salome would likely not be alive today.
Q: Tell us a little more about your hometown and the refugee resettlement work being done there.
A: I live in a region built on immigrants – mainly through the coal mine industry. In my refugee resettlement work, I’m able to add to that long legacy of just good people coming here for a better life, working hard, and creating the American dream. Our Bhutanese community, which has been resettling since 2008, has built roots here – they’re buying homes, their kids are enrolling in high school and some are going to college. It’s amazing. It’s what America is all about, and what America is built on, and I’m blessed to play a very small role in helping this happen.
Nothing But Nets is proud to have champions like Eric who are helping refugees create a life here in the U.S., and we’re also proud to have champions like Sifa, who is a refugee herself. To learn more about becoming a champion, click here! And to see more of the amazing work our champions are doing, click here.