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Vaccinating on the Frontline

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Around the world, organizations are recognizing World Immunization Week, a campaign that grew from initiatives started by the World Health Organization (WHO) back in 2003.

Today, more than 180 countries, territories, and areas participate worldwide in an effort to not only strengthen routine immunization but to accelerate control of vaccine-preventable diseases with polio eradication as the first milestone.

As I wrote back in March, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to work directly with Shot@Life, a campaign initiative of the UN Foundation and partner of Johnson & Johnson. Through their movement, I’ve been educated, informed, and most importantly, moved to act on the fact that every 20 seconds a child dies from a vaccine-preventable illness.

It’s hard to imagine having children whose lives literally lie in the hands of others being able to provide and deliver life-saving vaccinations. It’s hard for me to imagine, even though I’ve seen more photos and read more data than most people I know about vaccinations.

It’s why I’ve asked three fellow bloggers (and Shot@Life Champions) to share some of their firsthand experiences on the frontlines in Uganda, starting with their own personal connection to the cause of global vaccinations.

Ilina Ewen, a North Carolina blogger at Dirt & Noise, knows firsthand the risk of being born in a developing country, especially as it relates to healthcare.

“I was born in India and know how lucky I am to have been born to a family of means and education. We were vaccinated as babies, and by luck of the draw I could have just as easily been born to parents who didn’t have the means and knowledge to do the same for me.”

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Photo courtesy of Ilina Ewen

Jenny Eckton, a blogger out of Utah writes at Formerly Phread and had a completely different connection but also a very personal one.

“My connection is to the mothers who have lost children. My son passed away over twelve years ago and his death was not anything I caused, nor could I have prevented it. Mothers whose children are dying from vaccine-preventable diseases should be saved from heartbreak whenever possible, and when we deliver those vaccines, their children have a shot at a longer, healthier life.”

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Photo courtesy of Jenny Eckton

Even with compassion and perspective, their journey to Uganda, along with Maryland blogger LaShaun Martin who writes at Shootie Girl, changed their lives forever.

When I asked LaShaun how her trip changed her involvement in the cause, she talked about how the faces of the Ugandan children reminded her of her own.

“I can only describe my trip to Uganda as a life-changing experience. Seeing the Shot@Life program on the ground, and first hand shifted things for me. It made the experience personal in that children who looked like my own daughters and were their ages were suffering from the lack of vaccines that we take for granted in this country.”

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Photo courtesy of LaShaun Martin

Ilina’s experience only strengthened her commitment to the cause.

“There aren’t really adequate words to describe how the experience changed me. I left feeling very humbled and unfulfilled. There is so much work to be done. We have the great fortune to complain about things like the high price of organic milk while our sisterhood of mothers all over the world worry about their child’s life. My time in Uganda reaffirmed for me that we are subject to how the stars align, and as human beings, we have the duty and the privilege to step into another world to learn, open our eyes, listen, and lend a hand.”

Most of their experiences were fulfilling. Because when it comes to supporting global causes, we often find it difficult to relate unless it’s personal. All of these bloggers are moms, like many of us, and hearing personal stories from so many of the Ugandan women really hit home for them. I asked each of them to share one of their favorite stories from the trip.

Jenny, who has experienced personal loss as a mother says,

“I was deeply touched by talking with a woman named Valeria who has lost three of her twelve children. She is a stellar example of patience and perseverance, and I’ll never forget her or the conversation we shared.”

LaShaun’s moment came when she felt hope for the future as she watched a baby receive her vaccinations.

“Witnessing five month old Baby Harriett’s examination by healthcare workers was extremely personal for me. Tears streamed down my face as I watched Baby Harriett finally receive the vaccinations that would save her life during a Family Health Day after a church service in the rural Kabarole Village of Uganda. As a mother, I wept for her immediate pain, but also for the future promise of a healthy life that she was being given.”

And finally, Ilina found a ray of light in the middle of a Ugandan school.

“By far my favorite experience was visiting a school in the capital city of Kampala. Five neighboring slums fed into this school. The children wore gleaming smiles and were the most polite, respectful children I had ever met. I was in awe at their hospitality and warmth. I have been volunteering in classrooms for 8 years and have never experienced the joy I saw at this school, in no small part due to the headmistress whom the children called “Grandmother.” The students put on skits for us. The topic: vaccinations. They sang songs and danced and told stories about the value of immunizations. In the end, they simply thanked us for helping them.”

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Photo courtesy of Ilina Ewen

Ultimately, you don’t have to travel to a developing country to know that every child counts and every child deserves a shot at life.

If you’d like to help the cause, I encourage you to visit Shot@Life and learn how you can get involved. You can also participate in the Global Mom Relay. Each day, there is a new post from leading voices around the globe. Every time you share one of the new posts on Facebook, Twitter or email, or donate $5 or more as part of the relay, a $5 donation (up to $62,500 per week or $125,000 every two weeks) will be donated by Johnson & Johnson and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Read more about Ilina’s story
Dirt & Noise Uganda

Read more about Jenny’s story
Shot@Life Trip to Uganda
Shot@Life Uganda – My Favorite Part

Read more about LaShaun’s story
Shootie Girl Uganda

Fadra Nally is a Communications Specialist for Johnson & Johnson. When she’s not working, she’s mothering a precocious 6 year old in the suburbs of Baltimore, MD. In her spare time, she writes all.things.fadra, one of the Top 100 Mom Blogs for 2012 according to She’s also the co-founder of Charitable Influence.

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