Wednesday, February 9, 2011
By Mary Cantell, Correspondent
How far would you go to help the impoverished? Collegeville resident and Temple University junior Kelsey Nielsen can tell you. She’s been to Uganda as part of her school’s social work curriculum and fell in love with the people. Despite getting malaria three times, she doesn’t let it stop her from doing what she’s been called to do.
“I’ve had [for years] a heart for Uganda. I feel drawn and called to this culture and the people here,” said Nielsen in a recent telephone interview. “This is home now.”
Her calling came several years ago when she read about the war on Northern Uganda along with the incidents of child soldiers, slave trading and sex trafficking. Now she is serving as the adoption coordinator at the Amani Baby Cottage, an orphanage in Jinja, in addition to coordinating special projects and taking online Temple courses.
Nielsen had malaria three times in 2010. The latest bout indicated the onset of cerebral malaria, the most deadly form, for which she was treated with Coartem and IV Quinine treatments. If not treated within the first 24 to 72 hours, the disease is fatal.
“I know the pain that this disease puts your body through. The severe body aches, the high fevers, the piercing headaches,” Nielsen said. “I began to hallucinate, and I did not know who I was or where I was. Within minutes people back home were praying. My friends were standing by my bedside and praying. The medicine began to work.”
Nielsen’s tasks working in the sub-Sahara can sometimes be overwhelming both physically and emotionally. Sometimes she feels totally unprepared for the tasks before her, she said. Although she understands the pain of contracting malaria, what she cannot understand is not having the resources to fight the disease. The destitution in Uganda encompasses so much in the way of economic and social adversity; fighting the battle of mosquitoes and their disease is like adding insult to injury. The bright spot is that malaria can be prevented.
Working with the families, lawyers and making trips to the U.S. Embassy and Immigration offices, Nielsen finds it all worth the effort as she loves working with the children and seeing them go back into safe and loving homes through the sponsorship program she’s been a part of creating.
“Seeing families empowered to take care of their children with the little bit of assistance we can provide through our sponsors … seeing happy, healthy children … that’s where I want to be,” she said.
Nielsen wishes to bring awareness to the severity of the disease and be a voice to the voiceless. In Africa, a child dies every 45 seconds from malaria, according to the World Health Organization. The plan is that she’ll remain in Uganda until June … for now.
“I just love loving the Ugandan people,” she said. “I could get malaria a thousand times and still feel this is where I need to be. The beautiful things I get to see here far outnumber the painful. Seeing children re-united with their families … orphans being adopted into their new forever families … the resiliency … the strength of these people. It's something you'd have to see to believe. That is why I stay.”
Nielsen can be contacted for correspondence or donations at Kelsey Nielsen, Amani Baby Cottage, P.O. Box 1799, Jinja, Uganda, East Africa.
Kelsey Nielsen is the eldest daughter of the late Charlie Nielsen and his wife Linda.
Charlie Nielsen was raised in Japan as an MK.
Kelsey can also be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Please visit Kelsey's blog ~ Bring Them Home