Giving families a safety net in a Ugandan village

Daily Point of Light # 6396 Nov 20, 2018
Mary Claire McGlynn distributing nets when she visited the village in 2016./ Courtesy Mary Claire McGlynn

When she was 14, Mary Claire McGlynn had an aha moment.  Michael Christopher Mugisa Mujule , a Ugandan educator, came to dinner at her home and spoke to her, her parents and her three sisters about the barriers Ugandan girls faced when pursuing an education. Mujule had started a rural girls school and was passionate about educating and empowering women.  He  described the many barriers these girls face simply trying to pursue their education, from family expectations, to safety issues and health, especially the chance that the girls would contract malaria multiple times during the school year.  Shocked, heartbroken, and motivated, Mary Claire did some research and found that malaria nets cost $10 – an easy fix to prevent the disease.  She and her sisters co-founded NETwork Against Malaria and have distributed 45,000 insecticide-treated nets to school-going Ugandan children.  Her vision from the start was collaborative – all distributions are Ugandan led, done in the local language of that community and students plan parts of the distribution.

Mary Claire is committed to making a difference in her community and she is today’s Daily Point of Light Award honoree. Points of Light spoke with her about her commitment to service.

What inspires you to volunteer? 

As one of four girls in our family, I never thought about not having the chance for an education.  When I realized what Ugandan girls have to face to simply get through school, I wanted to do something. We co-founded NETwork Against Malaria with the initial goal of distributing 400 nets to Mujule’s school.  We did that in six months and to date have distributed 45,000 insecticide-treated nets to school-going children.

Describe your volunteer role. 

I am executive director for NETwork Against Malaria, which is a broad role. I help write grants, fundraise and determine our missions and goals. I coordinate volunteers, help establish and encourage chapters (groups of volunteers throughout the country).  I design promotional materials and I designed the website. I coordinate with US and Ugandan volunteers and help plan distributions. I’m a medical student now and had the opportunity to travel to Uganda in 2016.  I was able to see first-hand a distribution of 1500 nets and meet children who are still sleeping under the nets they’ve received from our organization.

What is the most rewarding part of your work? 

These nets make an incredible difference in these family’s lives. They don’t need to spend money on malaria treatment for their children. They don’t have to stay home from work to take care of sick children. These families can now use their precious resources to pay school fees, with education playing a critical role in helping to break the cycle of poverty. This has made a big difference in the village.

Two of the young girls in Uganda who have received mosquito nets from  NETwork Against Malaria./ Courtesy Mary Claire McGlynn

What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?

I started this project when I was 14 and grew with it.  NETwork, its mission and the volunteers have shaped my world view.  From my experiences I know, hard work and diligence can impact other’s lives.  I am certain that collaboration improves any project.  Most importantly I learned that communities are the experts on themselves- their own problems, and how to approach solutions.  I’m excited by the impact I’ve had and humbled by how much I’ve learned.

Are there any future partnerships, programs or events you are excited about? 

We continue to grow our organization and now have chapters in 10 states and in 16 universities, including Rice, Cornell and Boston College. 

Why do you think it is important for others to give back?

I think what makes life most meaningful is the connections we have with other people.  The truth is when you take action you can positively impact others.   

How did going to Uganda change you?

I was grateful to be welcomed to this community, shown into their homes welcomed into their schools, and allowed to contribute to their efforts to improve their own lives.  I was humbled.  Yes, our project has distributed many nets, encouraged participation in the school system and promoted children’s health and girls empowerment.  But it didn’t feel like enough.  There were so many needs.  And those two feelings together made me feel determined.  These people had brought me into their community, had involved me in their fight against poverty, their journey towards a better life.  I would do whatever I could to walk with them help them succeed.  

What do you want people to learn from your story?

Volunteering can take your life in a direction you had never imagined. My journey in Uganda solidified for me the desire to serve. I am determined to work hard to lessen disparities between peoples.  Poor health inhibits one’s ability to experience aspects of joy.  Poor health care robs a mother of her child.  Poor resources mean a child may die while driving forty minutes to the emergency room, or a bowel obstruction surgery may not go as well when the electricity goes out and the procedure is completed under the glow of a flashlight.  I am now in medical school and I’m determined improve the health and resources available for children in Uganda.

Do you want to make a difference in your community like Mary Claire? Visit All for Good for local volunteer opportunities.

Post Written by Beth D’Addono


Brenda Solis