One snowy morning in early February, I was sitting on a runway in Cincinnati, Ohio, waiting for the plane to be de-iced before take off, checking emails on my phone. Amongst the mundane messages one leapt out: from Christine McNab of the Measles and Rubella Initiative, the subject line read, "Proposal to travel to the DR Congo/ Illustrate." Through this small device in my hand, I was whisked from the icy Mid-West to Africa, to communities devastated by measles, to children dying in the thousands from this preventable disease. The proposal was very compelling, to visit these communities to talk with families and the immunization workers who travel across the country, often on foot, to distribute the vaccine. And then to draw. To create posters and maybe a book and a video, to communicate the toll of measles and show the ways we can prevent deaths and eliminate this disease.
I could barely wait to get back to New York so that I could say yes. In spite of reading terrible news every day from Central Africa, and in spite of my father's thoughtful links to reports of Congolese plane crashes, there were three insistent reasons to go: 1. I have never been to Africa. 2. I can hear all the news and all the statistics about measles, I can read that 380 children die a day, and yet, as I wave my own healthy children off to school in the morning, I can't possibly imagine the truth of this until I see it. 3. I love my work. I love making pictures that encourage children to turn pages or that cheer up subway commuters, but I've never worked on pictures which might conceivably save lives.
Throughout the past months of conversation and planning, Christine has sent me updates on her work with the Measles Initiative. She has told me about health workers in Nepal who climb mountains to reach remote villages, and immunization campaigns in Myanmar, where the children sit patiently in the shade with circles of bark paste on their faces to cool the skin. Inspired by her beautiful photographs, and because I was itching to get started on this project, I painted this image of a newly vaccinated family.
I have just arrived in Kinshasa and will post pictures and stories from the project on this blog. You can find out more about the Measles Initiative here.