“…And Then I Found Twenty Dollars.”
by Aaron Jackson, Founder of Planting Peace
On one of my early trips to Haiti I had been staying in the countryside and was only a month away from the completion of a school building project. At the time Planting Peace was a growing network of orphanages and we were finally expanding into the education sphere. On the last night of the trip I was at the dinner table with Haiti native and Planting Peace co-founder, John Diubon, when I asked him a simple question;
“Why do the children have distended bellies?”
His one word answer would forever change my life.
“Worms.” John replied.
As I believe most people are when they find out children can have worms, I was shocked and grossed out. I just could not fathom the fact that these children had worms living in their intestines. Needless to say, I found it pretty difficult to finish my meal that evening.
John went on to explain the situation in more detail and I asked how much it would cost to treat one child. He told me that sending a child to the nearest health clinic would first require a taxi (almost two hours away,) then a doctor’s fee, and from there would also require the purchase the deworming medication which would all come out to be twenty U.S. dollars total.
It just so happened that as I was going through my pockets that night before bed and I stumbled upon nothing other than a twenty-dollar bill. I was so fascinated by the prospect of removing a worm from a child and the surprise chance of finding the exact amount one would need that I decided to give those funds to this particular cause. After I informed John about my little jackpot he said that the next step was to simply choose a child to deworm.
This proved to be more difficult than I imagined because almost every child has a worm-filled, distended belly. However, I picked a child and sent this little boy and his mother on their way.
Just a few days later as John and I were walking out the door to head back into Port-Au-Prince the mother of the child walked up to me crying. She began to explain to me that the doctor said the child would have soon died had she not brought him into treatment due to how serious the intestinal clogging from the parasites had been. To this very day I often say that I am not sure if I would have looked further into deworming if this mother did not come up to me informing me of how dire her child’s situation was. I knew at this moment that a new era of research and potentially a whole new initiative for Planting Peace was about to begin.
As soon as I got back into the States I fell very ill due to the malaria that I caught while in Haiti. As I began to heal I felt even more passionate about what deworming was and how I could get involved. It was at this point that I found Claude Good, a missionary to Haiti who was associated with the Franconia Mennonite Conference. This gentleman in particular had dedicated his whole life to deworming children and millions upon millions of children are thriving today because of his efforts. Claude informed me that he could sell me a single dose of deworming medication for as little as 5 cents a treatment. As you can imagine this information put me in in disbelief but also made me ecstatic about the potential impact that could be made. The difference between twenty dollars for the initial treatment we provided and the five cents Claude would be able to give us was a big change and the fact that it only took one pill to rid a child of all their worms was pretty moving to me as well.
Next thing I knoew I was sending Claude a check and I started a process of personally bringing the medication into Haiti with my book bag. I started treating 20 people and here and there and when I would run out I would ask churches and other relief organizations for support. Much to my disappointment most people were not interested in helping so I began to devote the funds I made as a golf caddie back in Florida to support this new operation.
Eventually the campaign began to grow…and grow… and before I knew it I had somehow managed to deworm 1.7 million children. Through what I call journalistic providence CNN had somehow got word of what I was doing and this so happened to fit quite nicely into a new program they were launching called “CNN Heroes” which aimed to honor and give media exposure to ordinary individuals they believed to be doing extraordinary work around the world. After a few conversations CNN asked the official question as to whether or not I would like to be one of their selected “heroes.”
I, of course, said yes and when they came to Haiti with me and shot their documentary footage on Planting peace I can remember the producer asking if the charity was going to be ready administratively to handle what was to come from the approaching international exposure. He went on to say that some of their other heroes were experiencing an incredible amount of media coverage and charitable success. He said he believed I would need to start preparing to receive the same. Although I took this advice seriously it still was pretty shocking to me that not even a month later when CNN released our story it began to take off like wild fire.
Thousands upon thousands of people were beginning to reach out to us and to inquire into what exactly intestinal parasites were and how could it really only cost this much to remove them from a child?
This was the beginning of Planting Peace joining the deworming movement and right away I was given the opportunity to share the importance of deworming to Larry King and the rest of the world. From here the impact only grew and the program was able to expand exponentially.
Building a relationship with the CNN Hero family led to charity-focused celebrities like actor Rainn Wilson and the cast of Reno 911 to partnering with us. This then led to thousands of like-minded supporters and as a result Planting Peace was able to become the non-profit it is today.
I’m proud to say that Planting Peace has dewormed children in 8 different countries. From a half a million kids in North Korea, to a million kids in Sudan, to the approaching ten million in Haiti we are continually humbled by the difference we see this little miracle pill making. Despite the progress that has been made though I cant help but think that so many children around the world still desperately need our help. I once heard fellow dewormer and former president Jimmy Carter say,
“ You would not believe how hard it is to raise capital for a pill that only cost pennies!”
My dream today is to deworm a million children every single month across the scope of the countries we work in. I ask that you walk with me in not only helping my dream come true but in the process helping to save the lives of countless children whose only “crime” is the location in which they were born. I know curing a starving nation stricken by chronic poverty seems out-of-reach but it can be done and it will be done! We have the know-how and the ability so please join us today.