Ring Out Riverblindness

Just $65,000 will guard one million people in the Congo from going blind, says Daniel Shungu, founder of the United Front Against Riverblindness (UFAR). Hyosang Park, a solo handbell artist from Princeton United Methodist Church, will start a series of fundraising events to help conquer the disease by giving a concert on Sunday, March 14, at 7 p.m. in East Windsor.

Riverblindness, transmitted through the bite of a small black fly, is a socially disruptive disease that infects 23 million of the 60 million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It starts with a rash and thickening of the skin and leads to sight loss. In addition to unbearable itching that drives some people to suicide, it is hard for victims, especially for women, to either find a mate or if already married to keep one. Tragically, children – who usually remain symptom-free until adulthood – are forced to become full-time caregivers for blind relatives, foregoing their own education, resulting in illiteracy and increased poverty.

The drug for Riverblindness, Mectizan, is being provided free by Merck & Co., but it is a challenge to get the drug to where it is needed and ensure that every person takes the drug once a year for at least 10 years.

As part of a series of fund-raising events for the Princeton United Methodist Church/UFAR mission trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo this summer, solo handbell artist Park and pianist Akiko Hosaki will present a Riverblindness Benefit Concert on Sunday, March 14, at 2 p.m. at St. Paul Lutheran Church, 79 One Mile Road, in East Windsor. Park is the organist and handbell choir director at PUMC and Hosaki is the organist/choir director at Hillsborough Reformed Church in Millstone. They will perform works by Massenet, Vivaldi, McChesney, and Sherman. For information call St. Paul’s at 609-448-1113.

Other planned fundraisers for the mission trip: On Sunday, April 25, at 2 p.m., there will be a tea at PUMC. Call 609-924-2613 for $15 reservations. The PUMC “May Day 5K to Conquer Riverblindness” will be Saturday, May 1. Park will give another solo handbell concert on Saturday, May 15, at PUMC in Princeton. A community-wide African Cultural Evening and Dinner will be held on Saturday, May 22, at Princeton University’s Carl A. Fields Center, at Prospect and Olden Avenues. Tickets are $50, $25 for students.

Take a look at the UFAR logo of a child leading her parent. Here’s the good news, according to UFAR: “Through UFAR’s efforts since 2007, 727,583 people living in 1,659 villages have received at least one annual dose of the drug with remarkable results: no more itching, rejuvenation of the skin, improved low or impaired vision, reduced infections, and improved ability to concentrate. Children and young adults can resume schooling. There is an obvious renewed energy and happiness in the community, with everybody looking forward to getting the drug the following year.”

Park’s solo handbell concerts are amazing to see and hear. Imagine one person playing all the bells in three octaves! Help PUMC ring out Riverblindness and ring in hope!

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