While ticks or mosquitoes are some of the greatest pests for those living in northwestern Ontario, Ugandans face a much greater insect-related threat.
Since outbreaks took place in 2011, thousands of Ugandans have been effected by tungiasis, the disease caused from parasitic sand fleas burrowing into a persons legs and feet.
Preventing and treating the fleas, most commonly known as jiggers, is the mission of the not-for-profit organization, Sole Hope—a group joined by Fort Frances woman Crystal McPherson in Jinja, Uganda early last week.
“Jiggers burrow into the bottom of your feet and lay eggs so you get them all over," she explained. "You spread them to your family and they are very painful,”
The potentially fatal parasite is so small it's nearly impossible to spot but once it latches onto a blood vessel it grows to be 1,000 times its original size.
Because the parasite generally enters through their victims feet, Sole Hope distributes cost-effective shoes, made out of tires and jeans, that are assembled by Ugandans in Jinja.
The locals assembling the footwear are paid $10 per shoe and McPherson said she's bringing enough materials to make around 30 pairs.
The organization frequently works with schools to treat children suffering from tungiasis and gives them the handmade shoes to prevent future outbreaks.
It's estimated that 300 million people worldwide can't afford shoes and the reason why tungiasis outbreaks occur in Uganda is because its citizens frequently travel barefoot.
Meanwhile, a major area of focus for Sole Hope is education.
“It's a misunderstood disease," McPherson said. "The locals think it's a curse that was put onto them and kids aren't allowed to go to school if they have it.”
“If you have the disease you're basically ostracized and kept in your home—you can't be out in public,” she added.
Through education, Sole Hope is trying to remove the stigma around tungiasis and teach Ugandans how to remove the parasite as soon as they're spotted to prevent them from spreading to their families.
Another piece of information that Sole Hope stresses is for the shoes to be worn everyday, as many of those who are effected by jiggers are impoverished and want to preserve the shoes for special occasions.
School children usually grow out of the shoes within a year while adults can usually make them last a bit longer.
Although, when the shoes do wear out they can be replaced free of charge and receive another pair from Sole Hope.
In addition to McPherson's work with Sole Hope, she also assists the Ugandan Orphan Childcare Ministries to help out at orphanages in Uganda.
She told the Times she is very grateful to the Fort Frances community for the donations she received before flying out of Winnipeg on Monday.
Books, band-aids, feminine hygiene products, children's toys, games, crayons, and clothing were donated to McPherson and will be distributed to Ugandans in need.
About 70 dresses that were sewed out of pillowcases and curtains by town resident Barb Hands will be donated to those in need as well.
McPherson told the Times she had always dreamed of visiting Africa to help reduce poverty and fell in love after travelling there for the first time with the Young Living Foundation in 2017.
“You see the commercials with the sad kids and everything on TV and you just feel for them,” she said.
“So being able to go and meet them and seeing how happy they are, even though a lot of these kids have nothing, they're always smiling, they're always happy to see you, and they're always cheerful.”
Seeing the impact being made by the organizations McPherson supports is one of the main reason why she's so committed to providing humanitarian aid.
“To go and actually be hands on—it's different than just donating money,” she explained.
“You get to build relationships with people and actually see where your donation goes.”
McPherson will return to Fort Frances in mid-August.