Friday, April 23, 2010


Sometimes fighting malaria seems like trying to change the direction of the wind. I feel like I have sat a lot this week. Rebecca and I have put together a traveling art exhibit featuring diverse original art pieces to commemorate World Malaria Day, and it has been touring around different universities and congregations in the Chicago area. It is a silent auction to raise money for Malaria No More, and a lot of our time has been spent driving to venues, setting up the display, participating in panels and talking to people about the art and malaria, and sitting by the art. This started to get frustrating to me yesterday, because I was thinking about how I wanted to be in the trenches, actually fighting for lives ruined by malaria, and this felt sort of anti-climactic and un-glamorous after all my training. Then we screened a film by Bobby Bailey called "When the Night Comes." I have seen it multiple times already, but I found myself crying when it came to the scene where a boy named Ivan dies in front of the camera from cerebral malaria, and the doctors look on hopelessly--having tried all they could. My mind was instantly flooded with the faces of people I met in Tanzania. Godlisten-10 months old. Chubby cheeks and bright eyes. Was on his third trip to the hospital with malaria. Don-22 years old. Bragged he could do push-ups anywhere in the world, even though he has never left his village. Laughed when I asked if malaria could be ended. "It is just here. We will always suffer from this." Happiness. Brilliant 40-something female doctor working on the malaria vaccine trials. Had a family member die from malaria.

It put things in perspective for me. We are building a movement. Yes, the sexy events where millions of dollars are raised and celebrities flash perfect smiles for endless paparazzi are important, but so is slugging away behind the scenes. Driving all over a city and teaching Americans who have never heard of malaria what it is, and that they can have an impact as individuals is necessary to this ending. Seeing the shocked faces of 19 year old college students when they realize the scope of this previously unknown disease called malaria, and then watching them make plans to go out the next weekend and do homework under bed nets in a public park so they can tell others about malaria is so so so so gratifying to me. Yes, it is about money. Yes, it is about important leaders making government level changes. Yes, it will take MASSIVE political will. But it is also about 19 year olds deciding to do their homework under bed nets in public places to raise awareness, and young activists driving to wherever people will host them and sitting by an art exhibit and talking to people when they are tired and when they sometimes don't feel like it. I have learned that that is the definition of being in the trenches. Because someone needs to be making noise about malaria. So, if Bill Gates keeps giving grants to creative anti-malaria projects in Africa, and Ashton Kutcher keeps tweeting about bed nets, and the Faiths Act Fellows keep doing grassroots activism, eventually the wind will change directions. And I can say I played my part. And sometimes that meant sitting.