This Fourth of July weekend, as my family celebrated with a barbecue and busily swatted at mosquitoes, I thought back to my trip to Senegal earlier this year. On the day that celebrates everything that America is about, I felt honored and proud to be a citizen of a nation of people who are working to improve the health and lives of children around the world.
The backyard mosquitoes were a minor nuisance, but they served as a reminder of the havoc they cause in countries like Senegal, where a single bite can lead to sickness and even death from malaria--a preventable and treatable disease transmitted by mosquitoes. I traveled to Senegal with my wife and Malaria No More, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending malaria deaths in Africa, to learn about the disease and how families in Senegal are fighting it.
We met with a group of kids at a local school who are working to raise awareness about how to prevent and treat malaria within their own communities. We were also invited into local homes, where proud mothers showed off mosquito nets hanging over their children's beds, a result of efforts led by the Senegalese Ministry of Health and in coordination with international partners to provide universal access to malaria prevention and treatment tools like nets, indoor spraying diagnostics and medicine. This effort has been supported by major institutions, global governments, and the incredible generosity of individuals who have donated a simple $10 mosquito net to make programs like this possible.
We recognized the pride in the parents' faces as they watched their children play and thought of our own young son. We're lucky to live in a place where we don't have to worry about malaria. But it doesn't matter if it's Africa or America or the South Pole, mothers and fathers are the same everywhere: determined to keep our kids safe from harm and give them the best chance possible to grow up healthy and strong to make their mark on the world.
When I returned home to the United States, I visited Capitol Hill and spoke with Members of Congress about my trip and what I'd learned. I thanked them for their leadership and expressed my pride in our American values--I'd seen first hand how the U.S. was helping fuel the malaria fight in Senegal through the President's Malaria Initiative and was also inspired by the many Members of the Government of Senegal who were empowering parents with the tools to protect their children from malaria. While in Washington, I also met with Republican Congressman Jeff Fortenberry and Democratic Congressman Donald Payne, the co-chairs of the Congressional Malaria Caucus (and my two newest heroes), who have been champions for American support of life-saving malaria programs. American values at their best are evident in the many Members of the House and Senate who support malaria elimination and improved child health around the world.
Malaria isn't an issue that often graces the front page of the newspaper. No one hands out medals for taking on a disease that's been around for centuries. But my experience in Senegal showed me that the quiet dedication of so many--from policymakers in Washington to Peace Corps Volunteers on the ground to classes of fourth graders hosting bake sales to raise awareness--is helping families in Africa protect their children from this deadly disease.
So as I took in the carefree wonder on my son's face as he watched his first fireworks display, I thought how lucky I am to live in a country where people take action to help families half a world away. And I look forward to celebrating the day, along with so many of my fellow Americans who have contributed in some small part, when mothers and fathers across Africa are able to declare their freedom from the scourge of malaria.