As his 40th birthday approached, David Arquette decided to take a trip to a far-flung, exotic location -- not an abnormal thing to do to mark that special mid-life occasion. The "Scream" series star's sightseeing itinerary, however, was markedly different from most celebratory vacations.
His trip? A five day tour of Senegal, to better educate himself on the scourge of malaria, and become a better advocate in the fight to eradicate the deadly disease.
"I don't obviously need anything for my birthday, but 40 is a big milestone," Arquette told The Huffington Post in a recent interview. "For a child in Africa to reach the age of five is a huge milestone; they become less susceptible to dying of malaria, so that's sort of the idea behind this, to give the gift of life."
Having learned of the relief organization Malaria No More while working with Idol Gives Back to support Feeding America, Arquette said that he was moved to take action when he found out that nearly 2000 Africans a day die of the disease, with a child passing away every 45 seconds.
The statistics, said, were "mind boggling," to the point that he was willing to do a lot more than just lend his name and perhaps a commercial shoot or two to the cause.
"To get involved with a cause, you really have to become aware of it," he said. "You have to go on the ground and see with your own eyes, the people who have been affected by it, their process in how they're combating it, and what the organization represents."
"The level of poverty that these people have to endure on a daily basis is really eye-opening," Arquette remembered. "A lot of the time in America we get complacent, we get comfortable, we have all these material possessions. I have them myself, I'm not Ghandi and renounce everything, but what is just a little to us is so much to them."
Despite the striking scene, Arquette was heartened by progress already made -- cutting down child deaths from once per 30 seconds to once per 45 -- and now understands what is needed to cut out the plague entirely.
In fact, it's rather simple.
"It's just a series of education of setting up nets, using them properly, getting under them by a certain time and making sure there's no standing water around the area," Arquette detailed. "And if somebody does get infected, they know to diagnose it immediately so that they know if it's malaria or just common fever."
That being said, the trip also helped him come to understand the dynamics of the relief efforts, and made clear that it's assistance, not sympathy or imperial leadership, that the African people need.
"The kind of work that they're doing in Senegal, specifically, the place I visited, really sort of opened my eyes to that it's a grassroots effort, that Africans themselves are the ones who are taking care of this, that are doing the necessary job on the ground," he said.
"You see these people, they have such an amazing human spirit. They're so alive, they're just inspirational, the way they live their lives," Arquette continued in his glowing reflection. "There's a tradition in Senegal culture, where every month, a small group of friends and family, put a certain portion of their income away and they put it into a pool and then a different person in that group gets it each month... For people who don't have much to be so kind and generous really was an inspiration."
There was one man, in particular, that he singled out as one of the most inspirational.
"We met a guy named El Hadj, who lost his 11-year old daughter to malaria, and he made it his life's goal that no other parent would have to suffer the same loss that he had," Arquette explained. "So now he's gone around to his village and 66 villages in his surrounding area, and they've reduced the rate of malaria down from 3,500 deaths last year to almost non-existent.. Just to show what they can do on the ground is remarkable."
El Hadj went to the power source, convincing his chief to fine villagers 50 cents if their nets aren't in place by a certain time each night, which speaks to the power of money in eradicating malaria deaths. And while the fines the locals charge are minuscule, Arquette is thinking of grander terms.
Through a Crowdfunder page, the star is working to raise $25,000 for the cause, which will then be matched by Sumitomo Chemical/Olyset. At $10 per net, the impact will be astronomic. You can donate by clicking here.