Alessandro Lauria had malaria three times before his 5th birthday. Perhaps just as traumatic is that he had to helplessly watch as his friends suffered from it as well. He was living in Ghana at the time, but the images and experiences seared themselves deep inside him. They traveled with him to Colorado where, at just 12 years old, he knew the only way to combat that old familiar feeling of helplessness was to tackle the mosquito-borne disease head-on. Enter his brainchild: The Malaria Defense Project.
The Malaria Defense Project is a registered 501c3 non-profit organization dedicated to distributing insecticide-treated nets to villages in sub-Saharan African countries. In just two years their "Nets in Action" campaign has distributed nearly 2,000 nets. In addition to this, Alessandro often spends his free time giving presentations to local schools, civic organizations and churches about the importance of eradicating the disease.
For a variety of reasons, malaria rarely captures the media's attention. This makes it all the more astonishing that Alessandro is so committed to this fight. He was gracious enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions:
CC: Alessandro! I'm so impressed by your work! Can you take us behind the scenes? How was the Malaria Defense Project able to get off the ground?
AL: My project started off small, I just wanted to distribute nets in the village of Mboro-sur-Mer, Senegal where my mom volunteers as a midwife. So I made a video about malaria and we shared it on Facebook and emailed it to friends and family. My school raised money; I received donations and we applied for a small grant from a local organization here in our community. By the time we left we had enough donations for 481 nets! It has taken off from there.
CC: You've talked about this topic throughout Colorado. What are the key points that seem to make malaria matter to people?
AL: When I tell people that 3,000 children die each day from malaria, that gets their attention. About 91 percent of the world's population is at risk for malaria and most of those people are in sub-Saharan Africa, which is where the majority of deaths occur as well. People want to help once they know there is a problem. Also, when they learn that I had malaria, it makes it more personal for them.
CC: How best can our readers support your organization?
AL: Get involved! We are always looking for people to fund raise in their communities. We have had schools, churches, organizations and individuals do fundraising. It is great when kids get involved, especially as a school project. They can research, do presentations and spread awareness. It all helps! Just contact me, I will get you started.
Alessandro's presentation from October 2012:
Cameron Conaway is the author of Malaria, Poems (Michigan State University Press).