Even as I put on my Buzzkill shirt and filled my suitcase full of soccer balls to head up to the New York Red Bulls game for a Nothing But Nets/United Against Malaria title night, it was easy to take for granted the fact that malaria is not an issue that personally touches us daily.
Running very late, and with my taxi waiting outside, I rushed to grab my items for the trip and in doing so forgot the one piece of equipment that it is becoming harder to live without lately — my blackberry. A mile down the road my kind taxi driver turned around so I could retrieve the forgotten equipment, and then finally we were on our way. Perhaps due to this frantic start, it wasn’t until we were more than halfway to the train station that my taxi driver started up a conversation by asking me where I was going and what I was doing there. I shared with him that I was going to a soccer game and my teammates and I were going to have a booth set up to educate soccer fans about getting involved with malaria prevention.
After excitedly telling me that he was listening to a soccer game on his ear piece as we spoke, my driver shared that he is from Ghana, but was so prone to suffering from malaria (on average three times a month) that he had no choice but to move to a malaria-free country. He also told me that he was a teacher in Ghana, a profession that he loved, but he was not able to keep his job because he was constantly sick. As a former teacher myself, it’s hard to imagine having to give up a job you love and where you are needed because of a tiny mosquito’s effects. It’s truly something that’s hard to comprehend for us here in America.
We arrived at Union Station and I unloaded my gear, suddenly remembering my suitcase full of soccer balls with malaria prevention messaging on them. I took out a ball and gave it to my driver. He thanked me profusely, saying he would love to use this ball with his son. He then gave me a big hug and we parted. I had brough the soccer balls to New York to be signed by fans and then delivered to our political leaders on Capitol Hill on April 20. No one will notice that there is one less ball during the presentation, but for me, the missing ball is the biggest reminder of all of why it is so important that we are joining together this World Malaria Day to put an end to this disease once and for all.