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Soccer player’s new goal: End malaria

Charles Ssali, a 12-year-old Ugandan soccer player and malaria survivor, is an ambassador for United Against Malaria. Joining him at the initiative’s Nov. 10
launch in New York are, from left: United Methodist Bishop Thomas Bickerton,
Ray Chambers, United Nations Special Envoy for Malaria, and Peter Chernin,
chairman of Malaria No More. A UMNS Photo by Linda Bloom.

By Linda Bloom*
Nov. 10, 2009 | NEW YORK (UMNS)

An avid soccer player, 12-year-old Charles Ssali is excited about next year’s World Cup tournament.

But the Ugandan youth came to New York on Nov. 10 to promote another type of goal—the elimination of malaria.

Ssali joined anti-malaria advocates, including United Methodist Bishop Thomas Bickerton, at the ESPN Zone in Times Square for the launch of United Against Malaria, a new initiative to provide universal access to mosquito nets and malaria medicine in Africa by the end of 2010.

By involving soccer players, the initiative is using interest in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa as a way to raise awareness, increase prevention and build a worldwide commitment to end the disease.

The United Methodist Church is involved in the Nothing But Nets malaria initiative of the United Nations Foundation, which is a founding partner of United Against Malaria. Bickerton is a denominational spokesperson on its malaria prevention efforts.

“This is just the latest in a series of collaborations and partnerships that we’re just happy to be a part of,” he said. “We’re all in this together in the campaign to beat malaria.”

Eighty-five percent of those who die from malaria are African children under the age of 5.

Ssali beat the odds.

“When I was about 4 years, I suffered from malaria,” he told those gathered at the launch. “My mother took me immediately to the health workers and they gave me treatment.”

Now the young soccer star is leading the United Against Malaria team, and asking public and private leaders to pledge their support by signing a campaign soccer ball that will be delivered to African leaders.

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In his remarks, Bickerton pointed to two United Methodist youth who also have raised awareness—and funds—for malaria prevention.  

With the help of her family, church and community, Katherine Commale, an elementary school student and member of Hopewell United Methodist Church in Downingtown, Pa., has raised $120,000 for the Nothing But Nets Project.

Teen Elisabeth Clymer came up with the idea of a “swat team” that uses fly swatters to coax donations from the congregation at Messiah United Methodist Church in Springfield, Va., and has raised $15,000 so far.

“Whether it be soccer fans or churchgoers, it’s easy to mobilize yourself for an effort such as this,” Bickerton said.

United Methodists have mobilized by approving a $75 million fundraising goal for Imagine No Malaria, a campaign that will expand grassroots programs like Nothing But Nets and develop more comprehensive efforts to promote prevention and education activities, strengthen health delivery systems and train health care workers to more effectively treat the disease.

The same mobilization can happen through the world of sports. Don Garber, commissioner of Major League Soccer, endorsed the idea of educating the fan base about malaria, noting that people engaged in sports have the opportunity to make a difference. “My belief is if you can, you should,” he said.

For Ssali, the next stop is Brussels, where he will ask European leaders to sign his soccer ball and make a commitment to eliminate malaria.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.


Bishop Bickerton

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Raising money for a cause: Nothing But Nets


United Against Malaria

Imagine No Malaria UMC

Nothing But Nets

United Nations Foundation

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