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Mission: Add colleges to anti-malaria crusade


7:00 A.M. EST Sept. 17, 2010

The Rev. Sarah Roncolato isn’t hoping for much. She just wants to turn someone’s life upside down and transform them into lean, mean, Jesus-loving, mosquito-killing machines.

Actually, she would like to turn a lot of people into mission-driven crusaders. And she knows right where to start: on college campuses.

Roncolato is heading a new initiative in the fight to eliminate malaria in Africa called Imagine No Malaria College Connection. The campaign is another phase in the United Methodist Global Heath Initiative to eliminate death and suffering from malaria by 2015.

“I get really fired up about this. I see this as so much more than a fundraising campaign. I see it as a chance to change lives … all of ours,” she said.

“When I think about what would be my greatest hopes for the college campaign … one of them is this: One day, maybe 10 years down the road, a researcher creates a vaccine for malaria that is almost 100 percent effective (the best one now is only 70 percent). When asked how s/he got interested in malaria research, the person replies, ‘When I was in college, I heard about malaria from a program called Imagine No Malaria, and my life goals were changed.’”

Kinda sends a chill up your spine, doesn’t it? But wait – there’s more.

Colleges that sign on will get an extra emotional nudge from a compelling one-hour documentary, “When the Night Comes,” directed by Bobby Bailey. Produced by the United Nations Foundation, the film follows three young people who learn about malaria when traveling through northern Uganda.

In a blog on NothingButNets.net, Adrianna Logalbo of the United Nations Foundation writes about seeing a screening of the film at American University in Washington.

“The film is incredibly compelling – funny at times and tragic at others – but most importantly, I walked away feeling inspired and hopeful that we can come together and work to end malaria deaths by 2015.”

That’s the reaction Roncolato is talking about.

As adjunct professor at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa., Roncolato has a lot of faith in young people.

“Every great social movement in this country has had a strong component of young people. They are energetic, creative and experts at social networking,” she said.

Putting words into action

An image from “When the Night Comes,” produced by the United Nations Foundation. The film follows three young people who learn about malaria when traveling through northern Uganda. Web-only image courtesy of the United Nations Foundation.
An image from “When the Night Comes,” produced by the United Nations Foundation. The film follows three young people who learn about malaria when traveling through northern Uganda. Web-only image courtesy of the United Nations Foundation.

Roncolato sent a letter to the presidents of the 96 four-year United Methodist-related colleges and universities asking them to sign on as a partner institution and provide the name of their on-campus contact.

Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, one of the historically black colleges related to the church, was the first to sign on. To date, 22 schools – 21 of them United Methodist-related – have signed up.

“President Haywood Strickland is always looking for opportunities for our young people to understand the importance of what our church represents, what our church is about and the fact that community service and community leadership is at the core of our college,” said Joseph Morale, executive at Wiley College.

Imagine No Malaria College Connection was an opportunity to put words into action, he said, and to show the students “that in serving others they gain their own lives.”

Think big

To kick off the campaign, an introductory webinar was held Sept. 12 with Bishop Thomas Bickerton, head of the Global Health Initiative of The United Methodist Church. The student/administrator representative from each school was asked to identify and meet with other interested students.

“We know the call is strong to help our brothers and sisters in Africa overcome death and suffering caused by malaria, but it warms my heart to see these institutions of higher learning embrace Imagine No Malaria through this effort,” said Bickerton. “I very much look forward to seeing the creativity and energy college students will have for Imagine No Malaria.”

Everyone is invited to join in the cause, Roncolato emphasized.

“Although this is a United Methodist initiative, we are asking representatives to think big, not small; wide, not narrow. All kinds of persons can be engaged in this initiative. They don’t need to be United Methodist. They just need a desire to bring about a positive change,” Roncolato said.

Another important aspect of the campaign is faith development, she said.

“I think the church has in the past worked off the model that if we can get young people ‘into church’ – meaning into the church building for worship, Sunday school, youth group – we will form their Christian faith in such a way that they can go out to serve. That isn’t working and hasn’t for a long time.”

The impulse to care and serve provides experiences for faith development, she added.

“These are the institutions that are educating leaders—business, government, medicine, law, the arts, education. … If INMCC can be part of forming them, that is a terrific honor and responsibility.”

*Gilbert is a multimedia reporter for United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

When the Night Comes

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