Lessons From Loss On World Malaria Day

A nonprofit founder shares lessons from a tragic loss to malaria, a disease that continues to pose a threat, mostly to children.


In December 2016, I received a heartbreaking email that shook me to the core. It brought news of the passing of one of the children we were assisting on his educational journey, a victim of malaria.

Anthony* had a sponsor supporting his education. Tragically, Anthony didn’t have access to or use a mosquito net, leaving him vulnerable to the disease. His illness progressed rapidly, and despite his mother’s efforts to gather funds for hospital care, he succumbed on a Sunday night before medical help could be sought.

Reading that email, which I still hold onto today, devastated me. It forced me to confront the harsh reality that unforeseen tragedies can occur even with the noblest intentions. In our pursuit of empowering Anthony through education, the nonprofit where I work, Develop Africa, Inc., had overlooked a critical threat—malaria—which ultimately led to our failure to protect him.

While I understand that the organization wasn’t directly at fault, I couldn’t shake the feeling that more could have been done proactively. We failed to adequately account for the risks and challenges faced by our students, a sobering realization that demanded action.

Nearly every minute, a child under five dies of malaria. The preventable and treatable disease still kills hundreds of thousands of people every year, mostly children who live in sub-Saharan Africa.

In today’s world, it’s tempting to distance ourselves from such tragedies, to absolve ourselves of responsibility. Yet, we must acknowledge our interconnectedness and collective duty to care for one another. While the primary responsibility lies with the family, we cannot ignore our role in providing support and guidance.

Balancing the demands of running a nonprofit organization with the complexities of life in West Africa is undeniably challenging. Budget constraints often force us to prioritize specific outcomes, such as education, sometimes at the expense of broader considerations. However, this incident served as a wake-up call, prompting Develop Africa to reevaluate our approach and prioritize the holistic well-being of those we serve.

It’s crucial to recognize our blind spots and actively seek to address them. Just as driving a car requires constant vigilance for blind spots, so does our philanthropy work. It demands a heightened awareness of potential gaps in our efforts. We’ve since fostered a culture of listening to the communities we seek to serve, actively seeking their input and feedback to understand their needs and challenges better.

We’ve established channels for open communication between sponsors, coordinators, and students, ensuring that challenges are identified and addressed promptly. Practical measures, such as providing mosquito nets to all supported children, have been implemented to mitigate risks and safeguard their health.

Though we cannot change the past, we can learn from it. Anthony’s tragic passing compelled us to recommit ourselves to our mission with renewed compassion and determination, ensuring that no child under our care falls through the cracks again.

Support Develop Africa’s work to end malaria.


Featured Photo: Prevent Malaria in Sierra Leone with Mosquito Nets by Develop Africa, Inc.
*An alias has been used to protect family privacy.

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