Fighting Malaria

Macoumba Kandji of the Houston Dynamo (photo via Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com)

Dynamo star who overcame malaria fights for something bigger than MLS Cup, David Beckham

Nothing But Nets, a global, grassroots campaign that raises awareness and funds to fight malaria, got the kind of start not even the most talented writer could script — unless of course your name is Rick Reilly. Back in 2006, the then-Sports Illustrated columnistwent to his attentive audience and asked for help, “I’ve never asked for anything before, right? Well, sorry, I’m asking now.”

Like many, Reilly realized an imminent need for something and wanted to see just how powerful his voice was. His mission was to help kids who were dying at unprecedented numbers from malaria, a disease spread by just a single mosquito bite. A simple inexpensive net would prevent the spread of the disease and in turn save thousands of lives.

His request was simple: “Donate $20. Bang. You might have just saved a kid’s life,” was the closing line to the article, which later proved to be life changing for so many.

Statistics show that a child dies from malaria every 60 seconds. Kandji was one of the lucky ones.

Nothing But Nets (NBN) was born and the campaign has continued to remain strong, thanks in part to many folks in the sports world. One Houston athlete taking a stand is Houston Dynamo forward Macoumba Kandji.

Kandj is no stranger to the devastating disease and he is asking for help that goes far behind the game even as he prepares to play one of the biggest games of his life — the MLS Cup vs. the LA Galaxy on Saturday.

Kandji, who goes by “Mac”, volunteered to be a spokesperson for the NBN campaign because he knows firsthand the effects of malaria. At the age of 14, Mac was hospitalized for malaria. Born in Senegal and raised in Gambia, Kandji knows malaria is a sad truth for many kids growing up in those areas and throughout Africa.

Statistics show that a child dies from malaria every 60 seconds. Kandji was one of the lucky ones, not only overcoming the disease, but also becoming a professional soccer player with one MLS title already under his Adidas belt.

Macoumba Kandji of the Houston Dynamo (photo via Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com)

Having already scored four goals this season for the Dynamo, Mac is now focusing on two kinds of nets — one he hopes to kick a goal in against the star-studded LA Galaxy (you might have heard David Beckham is playing his last game for them), and another that can save the lives of millions of children throughout Africa.

‘What they [NBN] do is just amazing. I told them my story and that I wanted to help. I want to do everything I can to help the kids in Africa and protect them,” Kandji says. “They are saving lives.

“As human beings, we should all want to help and I’m asking my fans to do whatever they can to help protect kids so they don’t have to go through what I went through as a kid.”

Sobering Statistics

There are more than 200 million cases of malaria each year, and more than 600,000 of those infected die from the disease, mostly in Africa. Children under five are at greatest risk — accounting for more than 90 percent of deaths from malaria. The World Health Organization reports that half of all families in sub-Saharan Africa have at least one bed net, and malaria rates have plummeted by more than a third in the past decade.

Nothing But Nets provides everyone — from students to CEOs, bishops to basketball players — the opportunity to join the fight against malaria, a leading cause of death among children in Africa, by giving $10 to send a net and save a life.

“As human beings, we should all want to help and I’m asking my fans to do whatever they can to help protect kids so they don’t have to go through what I went through as a kid.”

“Sports is part of Nothing But Nets’ DNA,” says Chris Helfrich, director of Nothing But Nets. “Mac Kandji understands firsthand what it means to suffer from malaria. Having a soccer star like Mac spread the buzz in support of our campaign means that many more fans will join the fight against malaria and protect families in Africa from this deadly disease.

“Helping is so simple: It just takes $10 to send a net and save a life.”

While passionate and very much focused on helping NBN as an official spokesperson, Mac is also still fully focused on the championship trophy.

“Once we got in [the playoffs], we just started beating teams,” he says. “This team is really strong and deep.”

This article was featured on Culture Map, Houston’s Daily Digital Magazine in the sport’s section.