Compassion “Nets” Results
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Posted by: Temple
Collegiate Phi Kap Puts Country on His Shoulders
By Stephen Lee
"In a village less than two miles from the hospital, I was out taking photographs when I came across two children who appeared to be siblings. I was shocked to notice the brother laying on the ground writhing in pain, while his younger sister sobbed next to him. Frantic, I yelled for a nurse to examine the boy, only to find out that the child had the symptoms for cerebral malaria. When I asked the nurse what could be done, she shook her head somberly and said the boy’s condition was too severe for simple medicinal treatment. As I sat next to the boy, I felt so much sorrow because there was nothing that we could do, but pray for him. It was so heart breaking to think that a simple mosquito net could’ve protected the boy.”
The recollection above is from Albert Yu (RPI, ‘14), a proud member of Phi Kappa Theta Fraternity. Albert is a junior studying biology at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The helpless feeling that Albert described is not known by many in this Land of the Free. We are blessed to have some of the best medical treatment options available, with medical help only a phone call, video chat or short drive away.
So what about that little boy? Malaria got to him. It spread to his brain. All that could be done was keep him company as he struggled towards death. But wait, that hospital was less than two miles away. That’s practically walking distance! And there was a nurse who came to his aid! Are you telling me that something as archaic as malaria, which has basically been conquered in America, couldn’t have been treated?
Well, this tragedy didn’t take place in the USA. It took place in Africa, where a fierce war is being waged against malaria.
Although Albert was unable to help the little boy that day, he returned to America with a mission. He has since founded an organization called "LifeNets”, in hopes of fighting (and someday eradicating) malaria through prevention and education. This organization is entirely made up of college students, who utilize their ambition and heart to make up for their lack of experience. And although Albert is the CEO, he will be the first to tell you that he’s learning as he goes.
The lowdown on Malaria
Malaria is caused by a parasite that is transferred from human to human by mosquitoes. This parasite lives inside red blood cells and can eventually stop blood flow to vital organs. When organs die, people die. Infected people become afflicted with high fevers, shaking chills, headache, vomiting and a permanently weakened immune system. In more severe cases the consequences are brain infection and bleeding, kidney and liver failure, meningitis, respiratory failure, seizures, coma and eventually, death.
Those at greatest risk are young children (who have not yet developed a strong protective immunity), pregnant women, and those who are HIV/AIDS positive. In many parts of the world, the parasites have developed resistance to a number of malaria medicines, which are already very expensive and difficult to store. (Health information courtesy of the World Health Organization and Lancet Journal).
The following is an interview with Albert Yu, the founder of LifeNets Foundation.
What you are doing is quite unusual for a college student. How have you been able to juggle schoolwork, fraternity life and leading the organization?
I’m not going to lie… it’s been extremely tough at times. However, my family, fraternity brothers, friends and teammates have been extremely helpful in motivating, supporting and aiding me. I’m 100% sure I could not have done any of this without all of their help.
Describe your organization
Life Nets is a non-profit organization that strives to fight malaria in Malawi, Africa. Like similar organizations, we distribute insecticide treated mosquito nets as our primary intervention strategy. However, what makes us different is the fact that we educate our recipients about malaria and how to use our nets, and we distribute nets that are safer and stronger.
How many paid employees are on your staff?
Zero. They are all volunteering their time.
What possessed you to visit Africa in the first place?
In the summer of 2011, I jumped on the opportunity to intern with a friend (Jun) to research HIV/AIDS interventions in Malawi, Africa. I had no idea what to expect. All I knew is that I wanted to be exposed to issues regarding poverty and disease.
What did you do during your internship?
The project was called "Project Malawi”. We were studying under an older figure, Booyuel Kim, a PhD candidate at Columbia University. We participated in outreaches and lived on hospital grounds at Dae Yang Luke Hospital. This allowed us to directly interact with the sick and come face to face with issues of poverty.
Tell me more about your most valuable weapon in the fight against malaria
Our nets are safer, more user friendly and durable than those distributed by other organizations. Our nets are conical shaped, making them easier to set up and maintain. Also, our nets have insecticide that is infused into the poly-ethylene material. This makes it safer to the touch for humans, but very effective in repelling mosquitoes.
And what is the lifespan of one of your nets?
They are guaranteed to last for at least 5 years. It’s amazing what $12 can do!
As founder and CEO, what is your ultimate goal, and can it be accomplished?
Malaria is a complicated disease heavily tied in with poverty. My ultimate goal is to work side by side with the Malawi people to eradicate malaria and perhaps even help to improve their living conditions. Although, right now our goal is to distribute as many nets and educate as many recipients as possible. In the future, I would like to push for long-term solutions for fighting malaria by helping Malawians improve their overall state of health and well-being. Most Malawians live an agriculture lifestyle, but are restricted to the 2-3 months of rain. This lack of water restricts growth of crops resulting in families not having enough. In the future, we would like to dig wells to give farmers access to a source of water all year long. This will allow for more food to grow and thus promote health and better well-being to fight off malaria.
How did you select the members of your organizational team?
I knew that a successful non-profit organization needed to be composed of passionate and motivated team members who shared a vision and fulfilled their roles. So for each role that needed to be filled, I approached different crowds of people where I thought I could find good matches. For example, to find my event directors I looked towards people involved in Greek life who have planned philanthropy events in the past.
How has your experience as a brother of Phi Kappa Theta prepared you?
While being a proud brother of Phi Kappa Theta, I’ve learned how to be social and interact with a great variety of people.
What have the Phi Kap brothers at RPI and elsewhere done to support you and your organization?
There is a small group of Phi Kap brothers at RPI that have always supported me through encouragement and the organization through participation. However, recently more brothers of the house have started to support the organization and me.
What are the strengths of your organization?
There are many non-profit organizations that distribute mosquito nets to combat malaria. However, not all of those organizations distribute mosquito nets that are user friendly and not all of those organizations provide education that is crucial in motivating recipients to actually use the nets.
Our organization not only distributes the best quality mosquito nets that are conical in-shape and thus extremely user-friendly, but we also focus on educating our recipients about malaria and the importance of using the nets.
Our methods have been successful in getting our recipients to understand more about this disease and persuading them to sleep under nets for their protection.
What are the biggest challenges faced by your organization?
The biggest challenge stems from the fact that we are a student run non-profit organization. Because we are all busy with family, relationships, schoolwork and other activities/work, it’s difficult for us to spend enough time to fundraise and campaign for our organization. As a result, we are not growing as much as we’d like to help more people.
Are there any major donors that deserve recognition?
My parents, Greek Life at Cornell University and RPI students have been extremely supportive with funding our project that took place last summer.
This year, Greek Life at RPI has supported us from time to time.
Can you leave us with lessons learned in your real-world experience with your organization?
Please visit www.givenets.org for more information about this worthy cause.
- When I first started this organization I thought I would have a lot of support. However, I quickly found out that there are many struggles emotionally and physically in working for a cause. I’ve learned to understand people when they are discouraging.
- While running this organization I’ve learned how to better multitask, effectively listen to people, work with people, organize events, place people in different roles and present in public.
Read this story and many more from the Spring 2013 issue of the Temple Magazine.
1st Image: Phi Kaps Care Logo
2nd Image: Albert Yu visiting with children in Malawi, Africa.
3rd Image: Albert Yu, pictured under the net, demonstrates how to set up a net and how to sleep under one.
4th Image: Albert Yu with all of the intern-team members that went with him.
5th Image: The LifeNets website.