Houston Dynamo forward Macoumba “Mac” Kandji, 27, is excited to be part of Nothing But Nets night at this Saturday’s Major League Soccer game between the Dynamo and the Philadelphia Union. The United Nations Foundation’s Nothing But Nets campaign has joined forces with athletes from the very beginning, partnering with MLS W.O.R.K.S. to reach new audiences in the fight against malaria.
Born in Senegal and raised in Gambia, Mac understands better than most the effect malaria can have on families: Mac was hospitalized with the disease when he was fourteen.
“In my case I was very lucky,” he said. “I thought I was going to die.”
With a father and uncle who played professional soccer, Mac started kicking a ball as soon as he could walk; he and his friends would play in the street, barefoot. “Gambia had a lot of mosquitoes,” Mac said, “especially at nighttime, we’re outside playing, you know, with friends. You can get bitten.”
At school, Mac had felt sick for days. His fever got worse, and he kept throwing up. Finally, the school told Mac’s aunt, whom he lived with, to get him to the hospital. It was summer in Gambia, and people with fevers were often suspected to have malaria. There, Mac says, malaria is just a way of life. “It was very common, not only among my friends, just in the neighborhood. Every time someone’s sick, it’s just like, ‘He has malaria.’”
Mac wasn’t alone in the hospital—his 28-year-old cousin Abdou was there with malaria at the same time, bitten while working in his shop.
“It’s not like something people talk about—just something that happens.”
A harrowing week and a half later, Mac was back in school, lucky to have access to modern malaria treatment.
Not every kid, Mac says, is so fortunate. “This disease, it kills,” he said. “A lot of kids are losing their lives.”
That’s why the work of the United Nations Foundation’s Nothing But Nets campaign to distribute life-saving bed nets to families is critical, said Mac, who plans to join the Gambian national soccer team next year in its 2014 World Cup bid.
“It’s amazing helping other people outside the U.S., especially with this terrible disease,” he said of sending nets and saving lives. “I just want everybody to help and do everything they can.”