Montana State University

MSU joins Mali villagers in fight against malaria

March 17, 2008 -- By Evelyn Boswell, MSU News Service


Ada Giusti talks with children in a Mali village. Photo courtesy of Ada Giusti).   High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
msunews@montana.edu
BOZEMAN -- Montana State University students and faculty returned to west Africa this month to join villagers who want to eradicate malaria.

A$462,000 grant from the USDA-CSREES Higher Education Challenge Grant Program allowed five MSU students, two MSU faculty members, a Helena school teacher and a student at Chief Dull Knife College to spend two weeks in Mali as part of an on-going partnership with the village of Sanambele, said grant recipient and MSU entomologist Florence Dunkel.

While in Sanambele, MSU senior Eva Mends is sharing her findings on the effectiveness of four native plants that the villagers use to fight malaria, Dunkel said. Mends, a Helena native majoring in biomedical sciences and French, interviewed the villagers and collected the plants on her last visit. She tested the plants back at MSU, using an organism called "Toxoplasma gondii."

"I want to go to give my results to the people that helped me gather them," Mends said before leaving for Mali. "I love learning from the villagers about Mali and speaking to them in French."

Mends said she would work in conjunction with Jane Mends, who is her mother and a French teacher in Helena. Besides sharing the results of her study, the two are teaching Mali students about Montana and learning about Mali. Jane Mends has a grant so students in Helena and Mali can exchange letters.

Also in Mali, MSU students Kelsey L. Meyer of Fargo, N.D., and Megan Matzick, a French major from Bozeman, are working with the village women on a business plan to sell handmade goods and products to buy mosquito netting. One of those products is butter made out of shea nuts. Meyer is majoring in French and minoring in international business.

"I have been given this amazing opportunity to help make a difference in the lives of others, and I'm positive it will change my life, as well," Meyer said.

Art student Alonzo Antonucci is organizing an educational poster contest at the local school, Dunkel said. Jaime Jelenchick, owner of Partnership Productions and a student in MSU's Science and Natural History Filmmaking program, is filming a Native American woman from Montana as she interacts with the villagers.

Gloria A. Zerber -- a grandmother and Northern Cheyenne Indian who attends Chief Dull Knife College -- said she was struck by the similarities to her culture when she visited Mali last year. In a recent phone interview, Zerber said the Creator gave shea nuts to the Mali women and buffalo to the Northern Cheyenne as healing agents. The Mali women, like the Northern Cheyenne, look to the stars and seers to know when to plant and harvest their crops, she said. They have special songs they sing while gardening.

Dunkel said she plans to air the documentary on "Terra: The Nature of Our World" and hopes it will run on the Public Broadcasting Service.

MSU faculty members involved in the Mali project are Cliff Montagne and Ada Giusti. An associate professor of French, Giusti taught a seminar on Mali culture and literature for the MSU students traveling to Mali. Being fluent in French and having that knowledge allow them to be more than tourists, said Giusti who is now in Mali.

Montagne, associate professor in land resources and environmental science, didn't go to Mali this time, but he instructed the students who did go. Montagne specializes in holistic management and taught the students how to combine problem-solving methods to address real situations.

Dunkel said everyone involved in the Mali project practices the "art of listening-to-and-not-leading farmers, putting subsistence farmers in the driver's seat and valuing traditional wisdom." Villagers come up with ideas for eradicating malaria, and she finds ways to assist them, Dunkel explained. She added that the villagers told her two years ago that malaria was their number one problem. The mosquito-borne disease was killing their children and adding to poverty by keeping adults out of the field.

"It (eradication) sounds like it would be a big impossible thing to do, but it really is possible and they can do it themselves," Dunkel said.

Besides the trip to Mali, the three-year grant will pay for two subsistence farmers to come to MSU this spring, Dunkel said. It allows six institutions, including MSU, to develop courses on global poverty, particularly rural poverty. Partner schools areVirginia Tech, the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, the University of California-Davis, University of California-Riverside, and Chief Dull Knife College in Lame Deer.

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or evelynb@montana.edu