Local teen recognized for helping Ugandans fight malaria
Five years after she and her sisters began a nonprofit that would raise thousands of dollars to protect thousands of youth from malaria, Build-a-Bear Workshop is recognizing Madelyn McGlynn, 17, with as one of its Huggable Heroes.
McGlynn, of Belleville, helped start NETwork Against Malaria when she was 12. The NETwork donates bed nets to impoverished people in Uganda.
Build-a-Bear says it recognizes Huggable Heroes every year, seeking out youths from 9 to 18 who have performed exceptional community service and inspired others. The organizations each receive a $2,500 grant and the heroes get a $7,500 scholarship.
“They inspire thousands of kids through the stories they’re telling and the help that they provide to other kids to move them along the path of giving back,” Build-a-Bear spokeswoman Jill Saunders said.
McGlynn, who goes to Althoff Catholic High School, is the first St. Louis area winner.
“Madelyn really kind of amazed us because she identified a very important need in third world countries and a problem that exists, which is malaria,” Saunders said. “She came up with a very creative and fundamentally simple idea -- I think that the best ideas often are these simple solutions -- and then she made that happen. Not only did she make that happen, but she shared that information and how she did that with thousands of other volunteers.”
After meeting with a Uganda priest, McGlynn said she began to realize the devastation of a disease she hadn’t been aware of before, malaria. The priest, who runs an all-girls school in Uganda, opened her eyes to the issues that follow the disease.
"We were asking him about his schools and about the troubles that he faced teaching girls,” she said. "He said that malaria was actually a huge problem because the kids would miss about 60 days of school a year due to [it]. After they miss so much school, it's really hard and they fall behind and then they can't keep up.”
The priest’s story inspired the family of five sisters to help women and children halfway around the world. Through education, they hope Ugandans can escape a cycle of poverty.
“If the mosquito can't bite the people, then the people don't get malaria,” McGlynn said. “So if the people have insecticide-treated bed nets, then the mosquitos can't get them and they don't get malaria.”
She said bed nets cost about $10 -- much less than the cost of medication for malaria, which is about $60. For Ugandans though, both of those amounts are enormous.
“It's an incredible drain of income for them, [income] that they don't have,” she said. “They cannot provide them for themselves, so they need help. That was when we decided we would start raising money and distributing bed nets.”
McGlynn set out to raise money to provide those bed nets and has raised more than $100,000 so far, according to NETwork’s website.
The organization has no plans of slowing down, McGlynn said, but she hopes that some day it won’t be needed.
“Our huge goal -- we have kind of an insane objective -- is we want to eradicate malaria from the world,” she said. “I don't think that's something that will be done any time soon, but we're definitely going to try."