BY ANNA ZALOKOSTAS
February 21, 2008
Typical Swarthmore: Mark Dlugash ’08, an Honors psychology and education major, manages to find an open time slot in his hour-by-hour, day-by-day overscheduled schedule to pencil in “save the world.” Recently named a 2008 Academic All-Star by USA Today, Dlugash is one of 20 undergraduates whom the newspaper honored for both their academic excellence and their contributions to society.
“I was very surprised [to receive the award],” Dlugash said. “I didn’t expect it because a lot of people apply. I thought that maybe I’d get onto the second- or third-teams or on the list of honorable mentions, but I didn’t at all expect to get chosen for the first-team.”
USA Today singled out Dlugash partly because of the anti-malaria campaign he helps run through the Global Health Forum, an organization that he co-founded with Athena Samaras ’07. According to Swarthmore’s Student Activities Web site, the Global Health Forum is a non-partisan, educational organization that raises awareness of global health issues, such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, poverty and violence against women. The group’s current project is an anti-malaria campaign that seeks to raise awareness of malaria in Uganda and to fundraise for its treatment and prevention.
Dlugash realized the extent of the malaria epidemic in Africa when he attended a malaria conference that was sponsored by Americans for Informed Democracy. At the conference he learned sobering statistics such as the fact that every 30 seconds, one child under five dies from malaria in Africa.
After the conference, Dlugash knew that he wanted to work on a malaria prevention project and, after asking around and doing some research, accompanied Katie Camillus ’08 on a trip to Uganda. In Uganda, Dlugash spoke with the mothers of children who were suffering from malaria. Although he had initially intended to interview the children themselves, he realized, upon arriving in Uganda, that they were much too sick for that. “I didn’t realize that that was what it was going to be like,” Dlugash said.
Still, the trip was very important to him. “I wanted to take stories back since not everyone can go to Africa, or can go to a place that’s having a lot of difficulties. Once you see it first hand, it radicalizes you a little bit and makes you feel like you need to fix this. I thought that bringing stories back would be one way to get people involved, even if they don’t have a chance to go there themselves,” Dlugash said.
The combination of the conference and the trip to Uganda opened Dlugash’s eyes and spurred him to action: he and Samaras, who had also attended the conference, decided to start a chapter of Americans for Informed Democracy at Swarthmore and started hosting events on campus. Eventually, Dlugash and Samaras decided to focus their efforts on global health issues.
“We thought it would be cool to start our own organization and have a place on campus for people to talk about major global international health problems, and that malaria was something we could focus on,” Dlugash said. “Malaria is so inexpensive to treat and prevent. If everyone in the area uses bed nets, it completely kills the mosquitoes and drastically reduces malaria.”
Dlugash has big plans for the anti-malaria campaign. He intends to use the $2,500 that he will receive from USA Today to try to make the campaign sustainable.
“There are 10,000 people in the Acholi Quarter of Uganada. That means that we need to find sources of funding to fund 10,000 bed nets every 5 years,” Dlugash said. “Ultimately, the goal for Global Health Forum is to have it be a non-profit in the world, and to get funding from difference sources, and to apply for grants from different sources, but to be based at Swarthmore,” he added.
After graduating, Dlugash plans to travel to Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania: in Ethiopia, he intends to work with an organization that is concerned with HIV/AIDS advocacy; in Uganda, he wants to do a follow-up for the bed net program; and in Tanzania, he plans on working with a particular orphanage with which one of his acquaintances was once involved. Dlugash stated that in the long run, he would like to go into public service and study human rights law.
While Dlugash says that he doesn’t think of himself as an activist or an idealist, there’s no doubt that his vision for the future is one that is rooted in the principles of idealism. Still, the very real difference that his anti-malaria campaign has produced makes the ideals that Dlugash works toward seem more and more like a practical possibility rather than a hard-to-reach dream, as does the work of the other 19 USA Today Academic All-Stars.
If nothing else, these remarkable undergraduates show us that Swarthmore’s particular brand of idealism, though sometimes construed as unrealistic, is happening all around us.