Project MEEM (Mosquitoes to Educate and Empower Malagasy) kids
How it started
With ongoing studies to understand the impacts of deforestation on mosquito-borne diseases in Madagascar, we recently launched an ongoing science outreach program for children ages 6-12 in collaboration with Menja Rabaoarivola, the lead Medical Entomologist on our team in Madagascar. The idea came about when we realized that so much global effort was being put in place to control mosquito vectors and prevent mosquito-borne diseases, but the people in the communities that malaria affects the most were not being involved in these conversations.
Young bright minds
While capturing mosquitoes in Ambodiaviavy a few years ago, one of our mosquito traps broke. You see, the problem with big mosquito traps is that they often require heavy batteries to power fans and lights. I remembered reading about a Grand Challenge from the Gates Foundation. The challenge was to build a mosquito trap that was low-cost, did not require electricity, and was easy to make/deploy. That is when we met a 9 yr old girl named Zoazy. She was really curious about our trapping efforts and joined us when we sampled mosquito larvae from the rice paddies. She was fascinated when she learned that those little squigglers turned into full blown mosquitoes. She wanted to show everyone! She even kept one in a tube, hoping to watch it emerge into a mosquito so she could see what it would look like.
Zoazy was bright, motivated, and excited by mosquito research,
so we showed her our broken mosquito trap, how it was supposed to work, and what she would do if confronted with the problem. Like a budding scientist, she began chatting with other kids in the village and trying to strategize the best way to make a trap. She tried making her own trap out of materials found in the village. She even made a fan and tried powering it with fermenting fruit that had been tossed. We were so inspired by her approaches!
What we do
Since then, we have used mosquitoes as a model to teach vector biology in the villages we work in, and provide opportunities for children to apply what they learned and share their most innovative ideas. The goal is to teach these children about science and empower them to foster their creativity and take on global challenges that have the potential to improve lives within their communities, nationally, and internationally.
Cool tools we’ve gotten to use
This year, we had the opportunity to collaborate with the Foldscope project in collaboration with the Prakash Lab and Stanford University and had the opportunity to bring these origami microscopes with us during our Project MEEM activities! With this incredible, waterproof paper microscope, we were able to show the children the microscopic world of vector biology!
As an activity, we gave each child a slide and asked them to go out into the world and make a slide of whatever they wanted. Then, when they came back they could look at it under the Foldscope and describe and show it to their friends. From ticks to flowers to ants, to scabs, the kids brought anything and everything. The results: incredibly wide-eyed children with a new passion for Microbiology. It was amazing!