Wednesday, November 6, 2013

My International Roundtable Experience

Sonia Shah and Riccardo Maddalozzo at the International Roundtable 

When my friend Kayleigh asked me to organize the malaria workshop for the International Roundtable, I immediately said yes. Although malaria was the theme of the workshop, it obviously needed a focus since discussing the disease as a whole in an hour would have been impossible.
Initially I was unsure about which aspect of this problematic disease I wanted to focus on. At the time I was in Sri Lanka working for an NGO and visiting friends. One night I was invited to dinner at the home of a man whose father was a retired provincial director of the Sri Lankan Ministry of Health’s anti-malaria program. After dinner he told me how malaria had been nearly eliminated from the country, with no indigenous cases reported since 2012. This fact triggered a question: “Why has malaria disappeared from some countries and not from others?”
That seemed like a great topic for the workshop and the Institute for Global Citizenship (IGC) agreed. The next step was to find a speaker willing to share how Sri Lanka managed to achieve such a tremendous success in reducing malaria. The head of the World Health Organization’s Sri Lanka office directed me to Dr. Risintha Premaratne, the current deputy director of the Ministry of Health’s anti-malaria campaign, who enthusiastically agreed to record an interview for us to screen at the workshop, despite his busy schedule.
Sonia Shah
Meanwhile, the IGC staff told me that Sonia Shah, a renowned investigative journalist and author in the field of malaria, had agreed to join my workshop along with geography professor Eric Carter, who has worked intensively in the field. The combination of speakers was perfect because it included the input of a physician, a journalist, and a geographer. In addition, the three speakers represented a variety of geographical areas—Asia, Africa and Latin America)—allowing the audience to understand how the disease varies with location and the carrying parasite.
Before the workshop, I recorded the interview with Dr. Premaratne. I was concerned that the Internet would not be my side, since the connection from Bangladesh—where he was then located—was extremely limited. Fortunately, it worked, and I was then tasked with cutting a 40-minute video down to a 10-minute one. I spent a lot of time editing the video, trying to keep the most crucial content.
When the day of the presentation finally came, I was really nervous. Because this was one of the first times I had ever spoken in front of a large audience, I was afraid I would panic. After the first few minutes, however, I gained confidence and things started to go smoothly. Sonia Shah’s discussion of the sociopolitical factors behind the burden of malaria in Africa and Eric Carter’s presentation of the way different types of malaria are treated as one ensured me that the audience would have many questions for the speakers.
It was thrilling to see how many students and parents (for it was Family Weekend at Mac) were highly engaged in the discussion. Time went by really fast and soon it was  over. Initially I didn’t know how well the program had been received, but soon I was receiving positive feedback from both participants and audience members, and I began to understand that my work had paid off. It felt great to get so much encouragement; it definitely boosted my self-confidence.
I am grateful to have been able to take part in this event. As a person passionate about public health, it provided me with great insights into this fascinating field, it allowed me to make connections, and it taught me skills that will be useful in the future. I would encourage any student interested in international issues to participate in organizing future International Roundtables. It requires a lot of energy and commitment, but it is also a rewarding experience not easily forgotten.

Riccardo Maddalozzo '15, Arsie, Italy 
Major: International Studies
Concentration: Community and Global Health

Katherine Ehrenreich '14 and Marlys Mandaville '15, Global Health, oil on canvas, 2013 (detail)