Q&A: How One U.S. Citizen Is Fighting Malaria In Africa

Q&A: How One U.S. Citizen Is Fighting Malaria In Africa

Heritage, family and service played major roles in the life of Bronx-born Osas Ighodaro.

Of Nigerian descent, Ighodaro is spending her time and efforts to rid impoverished African communities of malaria and bring clean water to those areas. She launched Joyful Joy Foundation (JJF) with these goals in mind.

Sounds like a hefty mission, but Ighodaro says she’s determined to succeed. Ighodaro graduated from Pennsylvania State University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in broadcast journalism and dual minor degrees in entrepreneurship and theatre. She went on to earn a Masters of Fine Arts in acting from the Actor’s Studio Drama School at Pace University.

Ighodaro, who won Miss Black USA in 2010, continues to act in various theatre productions and work as a model. But at the forefront is the Joyful Joy Foundation.

Ighodaro created the nonprofit in honor of her sister Joy Ighodaro, who contracted malaria during a trip to Nigeria while pregnant in 2006. Joy later died. Now Ighodaro wants to do all she can to make sure others don’t die of malaria.

She founded JJF with Sioux Greaux in May 2012. Ighodaro uses her connections in the arts world to fundraise. The organization participates is such events as Laugh Fest to encourage involvement, raise money, create awareness and to fund such JJF initiatives as Adopt-a-Clinic.

AFK Insider: You started the foundation in honor of your sister. Why was it so important for you to start the foundation?

Osas Ighodaro: As a young child I always knew the importance of giving back to communities; those both far and wide. Most of my life, I’ve done what I could to support numerous grassroots organizations. In 2006, my family experienced the painful loss of my sister. Her untimely passing was due to malaria. I didn’t want her death to be in vain and instead, I choose to celebrate her life. Joyful Joy was founded in her honor, to spread more joy and be of service towards reducing mortality rates for preventable disease in African countries.

As a young woman, I’ve been blessed with various opportunities. These have allowed me the ability to speak and be heard by wide audiences. I am happy to utilize platforms afforded to me, so that I can support communities of people who struggle to have their voices and needs heard by mainstream society.

AFK Insider: You were former Miss Black USA. How did you start running a non-profit?

Osas Ighodaro: I am passionate about being of service to those in need and I am passionate about the arts. Pageantry provided a spotlight and a platform from which I could speak and be heard by many. Naturally, I utilized this outlet to raise awareness about malaria in hopes of eradicating the disease. I envisioned founding a nonprofit to become more strongly involved with working to significantly reduce mortality rates associated with preventative disease. Along with Co-Founder Sioux Greaux who supported my vision and shares an equal passion to the growth and development of JJF, the creation of the Joyful Joy Foundation came to fruition and is destined to play a strong role in supporting positive change. I’m grateful and humbled to be in the position I am in with Joyful Joy and for the continuous support and shared vision of the JJF Team and communities of supporters.

AFK Insider: How costly is it to run the nonprofit?

Osas Ighodaro: Running any business can be quite costly. However, with the continued support of our team and supporters, we have been able to keep costs down, allowing funds that are raised to directly support initiatives of JJF.

AFK Insider:  Have you gotten any support from the American or Nigerian governments?

Osas Ighodaro: From the beginning, Senator Kevin Parker invested his time and energy to support the successful Launch of JJF in New York. He continues to show his support, for which we are sincerely appreciative. We have communicated with officials in Nigeria and will be meeting with ministers of health and other political officials to assist us in carrying out an Adopt-A-Clinic program in Nigeria.

AFK Insider: How has fundraising been going?

Osas Ighodaro: Joyful Joy Foundation presented its inaugural Laugh Fest stand-up comedy fundraiser which was very successful. Laugh Fest featured extremely talented, nationally acclaimed comedians that included Capone, Michael Blackson, and Smokey Suarez. Several other comedians also graced the JJF stage for a good cause.

We have already opened up dialogue with various organizations to present exciting presentations and events that will be launched in 2014. Later this year, we will launch JJF in Africa. Stay tuned for more to come.

AFK Insider: Why did you decide to have the arts tie-in for fundraising?

Osas Ighodaro: As a young child, my sister and I enjoyed the arts very much. Part of the development of JJF was to bridge the arts with philanthropy. It’s a great way to connect with the public. It supports JJF in raising needed funds and it helps to “spread more joy,” which is what the Joyful Joy Foundation is all about.

AFK Insider: Some of the solutions for malaria seem simple, such as nets for the beds. Why has it been difficult to help eradicate it?

Osas Ighodaro: Bed nets are simply not enough. Malaria remains a public health threat to more than 600 million Africans and will continue to spread unless more attention is given to positively change all of the factors that contribute to someone being compromised by the disease. There are many factors which must be addressed to eradicate the disease, which include: Stagnant water and sanitation, access to clean water and food for a strong immune system, economic prosperity, education on the disease, prevention and early detection, access to standard malaria vaccines, simply acknowledging the scope of the problem.

AFK Insider:  How much progress would you say you have made?

Osas Ighodaro: The Joyful Joy Foundation launched in May of 2012, with overwhelming support from the public, seated officials and corporate America. We just celebrated our one-year anniversary and during this time we have been working to raise awareness and funds for our cause. We have generated a strong buzz from the grassroots level that has reached a wide audience and is continuing to grow. We now have strong allies in New York, as well as with stakeholders in Nigeria where we will soon be launching our first initiative.

AFK Insider: What are your goals for this year?

Osas Ighodaro: We are presently preparing to launch JJF in Africa and have various sponsors that are eager to support us. We are also working strongly to fully lay out the program for our Adopt-a-Clinic program that will be launched in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. To properly carry out our program, we have established a dialogue and will be meeting with government officials and ministries of health in Nigeria to figure out where our donations will go to help those in need. We are also working on launching JJF in Nigeria later this year to bring awareness of who we are and the impact we plan to make.

AFK Insider: What are the long-term goals for JJF?

Osas Ighodaro: We want to continuously spread our mission and vision of sustainably transforming lives one community at a time throughout the continent of Africa, to positively impact the world. Our long-term goals include building clinics and schools and offering economic development programs and programs that facilitate greater access to food and clean water. Each one of these initiatives is vital to support continued overall health and wellness of individuals and paramount to eradicate preventable disease, like malaria.

AFK Insider: I know the effort is broad-based but are you tackling the issues country by country? Is Nigeria your main focus?

Osas Ighodaro: Nigeria is where we will begin to focus our efforts. It is where my family is from and where my sister passed away. However the JJF mission and vision will be carried out throughout the continent of Africa; spreading more joy, raising funds and being of help to those in need.

AFK Insider: How much of a difference do you think you can make?

Osas Ighodaro: Edward Everett Hale said: “I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything; but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”

While we don’t expect to change all of the inequities that we see in the world, we will band together with others and we will help to spread more joy and positively change the lives for a significant number of people. A positive impact can be realized by simply saving one life. We are confident that our efforts will save many lives and support positive change and development, which will lead to communities of people enjoying a greater quality of life.