From ND to Fighting NTDs

Haiti research[7]

Emily interviews a patient with lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis) in Haiti about the psychological impact of NTDs

Emily Conron is a 2013 graduate of Notre Dame and now works for the Sabin Vaccine Institute’s Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs). She is expanding grassroot outreach through the END7 campaign, which hopes to eliminate 7 NTDs by 2020. To learn how you can contribute, see the end of this post. 

My sophomore year at Notre Dame, I acquired an awkward nickname that I have since embraced. I was at a dorm party enjoying a weekend off from classes and clubs when someone I didn’t know came up to me and said, “Hey – you’re that NTD girl, right?”

I blushed, both because a nickname including that abbreviation is awfully close to connoting a very different reputation, and because it was odd to think that I was now recognizable as “That Neglected Tropical Diseases girl” on campus. It was a moment of reckoning for me – accept this unusual new identity, or shy away from it?  I stared at my new acquaintance through the dorm party strobe lights, took a deep breath, and said, “Yep, that’s me – that NTD girl.”

My friends, of course, found this incident hilarious, and promptly created a Twitter account for me under this name. I still use that Twitter handle today – as an employee of the Global Network for Neglected Tropical DiseasesEND7 campaign. My journey from college sophomore organizing dirt cup sales to raise money for soil-transmitted helminth treatments to serving as END7’s grassroots outreach coordinator took many twists and turns, but it all started when I took Fr. Tom Streit’s Common Human Diseases class in the fall of 2009. Fr. Tom introduced NTDs to our class in a lecture one fall afternoon, and I can safely say four years later that no other lecture at Notre Dame has impacted my life more. The more I learned about NTDs – that they infect 1.4 billion of the world’s poorest people, that they perpetuate poverty by keeping children from school and adults from work, that they can be treated with safe and effective medications that are donated by pharmaceutical companies, that the overall cost of treating and protecting someone from the seven most common NTDs for a whole year is just 50¢ – the more I wanted to get involved. So, with Fr. Tom’s encouragement, I co-founded ND Fighting NTDs with five other freshmen.

bagel giveaway[8]

Emily and fellow ND Fighting NTDs officers Steph McKay and Mick McCurrie at the annual NTD Awareness Week Bagel & Brochure Giveaway

In four years, the group raised over $12,000 for NTD elimination efforts spearheaded by the Global Network and the Notre Dame Haiti Program and hosted dozens of education and advocacy events on campus. Perhaps you attended some of them, or donated a few dollars to a Dorm Mass collection during NTD Awareness Week – however you showed your support, know that it was so appreciated. Though there were moments that keeping the group going was a challenge, and I was tempted to shift my focus to other things, the incredible generosity of the Notre Dame community kept me at it. When a Sorin resident donated $100 he had collected by playing guitar on the quad during football weekends – when our club received a generous donation from a former University president who asked not to be recognized – when two dozen students gathered at the Grotto on a cold Sunday evening to say a Rosary for victims of NTDs worldwide – when Notre Dame provided financial support to allow me to travel to Haiti to research the psychological impact of NTDs. These experiences connected me to the generous spirit that pervades our University community scattered across the globe, and provided a well of support and encouragement I could draw on in difficult moments…that I still draw on in difficult moments.

ND Fighting NTDs[6]

ND Fighting NTDs members celebrate a successful NTD Awareness Week

Thank you for everything you do, as young alumni, to sustain that spirit. Thank you for the good you do in your jobs, your church community, and your volunteer activities; for the financial support you offer to causes you care about; for the kindness you show in the day-to-day work of living in this brave new world outside of the Notre Dame bubble. Thank you for making me proud to call myself a Notre Dame alumnus, for by doing so, I associate myself with people who live their lives with abundant generosity and a commitment to improving the state of the world we share.

And to the sophomore boy who christened me “That NTD Girl” at that momentous dorm party – thank you. I’ve never looked back.

(P.S. If you want to support the effort to eliminate NTDs – treatable and preventable diseases that infect 1.4 billion people worldwide – you can like END7 on Facebook, make a small donation, or start a fundraising campaign with your family and friends. Check out END7’s latest video to see the impact of our work in Kenya – and email me if you want to get your church or community group involved!)

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