Every morning at 6am, Wesley Oliveira says goodbye to his wife and six dogs to travel to work in Rio de Janeiro. It’s a 2-hour trip along a dangerous route – theft and robbery, accidents and traffic jams are frequent. Why does he do it? Because he believes he is contributing to a healthier world for the next generation.
Wesley has been a member of the World Mosquito Program's Community Engagement team in Brazil for two years and is responsible for carrying out educational and scientific outreach activities in schools, health units, residents' associations and other public spaces in Rio de Janeiro and Niterói.
Wesley believes that community engagement is an essential element of the World Mosquito Program's work, to ensure the program has public acceptance and support to release mosquitoes to reduce the transmission of mosquito-borne diseases. For him, engaging is not about convincing the community.
"It is working together to improve health in that neighbourhood, in the city," he says.
Over the last three years, since the large-scale expansion in the municipalities of Rio and Niterói began, the community engagement team in Brazil has carried out over 1600 community activities involving more than 200,000 people directly.
At the end of the activities, children can visit the World Mosquito Program facilities in Rio de Janeiro and learn about the entire process of rearing mosquitoes with the safe and natural Wolbachia bacteria. It was during one of those visits that Wesley had a striking experience. A girl from Maré – a favela of about 130,000 inhabitants located next to the World Mosquito Program insectary, visited the facility and told him:
"Thank you very much. Now I see that I can one day work here. I can be a scientist."
On this day, with pride and a sense of accomplishment, Wesley drove home, stuck in a traffic jam for three hours. But he was in no hurry. He knew that day had been worth it.
The World Mosquito Program's area of operation in these Brazilian cities covers almost one and a half million inhabitants. Wesley, along with his teammates, visited most of the public schools in this area. That’s about 300 schools. The team trained teachers, interacted with students and made science outreach through the Wolbachia method. Thinking that he is helping the population by promoting health and bringing science where it would not normally reach, is very important for Wesley.
"And when I think about it in relation to more vulnerable territories, like favelas, then I understand that this is where I have to be, which is why it's worth waking up every day."
Learn more about our work in Brazil.