Teenager Helps African Children with Cancer

An eye-opening journey to Uganda last year inspired high school freshman James Mooney to return with a plan to raise awareness for children with cancer by recruiting students to run in a colorful race.

Whether playing baseball after school in the Boston suburbs or organizing students in Africa to run a race for children with cancer, high school freshman James Mooney comes out swinging.

children with cancer. David Bangsberg, MD (far left),  James Mooney (second from left) and others observe a community health worker in Uganda.
Inside a small village home, David Bangsberg, MD (far left), James Mooney (second from left) and others observe a community health worker in Uganda.

At age 15, James toggles between life as a suburban teenager who loves sports and that of a budding global philanthropist—a mission he embraced last summer after visiting an overburdened hospital and a tiny village home of a sick child, both in Uganda.

“I’m pretty committed to Africa right now,” says James who will travel back to Uganda in June with David Bangsberg, MD, MPH, director of the Mass General Center for Global Health, to volunteer at the Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital. He’ll also visit schools with a local DJ to raise awareness for children with cancer at the hospital by encouraging students to join him running in the Uganda Color Run for Cancer in June.

Mass General’s Center for Global Health has built strong ties with the Mbarara hospital and the Mbarara University of Science and Technology by funding a masters program in medicine and by bringing Mass General clinicians to Uganda to work with their counterparts in addressing pediatric malaria, pneumonia, maternal health and other health concerns.

Family Commitment to Global Health

James developed his compassion for the underserved people of Africa by way of his parents, Lisa and Jim Mooney of Wellesley, Mass., who support the Mbarara hospital’s pediatric malnutrition clinic and an emergency medical fund to cover periodic shortages in medicine there.

“James Mooney is a remarkable young man who is already taking a leadership role in helping some of the worlds’ most vulnerable people.”

The Mooneys also support education for community health workers in Uganda. Mrs. Mooney, a member of the Mass General President’s Council, is also an important supporter of MassGeneral Hospital for Children and a trustee of the Mooney-Reed Charitable Foundation.

“The Mooney family is a wonderful example of how philanthropy plays a crucial role in promoting global health,” Dr. Bangsberg says, “I’m looking forward to traveling to Africa again with James Mooney, a remarkable young man who is already taking a leadership role in helping some of the worlds’ most vulnerable people by raising funds to support children with cancer.”

Embracing World Culture

The Mooney’s have made it a priority to expose their two teenage children, James and Catherine, to different cultures around the world. “We want them to see how great we have it here in the United States,” Mrs. Mooney says, “So eventually they will go off and become good global citizens.”

Children with Cancer.  in Uganda, children need better access to healthcare.
Children in Uganda who need better access to healthcare are an inspiration for the Mooney family’s support.

Last summer in Uganda, James, Catherine and Mrs. Mooney witnessed the vast gulf in resources that divides the American healthcare system from its counterpart in a developing country like Uganda. On their first morning, they visited the pediatric malnutrition clinic. The small room was filled to capacity with beds and mattresses. Small, undernourished children lay listless.

“Just seeing all those small children who needed help,” James says, triggered a growing awareness as he watched parents learning basic feeding and nutrition skills from the hospital staff.

A few days later, the Mooneys traveled to a remote village, driving up a mountain road and walking a dirt path to arrive at a tiny hut where a mother was waiting with a sick child. Inside the one-room home papered with newspaper, they watched a community health worker examine and test the child for signs of illness.

“It was pretty intense to watch,” James says, “We were all packed in there while the health worker administered these tests on the child.”

The diagnosis was pneumonia and possibly other afflictions. The experience triggered the Mooneys’ decision to help fund training for more community health workers to travel to remote areas where there is little access to hospitals and health clinics.

James Mooney, 15, is working to raise awareness and funding for pediatric cancer in Uganda.
James Mooney, 15, is working to raise awareness and funding for pediatric cancer in Uganda.

Raising Awareness for Children with Cancer

In June, James is heading back to recruit students to run in the 5K Uganda Color Run for Cancer and raise awareness and funding for children with cancer—a condition that often goes underdiagnosed and undertreated in Africa, where infectious disease draws more attention and resources.

He will also help the hospital set up a database to help keep track of patient health records.

Relaxing at home after baseball practice recently with his mother and pet beagle, Missy, James thought ahead about his life. “I’m not sure what I want to do, maybe economics. I also like physics,” James says. But about one thing he sounds certain: he plans to take on a growing family role in fundraising and charitable giving. “I’d like to pick my own causes and charities that I’m interested in giving to,” he says. Already, he has raised nearly $20,000 for the Uganda Color Run for Cancer, a great start for a young philanthropist.

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