As bets go, odds are good that Dante Vasquez was the only honorary Ghanaian chief living in Las Vegas.
As such, the ’03 grad served as the director of operations at Organizing for America in Nevada, where he supported President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign. Sin City was the latest stop on Vasquez’s mission to “burn bad karma on a diplomatic level,” which began soon after he collected his degree in political science. Vegas was not exactly on his radar at that time—instead he’d opted for global adventure, trekking through Bangkok, backpacking across Asia, and learning Chinese.
Ultimately he found his way to Africa and honorary chiefdom as a warrior fighting to eradicate disease in Ghana and Sudan.
“He knows he needs to give back to the world more than he takes,” says Jim Secreto, a friend and fellow U-M alumnus, who met Vasquez as a freshman in West Quad. Together, they’ve road-tripped across the U.S. as well as through Tibet.
The road to political organizer began in the West African country of Burkina Faso, where Vasquez stopped to visit his friend Michael Humes, a Peace Corps volunteer. There, he encountered both a cause and an organizational challenge that would change his life. On a side trip to Mali he and Humes met a director from the Carter Center, the Atlanta-based humanitarian organization founded by former President Jimmy Carter and former First Lady Rosalyn Carter. Vasquez was inspired by the Carter Center’s efforts to eradicate the horrific water-borne parasite known as Guinea worm from the local population.
The parasite is transmitted by ingesting water from ponds harboring a flea that carries the worm’s larvae. As it matures, the female Guinea worm, which can grow to three feet long and the width of a piece of spaghetti, burrows through the host’s muscles and around bones, ultimately emerging through a skin blister approximately one year after ingestion. There are no successful medicines or vaccines, and the excruciatingly painful removal process can take months.
Motivated to make a difference, Vasquez moved to Ghana in 2006, where he worked as the Carter Center’s technical adviser for the country. For more than two years, he lived side by side with local villagers, doing everything possible to eradicate Guinea worm, from working with patients on managing individual cases to supervising a network of volunteers and paid staff in five districts endemic with the disease. Program volunteers assisted with disease surveillance, reporting cases or suspect cases before the worms emerged, in order to break the cycle of transmission.