Last year Alvaro Barbera, 28, quit his job in advertising to pursue an effort closer to his heart. Alvaro’s grandfather had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at age 65 and Alvaro watched him fade away in front of his eyes. “He was an amazing character with a great sense of humor, but he soon forgot who he was and who everyone was. His personality vanished and his identity was stolen.” He passed away in 2008 at age 79.
In November 2013, Alvaro set out with his backpack and camera on a journey from Canada to Argentina to collect people’s best memories in an effort to raise awareness for the disease, one story at a time. He calls his project Memories of the World—A Journey of Hope to End Alzheimer’s. “It’s crazy how Alzheimer’s destroys your values, experiences and relationships. The main barrier to finding a cure is lack of awareness and understanding of the disease, especially among young people.” His goal is to engage people and ask them to share their favorite memories. “I thought it would be a beautiful way to build awareness for the disease while also changing the focus of Alzheimer’s to preserving our most valuable memories,” he says. “After all, we are all made of experiences.”
Alvaro grew up in Madrid, but lived most recently in Helsinki and London, where he raised £800 to finance his project. “In order to cover as many cities as possible, I’m hitchhiking and couch surfing” (staying on people’s couches). His primary goal is to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s among young people, but he also wanted to add a fundraising layer, so he researched different Alzheimer’s organizations. “Cure Alzheimer’s Fund stood out with a clear philosophy and vision. They work with some of the best professionals and dedicate 100 percent of their contributions to research. Research is the only way to end Alzheimer’s,” says Alvaro.
Alvaro isn’t sure how long his journey will take him, but he hopes to complete it by next summer. To date he has collected memories in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Niagara Falls, Buffalo and New York City. “So far, people are loving the project,” he says. After just a month on the road he had 700 Facebook followers and visits to his website from more than 25 different countries. And he hasn’t even had the time to promote it yet.
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