Like many parents, Lynda wanted to instill in her kids a desire to perform good deeds in the community — and beyond. Moved by the malaria crisis in Africa, Lynda discussed it with her family, and her daughter, then in kindergarten, was inspired to take action. Together,the mother-and-daughter team educated scores of kids about malaria and raised thousands of dollars to buy bed nets to help stop the spread of the disease.
"Mom, that's not right! We need to send some nets to Africa right away!"
This was the response of my 5-year-old daughter after I told her that bed nets prevent malaria and save lives in Africa.
I'd been watching a TV program on malaria, and I couldn't get it out of my mind. Most devastating to me was that 3,000 children per day are dying from the disease, which is preventable and curable. While malaria has been eliminated in parts of Asia, Europe, and America, in Africa, where there is widespread poverty and underdeveloped health care, the disease continues to spread. One thing that can prevent the disease from spreading is giving families bed nets that have been treated with insecticide to sleep under.
It haunted me and I knew I had to respond. The next morning, at breakfast, I shared what I'd learned with my husband and my kids, Katherine, then 5, and Joseph, 2. I explained that a little mosquito bite is a terrible problem in Africa and that sleeping under a special net helps stop the mosquito. Katherine quickly understood and wanted to help. She suggested we do a lemonade stand, which we'd done to help raise money for Hurricane Katrina victims. But I told her that we might need something a little bigger.
We talk about global issues at home and in church, so the topic of suffering and death was not new to her and I was not afraid to talk to her about it.
I truly believe that Katherine was so committed to this mission because she saw how important it was to me. She understood how sad it made me when I thought of the children in Africa who were dying from this preventable disease.
A Place to Start
After months of research online and at my local library, I was led to the United Nations Foundation, an organization that distributes bed nets in Africa. A wonderful working relationship began, and with their support Katherine and I decided to start fundraising at our local church.
We introduced One Bed Net At A Time during services throughout the 2006 Labor Day weekend. We were both a little nervous doing the presentation. But together we explained how in Africa, mosquitoes can kill by transmitting malaria. We explained that every 30 seconds a child dies from this illness. I emphasized malaria's intimate connection with poverty. Katherine stated that malaria can be prevented by sleeping under a bed net, which costs $10. She inspired the congregation.
Katherine and I went on to talk to the children at Sunday school. We displayed actual bed nets, performed a skit, and used a diorama, which Katherine and had made with the help of her little brother, to demonstrate to the kids how the nets prevent malaria. We then had the kids make bookmarks covered in netting to take home so they could share the message with others. I knew if we could teach the children four words — Africa, mosquitoes, malaria, and bed nets — then they would understand and want to help ...and they most certainly did!
That fall, Katherine and I made our One Bed Net At A Time presentation to many others. We spoke in front of groups at our local library, gym, pre-school, elementary school, neighboring churches, three local newspapers, a Girl Scout Troop, and a home schooling co-operative. As the holiday season approached, kids from both the church and community decorated homemade gift certificates, allowing gift-givers to purchase bed nets in someone's honor. These were a huge hit and over 600 were sold! Katherine, Joseph, and her friends had fun decorating the gift certificates. By October 2007, we raised over $25,000 to buy bed nets, which have saved thousands of lives in Africa.
I could not have asked for a better partner than my daughter. As parents, we need to lead by example. We can only hope our children will follow in our footsteps, and if they do, the power of one little child can bring about amazing change.
Unbeknownst to us, at the same time, others were thinking along the same lines. Sports Illustrated columnist Rick Reilly was asking his readers to buy bed nets to help stop the spread of malaria, and the incredible response had prompted the formation of Nothing But Nets, a global fundraising campaign to fund nets that prevent malaria in Africa. The UN foundation helped link our two groups and they invited us to help kick off the official campaign.
On January 4, 2007, Katherine's sixth birthday, our family traveled to New York City to kick off the campaign. Katherine and I were honored for our fundraising efforts. Katherine, surrounded by TV cameras and a studio audience, used her diorama of an African hut and family to explain how a net saves a person's life. Many in the crowd were wiping tears from their eyes. I am humbled by Katherine's understanding of and commitment to this mission and have learned from her to never underestimate a child's abilities.