Elementary School Helps Fight Malaria

I was moved by article about elementary school students who raised $7400 USD for the anti-malaria organization Nothing But Nets. At $10 a net, these students are responsible for providing 740 nets to refugee families. Knowing that malaria is the number one killer of refugees in Africa, I was amazed at what these kids had done –in the fifth grade, no less! To hear how this all began, I contacted Brett Heinemann, their fifth grade teacher at Cherry Crest Elementary School in Bellevue, Washington.

Q: Why did you choose Nothing But Nets?
Nothing But Nets seemed so well-organized, and as part of the United Nations Foundations had a number of exciting partners and programs already going. The connection between a $10 donation and the ability for Nothing But Nets to buy, ship, and educate people on how to use a bed net, was so easy to explain to our kids. What kicked this into overdrive was a letter that my partner, Kim Titus, wrote to the Seattle Sounders asking if they would partner with us in this project. Incredibly, they agreed, and we proceeded to do a number of activities with both the Sounders and the United Nations Foundation staff that really made this a bigger deal than we originally thought.

Q: What was the student involvement?
Once the student council decided to take on this project, they made signs and put them all over the school. They went around to the primary classes and told the younger kids what we were doing. They brainstormed with us ways that we could get everyone involved. We didn’t want to just have kids bring in checks written by their parents; we wanted them to be more involved than that. So, we devised a plan for kids to complete “jobs or chores” for their families, friends, or neighbors. We had partnered with the Seattle Sounders FC club downtown and they had given us a number of free tickets to an upcoming Sounders game, and we devised a plan where kids would get a ticket for every bed net they were responsible for someone donating because of their chores or jobs. Then, we drew tickets randomly out of a hat to see who got to go. In addition, since the game marked the beginning of the Sounders’ own Nothing But Nets campaign, five of our lucky kids got to go down on the field and present a check to Nothing But Nets in front of the fans for everything we had raised to that point. They also got to help collect donations at the gates that night. Other activities included a Madgascar 2: Return to Africa movie night to support the cause, a visit from the national Nothing But Nets staff and a Sounders player to Cherry Crest, and a campaign in which kids procured donations for the right to dump all sorts of nasty things over some of us teachers and the principal.

Q: Can you explain the student’s reaction?
They just jumped in with both feet. We had kids coming to us with new fundraising ideas, bringing in checks, coins, dollar bills; it was fantastic. Our school sits in a pretty affluent suburb of Seattle and the living conditions and plight of the people they were helping is so foreign, but they really understood the cause and brought a high level of energy and excitement.

Q: How do you feel this has affected your class?
I think it has affected the whole school. We ran our campaign for nearly two months, culminating on World Malaria Day on April 25, and they never lost their enthusiasm. They went, in many cases, from not knowing what malaria was or who was affected by it to really understanding the impact it has on so many millions of people. They learned about other areas of the world where people are still dealing with things that we in the US eradicated over fifty years ago, and they learned that it is fun to help other people.

Q: What is your hope for your fifth graders as they move into middle school?
We hope that the kids saw that something that starts really small, with one small idea, can grow and become more impactful as people join the effort. That there is a direct link between wanting to help others and literally reaching out and improving peoples’ lives. Our kids know that this summer there are going to be families in Africa who will be handed a life-saving insecticide-treated bed net that may prevent them from getting malaria and dying. That is a simple but powerful understanding that we’re hoping will stick with them.

Nothing But Nets

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