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Mosquito mission: involving youth in malaria prevention

By Rachel Lusk

SUMMARY: Elizabeth was 6 years old when I met her. Despite her obvious curiosity about the world around her, she was very weak and tired. Like many children I met during my trip to Kenya that summer, she was suffering from malaria.

As I watched her receive treatment in a local health center I could see the life returning to her eyes, and after a few days she was up and running around the hospital ward. I was reminded of the kids I knew back in the United States who were her age, so full of life and excited about things like school and playing with friends.

Though Elizabeth had survived her battle with malaria, many other children I met were not so fortunate. During my time in that beautiful country, I could not help but be frustrated that a preventable and treatable disease like malaria still kills more than 1 million people a year. I wanted to do something about it.

It's hard to think that a young person can combat a global health problem as daunting as malaria. That is why I was excited to find Nothing But Nets. It provides a concrete and feasible way to prevent malaria through providing families with bed nets. Not only that, but because it only costs $10 to get a net to a family in need, it is a great mission project for young people, who many times have big hearts but not deep pockets. I have found that people, especially youth, are excited to get involved with this project. They just need to be aware that they can make a difference.

When I started to read more on this subject, I also came across these interesting findings of a national study conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau and Independent Sector:

  1. 15.5 million young people between the ages of 12 and 18 contributed more than 1.3 billion hours of service during 2004.
  2. Young people volunteered at twice the rate of adults with 55 percent of young people volunteering, compared with only 29 percent of adults.
  3. Youth who volunteer do so out of altruism, strongly agreeing with statements such as "I would like to help make the world a better place," and "It's important to do things for others." Only 5 percent of students became involved with volunteering through a school requirement.
  4. Thirty-nine percent of teenagers volunteer on a regular basis; 35 percent do so occasionally; and 27 percent are episodic volunteers.

However, as I talked to friends after my trip, many of them did not realize that malaria was still a problem because we don't see it here in the United States. They were also surprised to hear that something as simple as a bed net could help combat this problem. They were more than willing to help, but they first needed to know what the problem was. Introducing the topic in Sunday school, youth group, small groups, or special youth conventions in the church can be a great way to get youth interested. Once they are aware, they can start making steps towards fund raising and talking to their friends about this topic.
There are many creative ways to raise money and get even more people excited about malaria prevention. Youth can host sports tournaments and donate the proceeds. They can challenge each other to give up something they buy on a weekly basis, such as coffee or soda, and donate the money they save. More importantly, youth can talk to their friends and set up fund-raising efforts through other student organizations or through their school. The best part is, when they come, they bring with themselves many fresh ideas ready to be explored.

Now that you are convinced about the difference we youth can make to this campaign, here are five tips on how to recruit us:

  1. Go online: Post volunteer opportunities on your Web site or use online matching services such as Volunteer Match.
  2. Use youthful voice and visuals: We young people like language that is quick, fun and exciting. Also use lots of photos and visuals of other young people providing similar services. You may even recruit some of the young volunteers to help you with this aspect.
  3. Young people love competitions: Healthy competition adds enthusiasm, so develop competitions and games.
  4. Provide mentors: Find young adults who are natural leaders and role models. We, the youth, should be able to identify with them.
  5. Listen and reward frequently: Listen to the suggestions we bring in and then act on them. You lose our trust if you ignore us. We are open to receiving feedback consistently. Most of all we love lots of food.

Youth can play an important role in malaria prevention and in The United Methodist Church's mission to serve God's people throughout the world. Once we are aware of this problem, we can plant seeds in others to become passionate about it as well. Every time I think about the people I met in Kenya, I realize that we who have so much can really make a difference for those who are suffering. This project is a great way to show the world that we are caring people that believe anyone, no matter how young, can make a difference in the world for the better. 

---Rachel Lusk is a senior at Arizona State University majoring in Biology and Society, as well as minoring in Spanish. As the daughter of a Methodist minister, she has grown up in the church and is now very active in ASU's Wesley Foundation. She has made two trips to Kenya, one as part of a mission trip, and another as part of an internship that focused on malaria research. She is currently applying to medical school and hopes to work in international health in the future.

Nothing But Nets is a global, grassroots campaign to prevent malaria by sending life-saving insecticide-treated mosquito nets to children and families in Africa. There is a strong interest by our young adults in this exciting campaign that saves lives with the simple message: "Buy a net-Save a life." For more information on Nothing But Nets, please contact the Global Health Initiative at toll-free: (866) 328-3456 or (615) 742-5145. or