Students 'net' funds for preventable disease
By Katelyn Gendron
Reminder Assistant Editor
WESTFIELD Every 30 seconds a person dies from malaria a curable, preventable disease.
When North Middle School health teacher Patricia Mahoney learned of this fact and what Nothing But Nets the grassroots organization, powered by the United Nations Foundation, dedicated to providing bed nets for those exposed to malaria-carrying mosquitoes was doing to help, she challenged her students to raise $5,000 for the cause. As of Jan. 15, the 120 health students have raised over $6,000 through bake sales, marathons and other fundraisers.
In an interview with Reminder Publications, Mahoney explained that she challenged her students to complete a two-part project on behalf of Nothing But Nets. First, they were required to speak knowledgeably about the cause to adults; second, the students were required to create and implement a fundraiser.
"If you can harness the [students'] energy and really work it, it just blows you away [to see how much they are capable of accomplishing]," Mahoney said. "I'm very proud and honored to have been a part of it. They are the voices of the kids who've already passed or have malaria."
She noted that not all students were well received by adults, however.
"The kids have dealt with opposition," Mahoney said. "They've had to go beyond that. Some got upset or taken aback but they've persevered."
Seventh grader Liam Flaherty is one student who has focused his energies on completing this project not for a grade but for the Third World children who will benefit from his efforts. He designed a marathon and raised $750 for his 26-mile-run in early November 2008. Flaherty ran the marathon in three hours and 38 minutes.
"[This cause is] really important because [malaria] is killing more than any disease in the world right now," he said. "Everyone of my family members and more would die in one day."
Flaherty noted that each bed net costs $10 and can prevent mosquitoes from infecting people while asleep. Those who receive the nets are in such dire poverty that they are unable to afford such amenities, Mahoney said.
Liam's mother, Elizabeth Flaherty, praised Mahoney for her ability to inspire her son and the North Middle School community.
"She has a broader vision than the back yard," Elizabeth said. "It's hard for them [children] to find their place in school and even harder to find themselves in the world and really, really hard to find their place in the world. She's really instilled in them that they are stewards in the world.
"She encouraged the kids and inspired them and really made sure that there wasn't any boundaries for them and they've changed so much more for the better," Elizabeth continued. "Here in Westfield we are so disconnected from malaria but these kids are really making a difference. Health curriculum can run a little dry but this is really thinking outside a box. They also got a better understanding of what true suffering was. She really opened them up to so much and this is a lesson they will carry with them for a lifetime."
Mahoney said she will continue the project with her spring semester students but will try a new project in the fall. She added that the vast number of worthy causes make it impossible to focus on one.
"We cannot just think local anymore. We are a global community," Mahoney said.
The Nothing But Nets Campaign focuses on prevented malaria-related deaths in Uganda, Sudan, Kenya and Tanzania, Africa, where this disease is the number one killer of refugees on this continent.
Elizabeth McKee Gore, executive director of Nothing But Nets, said, "On behalf of Nothing But Nets, I would like to congratulate the students, and all of the hard work that they've done to help protect other children, just like them, who are living in Africa. No matter at what age or with what resources, these inspiring young students are an example of how anyone can make a difference by getting involved in Nothing But Nets to send nets and save lives."
For more information about Nothing But Nets, visit www.nothingbutnets.net.
For more information about North Middle School's chapter for the organization visit www.northmiddleswatteam.org/announcements/start-of-nms-swat-team.