How many high school students do you know that would sacrifice a whole Sunday morning – in fact, a whole summer Sunday morning – to voyage to the local town center and run a car wash to raise money for mosquito nets? My guess: not too many. However, that’s exactly what happened yesterday afternoon between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm at Shaw’s supermarket, in downtown Manchester, Vermont.
The 2010-2011 school year hasn’t even started yet and the fundraising has already begun. Some BGMI members came straight from work, picked up a hose, and didn’t stop working until the supervisors at Shaw’s had to kick them out. Others made commutes of over an hour from home, committing their day to hard – but undoubtedly rewarding – work. Some weren’t even part of the service-learning initiative, and just came and helped because of the shining sun and friendly atmosphere. Parents, students, and even a generous amount of teachers from the local Manchester area came and supported our cause.
We set our price to $5 per car wash; one car wash would equate to approximately one mosquito net; one mosquito net (according to GMin data) covers approximately 2.3 people. We had a grand total of $260. Let’s do the math. That’s 52 cars washed (not quite, some donated more money than necessary, of course), 52 nets, and 120 villagers covered; that’s 120 less people who have to die from malaria each year. And how long did it take? Four hours at a food hub in Vermont. How much effort did it take? Not much – with so many BGMI members willing to partake in the work, the day was done before any of us knew it.
Africa’s already underdeveloped economy is further plagued by malaria. According to the June 21st issue of Time, malaria costs Africa nearly $12 billion a year – 1.3% of its economic growth (Alex Perry/APAC). I’d like to copy a small excerpt from that same Time article. It may appear a tad hyperbolic, but in my opinion, it works when you’re trying to convince an audience about the gravity of something like malaria:
“The history of malaria is a long one. Originating in West Africa, it spread to half of humankind by the mid-19th century and has killed tens of millions and infected hundreds of millions more, including eight American Presidents. Malaria played a role in stopping Alexander the Great in India. It contributed to the fall of Rome, the relocation of the Vatican and the U.S. defeat in Vietnam. It still rages in the poverty-stricken world: it killed 863,000 people in 2008 – 89% of them African, and 88% of those people under 5.”
When an overwhelming majority of all malaria deaths come from sub-Saharan Africa (that’s Sierra Leone!), it’s evident that that’s the place to focus your attention when attempting to eradicate the beast we call malaria. And although $260 at a car wash won’t make up for Africa’s $12 billion annual loss due to malaria, it’s a start. It’s something. We’re generating future leaders, future humanitarians that may someday literally change the world as we know it. And it could have all started in high school in Vermont with a bunch of friends washing cars, with a goal in mind and a cause to pursue.
Photography: Courtesy of Amy Hammond, BBA '11