When I was little, every time my family shopped at IKEA, I would ask my parents for a canopy bed. I thought canopies where what covered princesses as they slept, a luxury that I deserved, too.
My ever-practical parents would explain the true purpose of a net hanging over one’s bed. Bed nets protect people from mosquitoes that transmit deadly malaria; bed nets save lives.
Amazingly, malaria is both treatable and preventable. Bed nets are a simple, cost-effective tool to keep people safe from this terrible disease. They create a physical barrier that blocks malaria-carrying mosquitoes from biting people at night. And with insecticide woven in, the nets kill the mosquitoes on contact, helping prevent infection of those under the net and outside of it, too. Easy enough, right? But because many families around the world can’t access or afford these life-saving nets, malaria kills more than 600,000 people yearly. Most of these people are children under five.
That number is staggering, but to many, including Girl Up Teen Advisors like me, it serves as motivation. Motivation to shrink the number of malaria deaths to zero. Motivation to support efforts like the United Nations Foundation’s Nothing But Nets campaign. Not just adults and policymakers are trying to fight malaria—young people are working to send nets and save lives, and inspire their community to help. More and more, kids and teens like me are volunteering, learning more about important issues, and trying to make a difference.
It’s easy to get discouraged, but there is a lot to be optimistic about. Youth view things with fresh eyes; our naiveté that sometimes makes us think we can save the world. But there is no reason each person can’t make the world a better place. Every action, no matter how small, matters. These nets that can save lives cost just $10. With $10 I could buy a couple of frozen yogurts. Two frozen yogurts, or keeping a family healthy and safe for three years? The choice is easy. Give $10, send a net, and save a life. Small actions can make a difference, changing the world little by little.
So the next time you spy a little girl at IKEA eyeing a fairy tale canopy bed, take a second to explain to her what a bed net really means. Who knows, maybe you will spark a fire to help in her, just like my parents did in me.