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By: Nothing But Nets

Champion Spotlight: Marcia Canter

July 20, 2020
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Nothing But Nets is made up of hundreds of grassroots champions from all over the country – individuals who are dedicated to the fight to end malaria. They come from a multitude of backgrounds, professions, and life experiences, but what connects them all is the passion they feel for combatting this preventable disease.

Marcia Canter is a great example of how to infuse two passions together – malaria elimination and youth engagement – to create real impact. Marcia has been involved with the Nothing But Nets campaign since the very beginning and has presented the issue of malaria in over a dozen classrooms across Colorado, South Dakota, and Nebraska. Learn more about her story and how she advocates for Nothing But Nets in the interview below.

Malaria doesn’t tend to be at the forefront of the average American’s mind. How did you become an advocate for this issue?

It started when I was a church volunteer teaching Sunday School to a group of 7th and 8th graders. There were mostly boys in my group and, like most boys that age, they weren’t super interested in anything I had to say.

Around that time, I read an article by Rick Reilly in Sports Illustrated about the need for bed nets to prevent malaria in Africa. My Sunday school kids loved basketball and I thought they may be interested in something Rick Reilly had to say. It turns out, they were!

We committed to doing a 24-hour basketball marathon to raise money for the Nothing But Nets campaign. Attendees paid for tickets, pledges, and food. One of my kids collected a pledge from his uncle stating that he would donate $100 for every consecutive free throw his nephew made. Well, he made 12 free throws in a row that night. That event raised over $3,000 and it became an annual event at my church for several years.

Why do you feel driven to continue to be involved with the cause?

When I started advocating for malaria, a child was dying every 30 seconds from malaria. Now a child is dying every two minutes. While there has been incredible progress, that’s an unacceptable number of children who are still dying from an entirely preventable disease.

COVID-19 has heightened our awareness of people dying so quickly, but that’s been going on in Africa and other areas for a long time. I think it’s important as a global society that we know what’s going on in other places and that we help when we can. When $5 can help send a net to a family at-risk of malaria, it’s simple for each of us to do our part to save lives.

What do you enjoy about being a Nothing But Nets champion in particular?

The diversity of the people I have met through Nothing But Nets is amazing to me. I’ve attended two of the leadership summits in Washington D.C., and I meet so many different people – people in the health field, JCI members, Opera singers from Iowa, and celebrities from Haiti. It’s a pretty broad circle of amazing people who are united by one common thread – a passion to end malaria.

How have you seen your passion for this issue impact young people and others in your immediate circle?

I’ve worked with students across all different age groups who are shocked to learn about this issue. Right before COVID-19 shut everything down, I spoke to a 4th and 6th-grade class at a school where the majority of the students were on free and reduced lunch. After my presentation, I received all these thank you notes from them and the school voted to designate their next school fundraiser to Nothing But Nets.

One woman who attends my church wore the Nothing But Nets “buzzkill” shirt to her work one day. Her colleague from India asked her what the shirt meant, and when she told her, the woman’s response was “I didn’t think Americans cared about malaria.” I actually use that line in a book I wrote about malaria.

So you’ve written a book about malaria?!

I’ve actually written a series of books called the Postcard Series – the first in the series is a book called Mosquito Madness. It’s inspired by my work with youth and malaria. The book tells the story of a 5th grader whose aunt is a Peace Corps volunteer in Mozambique. She receives a postcard from her aunt with a request to send bed nets because there’s an outbreak of malaria in the area she’s living in. The book follows the story of the 5th grader and how she helps unite her community around an event to raise money for malaria.

This book is the first in a series called the Postcard Series, but the main goal of all my books is to build empathy among kids.

What’s one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned advocating for Nothing But Nets and malaria in general?

Don’t underestimate the ability of children and young people to create real change.

A few years ago, Nothing But Nets connected me with a 2nd-grade teacher in Arvada, Colorado. Before I presented to them, I was honestly thinking, “what am I going to tell these babies about malaria?”

After I presented the issue to them, they ended up organizing a lemonade stand and raised around $70. It doesn’t sound like much but to me, it was incredible because those kids will carry that experience with them for a long time.

Children’s hearts are bigger than you may think and they constantly prove to me that you’re never too young to be a champion.

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When we describe Nothing But Nets as the largest global grassroots campaign working to combat malaria, that is inclusive of the invaluable work of hundreds of grassroots champions who consistently volunteer their time, money, and expertise to assist in this crucial fight.

Without these individuals, we would not be able to do this important work. Our champions are the foundation of our campaign, and with their unwavering passion and strength at our back, we know that we can be the generation to end malaria for good.

If you’re ready to become a champion or you want to learn more, fill out the form here or email Wendy Dimas at wdimas@unfoundation.org.

If you’re interested in connecting with Marcia directly about her book or her work with students, reach out to her directly at marcia@booklanthropy.com.

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