I’m not one for public speaking. So when the Zaman International School asked me to give a talk to their students about malaria and the importance of mosquito nets in its prevention, I nearly declined. I envisioned a room full of little monsters, running amok, screaming, yelling, kicking over chairs and throwing wads of paper at me.
But, duty is duty, and nets are nets, so I accepted. Palms sweating, I arrived at the school, only to find there were no monsters there. Just a polite battalion of 140 students, all lined up in uniform rows of chairs, quietly smiling and waiting for me to speak. They had all already pledged to give $1 each to the Cambodia Daily Mosquito Campaign. All they wanted now was to know where, exactly, their money was going, and why.
The talk went very well. I explained to them that many people living in the countryside are without chemically treated mosquito nets, leaving them exposed during the night to malaria-carrying mosquitoes. The mosquitoes live in forested areas, like those found in the mountainous remote provinces of the country, I said, adding that a net large enough to cover a family of three costs $5.
I then opened the floor to questions. I was greeted by silence, and for a moment I thought my work was done. Not so. Apparently, the students were just taking the time to think about the information they’d just received, analyze it and expand upon it. When the questions started coming, they didn’t stop for another 45 minutes.
The students wanted to know where the nets came from, where the mosquitoes came from, where the nets were kept, and how they were treated with chemicals. They wanted to make sure the nets would reach villagers who really needed them, and that the chemicals used on the nets were safe. They wanted to know how long the nets lasted, how long malaria lasted and why mosquitoes like blood.
Some of the questions I could answer. Some I couldn’t. But that didn’t stop them from asking. Wave after wave of good questions came from the students—both the boys and the girls—until I finally had to call a stop to the whole thing. I could tell the students weren’t completely satisfied, but it was getting late and I was on deadline to write another story.
So I left, trailed by a wave of applause and laughter from the students. The next day, a group of them arrived with an envelope with $200 from the students and staff—enough money to distribute 40 nets and potentially save 120 lives. I was only able to express my thanks to the six students that came to the office to deliver the money. But all of the students deserve a large amount of gratitude.