by Thomas McGlinchey
Germantown Academy (Fort Washington) freshman Katherine Commale (Class of 2019) was signing books alongside Chelsea Clinton in the early evening of Tuesday, Oct. 20, at Children’s Book World in Haverford on the Main Line. Commale, 14, is featured in Ms. Clinton’s new book, “It’s Your World.”
“‘It’s Your World’ is a book that tackles the biggest challenges facing us today,” wrote Children’s Book World. “In it, Chelsea Clinton combines facts, charts, photographs and stories to give readers a deep understanding of the world around them and how anyone can make a difference.
“With stories about children and teens who have made real changes, big and small, in their families, their communities, in our country and across the world, this book will inspire readers of all ages to do their part to make our world a better place.”
Commale, a resident of Downingtown, was featured in “It’s Your World” for her efforts in raising awareness about malaria and raising money to send life-saving bed nets abroad to countries in Africa.
Commale first learned about malaria in 2006 after she and her mom, Lynda, watched the PBS documentary, “Malaria: Fever Wars.” They decided to help as many people as they possibly could by purchasing bed nets for African parents to protect themselves and their children from malaria. The Commales thought everyone should know that at that time malaria was killing a child in Africa every 30 seconds.
“When I saw the PBS program, I was counting on my fingers and said, ‘This is not okay,’” recalled Commale. “I wanted to do something right after that. I wanted to do a lemonade stand. More and more people found out about it, and I took it to church.”
Malaria, a disease of the blood that is caused by the Plasmodium parasite, which is transmitted from person to person by a particular type of mosquito, is a leading cause of death among children in Africa. The female Anopheles mosquito is the only mosquito that transmits malaria. She primarily bites between the hours of 9 p.m. and 5 a.m., which is why sleeping under a mosquito net at night is such an important method of prevention.
That first year, Commale organized a big fundraiser through her church that received a lot of publicity and raised over $10,000 (1,000 bed nets), thanks to the ingenious idea of hand-decorated gift certificates that showed up in stockings and under Christmas trees. That year, more than 600 gift certificates were purchased.
“My dad was a teacher, and every single year he got gift cards for Christmas, and I thought that’s such a good idea, and we should make gift certificates for the campaign,” said Commale. “It explains what we’re doing and where money is going to (Nothing But Nets). People normally give them for holidays. Now they can give them in honor of somebody.”
The money is donated to Nothing But Nets, a global grassroots campaign to raise awareness and funding to fight malaria. Nothing But Nets allows everyone from students to CEOs, bishops, basketball players, etc., to join the fight against malaria by giving $10 to send a net and save a life. Nothing But Nets is an initiative of the United Nations Foundation.
That was only the beginning of the Commale family’s work to raise awareness and funds. By 2011, when Katherine was 10, she and her mom had spoken at the White House, the Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church and the United Nations. They’d been in the Philadelphia Inquirer and the New York Times. Lynda had traveled to Uganda to participate in a bed net donation. As of 2015, Commale has raised more than $300,000, enough for tens of thousands of bed nets.
“I’m probably most proud of the progress we’ve made over the years and the fact that my mom was able to deliver 2,400 of my nets to families in Uganda,” said Katherine. “It’s crazy to think when I was 6 or 7 years old that every 30 seconds a child died. Now that number is up to a minute and 30 seconds to two minutes. The progress has been a reassurance that what I started so many years ago has made an impact.”
For more information about Nothing but Nets, visit www.nothingbutnets.net or call 202-887-9040. Donations can be sent to U.N. Foundation/Nothing But Nets, P.O. Box 96539, Washington, D.C. 20090-6539