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Rebecca Monnier learned an unexpectedly firsthand lesson on the debilitating effects of malaria and the results its victims must endure.

But it wasn’t so much in the body aches or nausea that gave the Concordia University, Nebraska student her greatest understanding of the compounding impact of poverty on malaria victims. It was in her ability to gain relief from her pain.

“I wanted a Sprite so bad,” she said. “The moment I asked for it, I had one.”

Common Tanzanians often don’t have the same privileges, she said.

“They don’t have the comfort of knowing someone could drive them to the hospital if it got so bad they needed that,” she said.

By the time she got sick in Tanzania, Monnier had spent more than a week learning about the impacts of malaria on the African nation, as well as what a Lutheran nonprofit was doing to stop the mosquito-borne disease’s spread. When she returned to Nebraska, she brought with her a sense of the overwhelming pain caused by malaria and the success of efforts to stop it.

Fellow student Louisa Mehl traveled with her to Tanzania in July 2012, and the two started a campaign to raise money for prevention and treatment of Malaria last academic year. The pair, with the help of dozens of students, staff and faculty, raised $50,000 during their yearlong campaign, which ended in September.

Lutheran World Relief donors matched that amount, leading to $100,000 being donated to the Lutheran Malaria Initiative, which works with local partners in Africa to educate, prevent and help treat malaria.

According to the initiative, malaria kills nearly 750,000 people each year, and while methods like bed nets and prompt medical treatment are the most effective means to control the disease, poverty complicates those efforts in third-world countries.

“If you’re poor, you don’t have the ability to buy a bed net or the medication necessary to treat malaria,” Mehl said. “It’s just a deadly cycle.”

The two 21-year-old students managed to raise $50,000 at a relatively small private university through a series of fundraising events, guerilla marketing and face-to-face meetings with potential donors. They initially planned to raise $25,000.

Before summer 2012 ended, the students raised $10,000 from faculty and other donors, momentum they used to prepare for the fall 2012 semester.

By writing messages in chalk on sidewalks and hanging bed nets from statues, Mehl and Monnier educated other students while informing them about their first event — a campout in September 2012 that included music, movies and a contest that allowed students to sign up for a drawing to pie their professor. They raised $5,000 at that first event.

They raised just under $5,000 through a campaign that allowed students to send letters to their parents asking them to send money to the Lutheran Malaria Initiative. And they raised nearly $2,000 during a December basketball tournament where they sold T-shirts that said “Swat Malaria,” a message they illustrated by having their university’s Bruiser the Bulldog mascot use a giant flyswatter to swat a person in a giant mosquito costume.

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By December 2012, Mehl and Monnier knew they had reached their initial goal of $25,000. So they decided to keep going.

“It’s a cool testament to not underestimating college students,” Monnier said.

During the spring 2013 semester, they began raising money through churches in Seward and in their home communities. They spoke to congregations and handed out bracelets and pens. They held a Frisbee golf tournament in the Concordia library that February. Students threw frisbees through book shelves and over balconies.

As their campaign progressed, other students got involved, and people who were initially reluctant to give opened up their wallets. By late February, they approached the $40,000 mark. Donations from church-goers kept rolling in, and their campaign eventually reached the $50,000 goal by August 2012.

“The more money we raised, the people who were not initially interested became interested,” Mehl said.

Monnier said she knows the $100,000 she helped raise for malaria prevention and treatment won’t solve the crisis.

“Those are the things we can do in our little tiny town of Seward to try to impact the world,” she said.

Reach Kevin Abourezk at 402-473-7225 or kabourezk@journalstar.com.

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I'm a Journal Star night editor and father of five.

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