Biting Back

Don't let her sweet smile fool you. Olivia Heath is a fighter – against malaria.

Think you’re too small to make a difference in the world? Think about a mosquito. The pesky little bugs can drive you crazy with one itchy bite. And those bites carry a disease that kills many kids in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

When 7-year-old Olivia heard about that, she wanted to fight, er, bite back. “I was really sad, and I wanted to help,” she says.

So she got creative to raise money to buy mosquito nets for kids through Compassion. "When [the kids] hang a mosquito net over their bed and go to sleep, the mosquitoes can’t get in because the net is protecting them,” Olivia explains. “And they won’t get mosquito bites and malaria."

It’s a simple way to prevent the disease, and it works. Each net costs $18. But many families cannot afford nets or medicines that treat malaria before it becomes deadly.

Don’t let her sweet smile fool you. Olivia is a fighter — against malaria.

Olivia’s first project was Saving Hearts. When she was 5, she created foam heart-shaped crafts with glittery wings that looked like mosquito netting. Her mom helped her send them to friends and family. "And I asked for money to help stop malaria," Olivia says.

She has also made and sold woven bracelets and raised money through a multifamily yard sale. Her latest venture is a pet-sitting business. Her most unusual "client" has been a food-throwing macaw. Olivia gives half of her pet-sitting earnings to buy mosquito nets.

The Colorado girl got even more motivation to help poor people when she got to visit her family’s sponsored child, Genesis, in the Dominican Republic. "I want to fight malaria and help the poor, and I hope Genesis will someday be able to be safe like us," Olivia says. "My hope is that when I grow up, malaria will be completely gone."

Experts say that’s possible. The disease has been wiped out in the United States. Olivia hopes other kids will help make that happen or help people in other ways. "I hope they find a cause to fight like me," she says.

The next time you wonder if a kid can make a difference, think of a mosquito. Then think of all the mosquitoes one girl has stopped — and all the lives she’s saving.


Story updated and reposted from a previous issue of Compassion Explorer Magazine.