Aaron Jackson, a 2007 CNN Hero, has helped millions of children get dewormed
He has teamed up with actor Rainn Wilson to spread awareness about parasites
Jackson's group also provides homes for orphans in Haiti and India
Jackson: Help us deworm 1 million children a month
For his efforts to protect Haitian children from parasites, Aaron Jackson was honored as a CNN Hero in 2007.
His story inspired actor Rainn Wilson, who became involved with Jackson’s organization, Planting Peace.
Since 2004, Planting Peace has helped millions of children around the world through its deworming project called Stomp the Worm. It also has formed several children’s homes in Haiti and India.
CNN’s Christie O’Reilly recently caught up with Jackson to talk about his group’s expanding efforts and his collaboration with Wilson.
O’Reilly: What success has your group had with Stomp the Worm?
Jackson: When CNN Heroes highlighted our project, it brought a tremendous amount of awareness to the cause. We had dewormed 1.7 million children at the time. Last year alone, we dewormed 8 million.
Most people know us for our worm initiative in Haiti, but we’ve dewormed in Nicaragua, Honduras, Bolivia, Guatemala. We’ve also treated a half million in North Korea.
Now we’re trying to work on a fund where we deworm 1 million children a month. We’re purchasing the medication now at 1.3 cents, so we can deworm around 66 kids for $1.
O’Reilly: Why is deworming so important?
Jackson: You can see hungry children eating three times a day, and if they’re not dewormed they’re still lethargic, have high rates of anemia. They’re slowly wasting away.
We can provide a treatment that’s just over 1 cent, and the kids come back to life within a day or two.
Seeing these kids run around after being dewormed, it’s an amazing thing. And then you reflect that, “Wow, this cost us one penny.”
We didn’t invent the deworming initiative, but we are happy to get it out there and show people the importance of it. … We’d love for people to help us reach our 1-million-a-month goal.
O’Reilly: How many children’s homes has Planting Peace opened, and how do they work?
Jackson: We now have seven children’s homes: four in Haiti and three in India. We’re working on a fourth in India now for refugee children from Tibet. We’re opening it in Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama lives. Maybe he’ll come visit us. That would be awesome.
We keep our homes small. We have a rule: no more than 10 (children) in each home, because we want to keep them very family-style. We try to keep the kids growing up like brothers and sisters. If we want to expand to help more children, we open another home. One of the homes in India is for handicapped children. One in Haiti is for HIV-positive children.
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O’Reilly: How are your homes impacting children’s lives?
Jackson: Some of these kids we’ve had for about eight years. It’s amazing seeing these kids grow up and seeing what they’re able to do. They have possibilities.
Some of them came from the Cite Soleil slum. (Now) they’re healthy. We have a school they’re enrolled in. They participate in music five days a week; we more or less have our orphan band in Haiti. They have a chance at life and hopefully will become future leaders of Haiti or elsewhere.
We have a policy where we don’t adopt our kids out. We’re not going to help Haiti – or whatever country we’re working in – if we send the kids away. That might help that particular kid’s situation, but not Haiti as a whole.
O’Reilly: How did the earthquake impact your work in Haiti?
Jackson: That really shook our foundation from all fronts.
We were in the middle of our national deworming program and treating every child – all 3.2 million kids – and we had distributed half of that. If the earthquake had hit two weeks later, we would have gotten all the medication out to every child. It postponed the distribution; it shifted the population of the country so we didn’t know what areas we had dewormed in (or) who we dewormed. We had to wait before passing out the meds again.
O’Reilly: What about your children’s homes?
Jackson: We were extremely fortunate. All five buildings we own – our school plus four homes – all stood up. We had to move out of two of the homes, but we were very fortunate. No kids were hurt.
One of our homes sits on a hill – our HIV home – and I was worried about that. When I got to Haiti, that home barely had a scratch on it and the two right next to it had collapsed. We were extremely, extremely fortunate.
O’Reilly: What impact has Rainn Wilson’s involvement had on your efforts?
Jackson: Rainn has been extremely beneficial on all fronts, helping bring awareness and raise money for the cause. He’s making the cause a little cooler now that he’s a part of it. He’s just been a great help.
He’s traveled to Haiti a couple times. He recently did a fundraiser to help us raise money to start a new orphanage. He’s put us in contact with some amazing people that have helped us.
O’Reilly: Where else will your travels take you this year?
Jackson: I’m going to Ecuador in February. We’re looking at a rainforest initiative there. We own some rainforest land in Peru – 1,000 acres – for preservation, and we’re looking to do the same model in Ecuador.
We purchased land in Peru about two and a half years ago. It’s in the Amazon. Most people think that rainforest is being destroyed because people are going in and cutting trees. That is true on some level, but … the forest is mostly being destroyed by cattle farming using a slash-and-burn technique. Farmers come in, buy the land and light it on fire and burn it down.
Our goal is to purchase the land so no one can come in and destroy it. We leave it alone, and we watch over (it).
It’s said that two out of every 10 breaths we take come from the Amazon rainforest. It’s important to preserve that for our future.