- Associated Press - Saturday, June 28, 2014

WAVERLY, Iowa (AP) - Simon Estes’ singing voice has been called “as smooth as velvet, as strong as steel,” not unlike the man himself.

For the past four years, Estes has lent that voice to an urgent cause.

The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reports (http://bit.ly/1jPHWzZ) Iowa-born international opera star and Wartburg College and Iowa State University professor is raising funds to buy insecticide-treated mosquito nets to protect millions of children from malaria in sub-Saharan Africa. The World Health Organization says 971,000 children die from the dreaded disease each year.

More than 1,100 Iowa high school students joined Estes in December at a benefit choral concert at ISU’s Hilton Coliseum.

Their performance - accompanied by the Des Moines Youth Symphony Orchestra and conducted by former Waterloo-Cedar Falls Symphony maestro Joseph Giunta - raised more than $100,000 and leveraged an additional $250,000 in private contributions to the United Nations Foundation. Additional Iowa events are planned.

Estes will stage another benefit July 18 in New York City, the “Footsteps of Mandela” concert at Riverside Church. Estes will headline that performance on national Nelson Mandela Day. The proceeds will benefit Mandela’s and Estes’ foundations and the United Nations Foundation’s “Nothing But Nets” project, which Estes supports.

Estes learned of the need when he sang at the grand finale of the World Cup soccer competition in South Africa in 2010 - attended by Mandela himself.

He talks about the cause with missionary zeal. His goal is simple. He wants to raise $5 million for 1 million nets to be distributed in sub-Saharan Africa. Each net can cover two children. He believes Iowa can lead that effort.

He’s made a CD, “Save The Children, Save Their Lives,” of popular songs and spiritual standards. A third of the proceeds - $5 from each $15 CD - goes to buy a mosquito net. Another third goes to scholarships and other youth-related purposes and the rest covers production costs.

He carries a visual aid in the trunk if his car - a mosquito net - to use during talks.

“I’m providing the nets” to the United Nations Foundation, Estes said. “They make sure the nets are treated, distribute the nets, educate the people how to use them. Then they follow up on it.”

It’s typically children ages 5 and younger, whose immune systems have not yet fully developed, who are the most susceptible to malaria.

“Ninety percent of all the malaria deaths in the world are in Africa,” he said. “These are children. Twenty million children, they tell me, have died in the past 20 years.”

The cost of a net is roughly the same as a cup of gourmet coffee.

“Buy a net, save a life,” Estes said. “You can actually save two lives, because they can get two children under these nets.

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