By Mike Bush

Chesterfield, MO (KSDK) - Students can sometimes be our best teachers

"Naomi is very unique," said 7th grade science teacher Melissa Di Fiori.

Eighth grader Naomi Kodama is giving a presentation on the Spanish explorer Cortez to her class at West Middle School. Though she's learning about the past, she's always dreaming of a better future.

How often have you heard a 13-year-old so well versed on the world's problems?

"Nearly one million people die of malaria every year and most people are under the age of 5," said Naomi.

To understand where she's coming from, you have to understand where she comes from.
She was born in the United States, but she has family in Brazil and Japan.

Her father, Edson Kodama, is the General Secretary of Junior Chamber International. Based in Chesterfield, it's an international youth service organization with the aim and purpose of creating positive changes in the world.

That may be why when Naomi was just 7-years-old she became aware of the devastating Indonesian Tsunami.

"She said, 'I would like to give all the money I have, '"said Edson Kodama. "So I said, 'how much money do you have?' She said, '$3.75.' And I said, 'that's great!'"

And for her birthday party that year, instead of gifts, she asked her friends to bring donations.

"It's kind of hard to celebrate your birthday if you see a tragedy," said Naomi.

Since then, all Naomi's birthdays have been about, not what she can get but what she can give.

"I have never had a student who has done so much for so many," said retired teacher Helen Rager.

"She is kind and caring and does so many great things but she is so humble," said Di Fiori.

This year, she traveled with her parents to West Africa, to an orphanage in Mali where she handed out dozens of toys and stuffed animals.

"You see the kids. Their eyes, just to get a teddy bear. They don't have anything but the teddy bear was so precious," said Naomi's mother Cristina Kodama.

"Just seeing them have the toy in their hand and they're like screaming and being like happy. I never imagined it would be like that," said Naomi.

At Naomi's request, the toys were all donated by her classmates at West Middle School.

"And all of a sudden it opened up the world to our classroom," said Rager.

"It changes your way of thinking about how I can present my lessons," said 8th grade teacher Lauren Kelly.

More than any other cause, Naomi has been committed to Nothing But Nets.

"Which is a campaign that collects money, just $10 for a net and they send it to families in Africa so that they can sleep under it so they don't get malaria," said Naomi.

She hasn't kept track of just how many nets she's sent but this past summer, at halftime of a basketball game in Chicago, she received a champion award from the United Nations, an award given to just 24 other people including Former President George Bush and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

"I see the other people that were nominated. I see how much they've done and I feel like I have to do more," said Naomi.

Nobody can do everything, but Naomi Kodama believes everyone can do something. She may have started young, but says she plans to continue until she gets old.

When it comes to making a difference, no minimum age required.

For more information on the organizations, visit the websites for Nothing But Nets, and Junior Chamber International.

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