Wednesday, May 2, 2012

World Malaria Day!

It’s been a busy couple of weeks on my side of the world! A lot of things happened, including (but not limited to) the completion of my first secondary project, feeling stressed for the first time since I can remember, walking around more of my commune than ever before, and lots of fun hanging out in between.

World Malaria Day: The Good!

For those of you who did not know, Happy World Malaria Day (on April 25)! I wrote in my last blog about the plans I had to commemorate the event and I am proud to say that I successfully-ish completed everything I set out to do. It was a lot of work, but such a rewarding investment of my time and effort. I broke down my activities into three parts:

1.     Wall of Fame
a.      The week before World Malaria Day, I spent walking around with my camera, a full liter of water, and my malaria teaching aid pictures. I walked to every little village hamlet within 5 kilometers of the village I live in and talked to around 100 different people and families. In each small community, I showed the sketch of the mural we planned to paint and explained it to my little audience, highlighting why they should use a net, and also who should use a net. Then I inquired as to whom all already used bed nets within the little village. I would say generally about half the families in all the small villages I visited actually used a bed net to sleep under. I did hit the jackpot though in this little village community called Maromoky that literally means “lots of mosquitoes”…every family there uses a bed net! I took pictures of all the people and families with their nets and then invited them to Malaria Day on the 25th where they would be able to pick up their photos. This was really effective in recognizing the people and families who used nets and making them an example to other families who don’t use nets. Photographs are very highly valued and so the fact that I was taking their pictures and then giving the photo back was a great source of pride for people. Canvassing the entire commune of Mahatalaky kind of felt a bit like campaigning for myself and my work, but it was a really great way to get out there talking to people about malaria.

2.     Dream Banners
a.     In Madagascar, Malaria is the number on cause of death in children under the age of 5. In fact, 1 in every 14 kids here die of malaria each year. This statistic in unacceptable. To get kids thinking about their futures, Peace Corps Africa came up with the idea of dream banners. Basically, all the kids who attended my malaria day activities were given paper and crayons and asked to illustrate their answer to the question “When I grow up I will…” This was my favorite activity of all the things we did on World Malaria Day. Creativity and individuality are not things that are valued here in terms of the education system. Little kids don’t color in their free time, and generally don’t even know how to hold a pen until they go to school when they’re 6 years old. In their first year of school, they study how to draw and then get tested and scored on their drawing abilities. So this whole exercise in creativity was something that all the kids had actually never done before. Asking them to wrap their little minds around the abstract idea of the future was really challenging, but I am so happy with the way things worked out. They drew big houses and farm fields and flowers and happy families and cows. They wrote their names in huge letters and asked if they were allowed to keep their masterpieces. When I asked some of them to explain what they drew, their responses were simple: This is my house that I’ll live in, this is my family being happy, this is the flower that will grow where I live. I was really proud of the fact that all my kids were able to grasp what I was asking them to do in imagining their futures. It also made me so happy just to provide the opportunity for them to have this small creative outlet. Watching this small army of kids walk home clutching their small drawings created with the one color crayon I handed out per kid made me feel more validated than all the other activities I did on World Malaria Day.

3.     Malaria Skit
a.     Thanks to my great friends at ONG Azafady, I was able to enlist the volunteers in their Pioneer program to help with the various activities of World Malaria Day. One of the biggest challenges with malaria education is that a lot of families use nets, but only the parents or grandparents sleep under them. The kids who are most susceptible sleep on the floor or somewhere else. The other challenge is the fact that parents often wait a long time before bringing their sick child into the hospital for treatment. The volunteers and I acted in a skit that addressed these two main obstacles with malaria work in Madagascar. It centered on a Peace Corps volunteer (me!) going around a village doing malaria counseling and education. The volunteer (me!!) comes across a family who uses a net, but where only the parents actually sleep under it. Their baby gets sick with malaria and the parents try herbal remedies and visit a witch doctor before I finally tell them they need to visit the hospital for treatment. The whole skit was well acted and very clear and all the kids loved it! The volunteers did a great visualization of malaria transmission from mosquitoes and how a net works to protect you, which I loved, and all the kids really understood. It was a lot of fun.

World Malaria Day: The Good But Difficult!

1.     Malaria Mural
a.     This was so hard! I completely and totally underestimated the amount of work, time and skill that needs to go into successfully completing a wall sized mural. These things coupled with my lack of art skills made the whole thing way more stressful than it needed to be. It was really challenging for me to find myself in a situation where I needed to be kind of laidback and calm about things. I really wanted the mural to be perfect and a masterpiece on par with the Sistine Chapel, but obviously that was impossible. By the third day of work on the mural though, I reminded myself that I wanted this whole thing to be a community project, not just “Monica’s project.” So, yes, that meant imperfections and crooked lines and cartoon-looking people, but I am proud to report that the community of Mahatalaky loves and adores their kind of strange looking malaria mural! Furthermore, it is effective and clear as a malaria teaching tool, which at the end of the day, is all the mural really needs to be. But I will say that I do not intend to paint anything for at least another year!

And so completes the first part of my first big project! I consider it a huge success because I spent basically two weeks talking about malaria with everyone I came into contact with and it was also just a lot of fun. Right after World Malaria Day was the long-awaited grand opening of the secondary school built by Azafady in Mahatalaky. The whole community celebrated together which was wonderful and so amazing to be a part of. There was an all-night party Thursday to commemorate the school opening, and I had a great moment where I just looked around at my community gathered together dancing and having fun, and thought to myself how happy I am. :)

[Sidenote: I tried to upload some photos with the post and it just failed miserably, everything froze right before my uploads finished and I'm so sad. So anyone who hasn't seen the photos I already posted to Facebook can follow this link here to this album!]

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