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Chutes, Ladders, and General Chaos – Blog About Malaria Month!

10 Apr

It’s time to blog about malaria again! April 25th is World Malaria Day, but being the overambitious volunteers that we are, we have deemed all of April – World Malaria Month!

In celebration, I went back to Hibrit Primary School where my sitemate teaches 5th Grade English and took over her classes for a day of Malaria fun and games.

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This year, I read aloud the Mimi Wins a Prize book again but instead of posters, I brought in the big guns – board games. C-Change developed a malaria version of Chutes and Ladders with good behavior (you went to the clinic when you had a fever!) taking you up the ladders, and bad behavior (you forgot to tuck in your bed net under the mattress) throwing you down the chutes.

In theory this was super fun! In practice it was chaos. Rookie mistake – I forgot that basics of rolling the dice and moving along the board are not common sense for children who play with wire hangers fashioned into loops. By the end, they got it and actually answered my questions about malaria correctly, but getting there was about as easy as A,B,C… in Ethiopia… so not easy.

So lesson learned – games for health are a good bet, but make sure you give examples about 15 times.

 

International Woman’s Day – A 5K Celebration

16 Mar

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Last weekend, Ethiopia held its annual WomenFirst 5K to celebrate women’s achievements in Ethiopia. Over 7,000 women came out, decked in yellow, to run or walk to five kilometers in Addis Ababa, singing, leading cheers and supporting each other. Last year, a bunch of volunteers ran for ourselves. This year, we walked for our kids. Over two days, with events and activities, over 20 volunteers brought together 40 students from their towns all over Ethiopia to learn about gender equality, how to support each other, and ultimately to participate in the biggest woman-only footrace in Africa. Here are some photos from an event over 10 months in the making.

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stretching before the race

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at the start

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PCV Cam showing Ethio Spirit

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Some volunteers also brought young men to support the girls. They made signs and led cheers at different stations along the root. They were the only men supporting the race, the rest simply stood there. These boys are the change. They are the next generation. Gender Equality is not just about women, its about gender, and it’s about teaching boys to support their mothers, sisters and daughters.

One of the sessions - women's health

One of the sessions – women’s health

According to the World Economic Forum’s 2013 Global Gender Gap report, Ethiopia ranked 118th out
of 136 countries for gender equality. Over 200 Peace Corps Volunteers in Ethiopia work in Education,
Health, and Agriculture sectors, but all are expected to work on gender issues, which span all sectors. For more (better)  photos, check out our “official photographer”‘s blog, and keep your eye out for a video I’m putting together soon.

Days in the Life

12 Mar

Recently my aunt suggested I do a “day in the life” post. The problem is, not one of my days are the same. I work by project, and if I have projects happening, it can be very busy. If I don’t, well 8 seasons of Bones on my hardrive look pretty tempting. So I figured I would highlight a few days from the past week, since they seem to hit most of the “types” of days I tend to have.

Friday, February 28, 2014 “My Life is Soooo Hard”

- 8:30 am – Wake up at and pack a backpack to head to Bahar Dar for a meeting
- 9:15am Meet Sandy for breakfast (special ful) at Enyame Cafe near the bus station
- 10:15am Get on a bus from Gondar to Bahar Dar
- 10:45am finally get out of Gondar after driving around the city looking for more passengers
-12:20pm Hand off medicine to a PCV in Woretta as the car is still moving, a perfect Habesha pass
-1:45pm arrive in Bahar Dar, lunch a Misrak
- 3:30pm lounge by the pool
-5:00pm Get a 20o birr ($10) massage
- 7:00pm Dinner at Desit, with beers on the lakefront
-10pm Go to bed

Sunday, February 16, 2014 “The Weekends are Busy!”

- 8:30am Wake up and contemplate making tea
- 9:00am Do an Insanity workout
-9:45am cold shower
- 9:55am Actually get around to making tea
- 10:00am finish last minute planning for today’s Girls Club Activity
-10:30am walk to Fasilides High School
-10:45am Arrive at Fasilides, be very surprised that some girls are early for the 11 o’clock club
- 11:25am finally start the club (that’s more like it), this week was about setting goals
- 12:05pm show a 10 min segment of the Girl Rising Documentary. We are working through each girl’s stories over 8 weeks.
- 12:40pm finish discussion and Girl’s Club, walk to Maraki (University Campus)
- 1:30pm arrive at Maraki and sit in the President’s office with free internet! Sorta kind of do work AKA plan India trip!
- 2:30pm Meet the ADMAS Leadership kids at the Makarki Gate, walk to Bridge of Hope School
- 3:00pm Play Jeopardy with African history
-3:45pm Introduce the Action for Gender Equality Summit and ask for applications
-4:15pm walk home (45 min)
-5:00pm Morgan makes me dinner, what a good housewife!
- 6:00pm Gossip
- 9:30pm Bedtime!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014 “Work is more than projects”

-8:30am Wake up
-8:45 am Insanity Workout – Recovery today whew!
- 9:30am Cold Shower, I will never get used to it
- 9:40am Make breakfast, peanut butter and banana
- 10:00am wash dishes in the bucket
-10:25am clean bucket for clothes
-10: 30am Do laundry by hand. This is a “3 load” day, basically the amount of times I have to change the water in the bucket.
-11:45am sweep and clean counters
- 12:05pm Make lunch, tuna on bread, salad
- 12:45pm Eat lunch and watch Leverage
- 1:30pm Just one more episode…. it’s addictive
- 2:15pm Take line taxi (minibus) to Nigat Hotel to meet Tewelde for coffee
- 2:50pm walk to Admas Science Campus for a meeting on developing a Sex Ed curriculum at the University
- 3:00pm guy who called the meeting doesn’t show… and he’s a ferenj! Rude. We wait around.
- 3:40pm walk from Admas to Piazza (45 min), when I have extra time I walk. There are a lot of hills in Gondar. I’m crazy.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014 “When It Rains, It Pours”

- 8am  Wake Up
- 8:30am walk up the hill to a meeting with Menna Food Project
- 9am Go to some of the poorest communities in Gondar to interview benificiaries about where they live, their families and the lives (video/photos to come!)
- 12pm Lunch with some site mates
- 1pm Working on Malaria logistics, scheduling a Soap training, printing Grassroot Soccer certificates and other random planning for the many projects I couldn’t say no to
- 4pm Walk to Arada (market area) to help set up Food Bank/Soup Kitchen (Wot Kitchen?)
- 4:30pm More interviews and Video
-5pm Serve food to needy
-6pm Walk home on the back roads, lots of little kids yell at me
6:30pm Buy tomatoes and potatoes at the mini market near my house (from the woman with their tarps)
-7pm Make dinner
- 8pm Transfer all my interviews and photos and video and start to catalog
- 10pm Read a chapter of Harry Potter
- 10:30pm BED!

So there are some “typical” days – lots of work, lots of life, and some #treatyoself moments. The one thing that is consistent in Ethiopia is inconsistency, but in terms of work that’s ok. I like not having a 9-5 job. I like having to be motivated to get up and do something. I like working on projects that I want to do. I like having time to exercise and read and be addicted to TV shows. But even when times are the busiest (last weekend I brought two girls to the Action for Gender Equality Summit in Addis…. 6am to 11pm days), it’s still Peace Corps: The toughest job you’ll ever love.

Genderisms and Why I Always Have My Camera

5 Dec
All the painted nails, boys and girls alike

All the painted nails, boys and girls alike

On Monday morning this week I was invited to speak to an undergrad gender empowerment class at the University of Gondar. The degree program is Gender Studies, and graduates end up mostly in government jobs working towards mainstreaming gender issues in development work and other policies. It’s a lofty goal, and I was pleased to see the room about half men as well. It’s about gender, not women. It’s about economic development, real strategies on the ground, and not just “empowerment.”

During the course of the morning I was asked about almost everything under the sun gender – from “are you a feminist?” to “why are you so passionate about these issues if compared to Ethiopia women in America are so empowered?”

Am I feminist? No, not really. Not of the 1960s militant theoretical variety anyway. Though the older I get, the more places I live, the more feminist (or mindful of gender inequality) I become.

Why am I passionate? Because we still have issues in the US as well. Because health is one of the strategies to bring women up or keep them down. In Ethiopia, too many women die in childbirth because they didn’t have access or weren’t allowed to go to a health center by family pressure. In America, I won’t even get into the slew of conservative state law going on the books this summer. Because my mother had to deal with a man’s world of upper management. Because I get harassed on the street. Because I lived in Jordan. Because I live in Ethiopia. Because I have had a lot of opportunities these Ethiopian women have had to fight so hard to get. Because I know I’m lucky, and I want those opportunities for others.

So how do you move towards a more equal society? You encourage education, especially for girls. It starts in the family. I certainly wouldn’t be here without the support of my family, and I certainly wouldn’t have made the education and career choices I’ve made if my family didn’t think I was just as capable as my brothers. And that’s a generational, long term answer. It’s exciting because I really think this generation in the universities now is going to be great role models for its kids. Women are on a precipice here, it’s this generation that will get to see that change.

There are still pockets of families in the US who would rather encourage motherhood and housewifery instead of college or work. But as gender norms go, that’s not too bad. And many women choose that path, but at least they had a choice. Some families in Ethiopia are still encouraging early marriage and high rates of female genital mutilation. I’ll take “make me sandwich” any day.

But to switch gears a bit, if gender norms here can be incredibly stiff, gendered symbols are not at all. In America, pink is for baby girls, blue for baby boys. Girls get barbies, boys get tonka trucks.

In Ethiopia, I was sitting in a café that afternoon after talking to the class and two deaf streetkids I know came up to say hi. The boy was wearing a dress and pink rainboots, and his sister had a dark green sweater, no shoes.  He got the rainboots, my guess, because he was the boy – colour be damned. My sitemate and I were painting our nails and offered to the kids. No matter, he went for the bright pink. She thought the blue was great.

Men drape over each other in cafes and hold hands or link pinkies as they stroll down the street. Women can be very shy and quiet, even meek, but still wearing the tightest ,most stylish pants. Short hair for all kids is a must during rainy season – better to keep an eye out for head fungus.

So poverty, practicality and no cultural significance to westernized gendered symbols can mean an interesting mix of cultural norms.

So encourage those women in your life. Encourage the men in your life. No matter where they live, they probably face some preconceived notions. And always have a camera, in Ethiopia, it can mean a very fun gender neutral afternoon.

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One of my grassroot soccer streetkids

One of my grassroot soccer streetkids

She was holding bottlecaps in her shirt

She was holding bottlecaps in her shirt

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this woman wanted us to paint her baby's toenails

this woman wanted us to paint her baby’s toenails

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The Least of These – The Programs of Yenege Tesfa

14 Nov

A large part of my work is supporting the amazing things that already go on in this city. Organizations and projects that have been running for years, sustained by the passion of community members. Recently I have been helping one such group with their visibility for donors (making brochures, updating the website etc.). It’s a simple way I can use my technical skills to support what’s already happening.

As part of this project, I have been going around to photograph the activities and children’s shelters run by Yenege Tesfa (translates to Hope for Tomorrow). Though I had worked with them before, Yenege Tesfa was the partner for the Grassroot soccer program with street orphans, I had never visited their shelters.

Fasil Boys' Shelter

Fasil Boys’ Shelter

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They have just opened a new boys shelter. When I walked in I recognized many of the boys I had worked with over the summer. They had just moved in two weeks ago and already they seemed more content, emotionally safe, and formed a community of brothers. They had chosen the boys based on their participation in the mobile school programming, showing that these boys, even with the hardships on the street had ambitions to better themselves. Many of the children housed by Yenege Tesfa are now in the top 10% of their classes. A supportive environment that values education really really really matters.

Some of GRS graduates

Some of my GRS graduates

Yohannes Boy's Shelter - the newest of 5 homes

Yohannes Boy’s Shelter – the newest of 5 homes

But street children are not the only vulnerable children in this community. To address a different need, Yenege Tesfa opened a day care center – across from the prison. When someone is incarcerated in Ethiopia their family must feed them, their children can live with them, and many times for single mothers, their children spend most of the time behind the prison fence.

some Day Care children

some Day Care children

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painting nails

painting nails

one of the house mothers making lunch

one of the house mothers making lunch

So as of last week, a day care program was set up to have programs for the children of prison inmates. A deal was struck with the guards to allow these children to pass through the gates in the morning, Yenege Tesfa provides programs and lunch, then they can go “home” and sleep with their mothers in the prison at night.

The broad range of programming from Yenege Tesfa is visibly making a grand change for the children and families it helps. Addressing not just the symptoms of poverty and disease (shelters, day care, food coupons) they also have the foresight to address the causes, creating programming that supports those on the edge (healthcare vouchers, mobile school for street children, agriculture for single mothers, life skills and business trainings).

girls with their house mother at Tsehaytu Shelter

girls with their house mother at Tsehaytu Shelter

Two goofballs at Tewedros Shelter

Two goofballs at Tewedros Shelter

Doing homework at Fasil Shelter

Doing homework at Fasil Shelter

At Mintwab Shelter

At Mintwab Shelter

In the model garden

In the model garden

Over the next few months I plan to highlight some of the local groups and projects I have had the pleasure to work with. Praising the good work being done by Ethiopians themselves. There are so many international aid organizations (for usually better and sometimes worse). To see homegrown or home-sustained programs makes me feel like the work I do here, if it supports these, will have more impact, more promise, and more roots.

Video

Interviews with Ethiopian Girls

21 Oct

Over one week I interviewed 17 Ethiopian high school girls about what they hope for their own futures, the future of their country, why we need to support each other, and what makes them strong women. The girls were from big towns and small villages. They were as young as 13 and as old as 18. They were Orthodox and Muslim. They responded in English and Amharic. But they all wanted to see change. They all had big hopes and dreams. I’m excited that this is the generation of girls who will get to see the changes many have hoped for, who will create change, and really pull Ethiopia towards bigger things.

Here’s what they had to say:

Pop Up Clinics

11 Oct

Word of mouth, a bunch of tarps, an empty field, four days, 60 international doctors, 100 Ethiopian doctors, and a lot of life sticks (personal water filters). This was the scene I came upon yesterday in the Samuna Ber area of Gondar. Once a year an organization called Jewish Voice Ministries (they believe in Jesus, it gets confusing – translating who they were was interesting for Ethiopian Orthodoxers) sets up a clinic on the outskirts of Gondar that sees over 8,000 patients in four days. And it’s all free medical care.

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Reading glasses station

Reading glasses station

There were lines around the blocs for dental, eye care, medical, pediatrics, and sanitation sessions. People were queued through lines outside, waiting areas inside, and for one on one visits with doctors. Many of the volunteer translators and crowd control were street kids and tour guides I see daily in Piazza. It was so great to see them volunteering, and when I praised them for it you could see how proud they were to be helping.

I randomly came across this giant operation through word of mouth. Being a volunteer (read… foreigner) in Gondar I was ushered straight in and given a visitor’s badge. I could walk freely through the different “wards” and even helped with a bit of translating (surprising everyone…. of course). I saw people from all around the city that I knew, including one little girl who goes to school across the street from my house.

Triage station

Triage station with a volunteer doctor from Addis Ababa, and some med students from University of Gondar

waiting in line

waiting in line

Every patient was given a pink prescription card, which helped them through the process. The amount of organization was actually quite impressive. Different coloured bracelets for different wards, a general flow and lots of Gondar area volunteers helping people understand where they needed to go next.

with her prescription card

with her prescription card

the hygiene and sanitation session

the hygiene and sanitation session

After patients had been through whichever station they needed, they were sent to a pharmacy to pick up any medication that was prescribed by the volunteer doctors. On the way out, everyone was given a session on hand washing and water hygiene as well as a LifeStraw, which is a personal water filter. Over 8,000 of these were distributed throughout the week.

picked up her medication

picked up her medication

it's for clean water, silly! This little girl stuck by my side the whole presentation

it’s for clean water, silly! This little girl stuck by my side the whole presentation

showing off his skills

showing off his skills

The whole thing popped up and cleaned up in less than a week. Off to Zambia, the group do these “pop up clinics” all over the world, where former Jewish tribes are rumored to be. Gondar, being the site for a lot of Israeli aid, is the only site in Ethiopia where this event occurs. The entire operation was, at least for the two hours I stopped by, well organized, well stocked, and fairly calm even though some of the people had been waiting half the day. Small and simple surgeries were performed in a room upstairs, and more complicated ones (like cataracts on one patient who is a student at the blind school) were referred to the local University of Gondar hospital. People came from all over the city to ask their questions and get checked out for free. Many times, while going to a clinic in the Ethiopian healthcare system is free (once you register the first time – 10 birr), the medications to treat are paid out of pocket. For many people, that means they wait too long to seek care, and sometimes it is too late.

Giant pop up clinics, while a major operation, are a time people can come to find diagnoses early, and will hopefully act on those within the national health care system as quickly as possible. They aren’t sustainable, but if a quick diagnosis and free meds will help, once a year it’s not a bad thing at all.

On Senegal, Malaria, and Beaches at Sunset

5 Oct

Back safely in Gondar, tucked in to my wool blanket and sweatpants, I can reflect back on the past two hot and humid weeks in Senegal at the Stomp Out Malaria Bootcamp. A Peace Corps initiative to beef up malaria prevention programming across the continent, I represented Ethiopia as one of the regional coordinators at the conference. We spent two weeks learning from experts in the fields of entomology, epidemiology, and malaria intervention experts from CDC, USAID, The President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), and MACEPA all stopped by.  But in between the sessions, case studies, and 12 hour days of training (it’s not called boot camp for nothing), I was able to get duly sunburned, and see the westernmost point in Africa.

Popenguine, Senegal

Popenguine, Senegal

fisherman at Popenguine

fisherman at Popenguine

They took us to the beaches of Popenguine for a day trip, where I swam, ate fresh fish, and spent a little too much on souvenirs.

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So as beautiful as the beaches were, we still actually learned a lot. And I am coming back to Ethiopia with best practices and project ideas from Peace Corps countries all over Africa.

remembering my French

remembering my French

we did a lot of this

we did a lot of this

looking for malaria parasites (microscopy)

looking for malaria parasites (microscopy)

At the end of the conference we headed back to Dakar (Senegal’s capital, and the westernmost capital in Africa) for some good times before long flights. I was able to see a friend from Korbel who is working in Dakar now – so nice to see a friendly face! On the whole Senegal was very different from Ethiopia. The food, the language, and the heat! made the trip, as busy as it was, still feel like an adventure. Senegalese eat family style (like Ethiopians) but you won’t find injera here. The staples were rice and couscous and everyone gets a giant spoon.

all for meeeee

all for meeeee

My last night in Senegal I went out to the Pointes des Almadies, the westernmost point in Africa. I got to literally pick out my dinner from the catches of the day, and watched the sun set over the Atlantic… the opposite side of the ocean from home.

Dakar at Sunset

Dakar at Sunset

Pointe Du Almadies (the Westernmost point in Africa)

Pointe Du Almadies (the Westernmost point in Africa)

A Passion for Prevention

25 Sep

For the past week or so I have been in Senegal on the West side of Africa learning about best practices for malaria prevention programming both broadly and for Peace Corps volunteers. Waaay over here:

All the way across the continent - First time to West Africa!

All the way across the continent – First time to West Africa!

Over two weeks we are learning more about malaria and mosquitoes (anopheles female variety of course) than I could ever want to know. Did you know they rest perpendicular to the wall? Did you care? But in the middle of the science, the entomology, and the  details of funding schemes, we are also sharing best practices, practical programs and visiting a beach or two.

More on the conference later, but Monday night we had the opportunity to attend the launch of malaria prevention program in one of the villages outside of Thies (pronounced Chezz) lead by a man who has a personal connection to the cause.

Monsieur Elhage has started malaria prevention programming in Senegal in over 10 villages around the area. Starting by walking door to door, he garnered support from village chiefs, women’s groups, and community leaders so that in a country where malaria is endemic, these villages have had 0 reported cases this year.

The "trois Toutes" (3 Alls) program- The whole family, the whole year, every night

The “trois Toutes” (3 Alls) program- The whole family, the whole year, every night

A skit about the importance of a bed net, and seeking prompt care

A skit about the importance of a bed net, and seeking prompt care

But these results have been the blood sweat and tears of over a decade of advocacy. One morning in 1999 his daughter fell ill, and asked her father, then a photographer for UNICEF, to pick up apples and oranges in the market. He went to work, bought the fruit, and mid afternoon received a call from his sister telling him of death of his 12 year old daughter Ami only 10 days before the start of school. A severe malaria epidemic rocked the region that year with children and pregnant women dying for no apparent reason.  After a gathering with the health workers in the area, Elhage began to understand his daughter had died from malaria.

What was worse, she could have been saved had she been treated quickly, or prevented the bite. So Elhage rededicated his life to malaria prevention education. Working at the village level he employed a few different strategies to get buy in from the community. He worked with the women’s groups, youth, and village leadership to develop a health community committee and fund. The fund would pay for education supplies as well as treatment costs for malaria cases.

The village clean up celebration

The village clean up celebration

Leaders of the health committee and women's groups

Leaders of the health committee and women’s groups

With push from village leaders and a mass bed net distribution from the Senegal government (in partnership with the US’s President’s Malaria Initiative), confirmed malaria cases dropped in these villages. But there was still a hot spot of infection – students coming back from summer vacation who had visited families in other villages or towns and were coming back with malaria. To combat this migration effect, the schools developed a “vacation card” and kit that gave the kids nets to take on their trips with them.

The "vacation" card

The “vacation” card, it says: “I will protect myself from malaria, I will sleep under a bed net”

In addition to the health education and bed net distributions, village chiefs put together a “night watch” group that would go around to houses in the evening to check if bed nets were up. If they were not, the household would be fined $5 (USD) – a LOT for the villagers.  The fines would be added to the community health fund. This was a completely internal idea, and worked to keep usage rates high, even in the dry season.

As malaria rates went down, funds needed to treat cases also shrank, freeing up the community health fund  to dream up bigger and better projects. Elhage began to advocate larger development goals, and he developed three philosophies needed for moving forward: politeness, cleanliness, and punctuality (a frustration for any aid worker across the continent).

Politeness, Hygiene/Cleanliness, Punctuality

Politeness, Hygiene/Cleanliness, Punctuality

For his hard work in malaria prevention and social behavioral change, the head of the President’s Malaria Initiative (Admiral Tim Ziemer) presented Elhage with a medal. Elhage has continued to promote vigilance against malaria infection and other small scale development goals.

Obama on a Medal

Obama on a Medal

Elhage talking us through his work

Elhage talking us through his work

As we hear about best practices in malaria prevention across the continent, it is always important to connect with the people who have poured their lives into the cause. People, like Elhage, who have worked for decades and pursued his message and worked with community members to affect change. Change that was home grown, and sorely needed to protect against a deadly disease. His story, while tragic, was one of the most motivating moments of the conference. With stories of his success, we volunteers can head back to our own communities and hopefully support people like Elhage.

Video

Gondar Camp GLOW Video

7 Sep

After battles with incompatible video, computer crashes, and awful editing software, I finally scraped together the 2013 Camp GLOW video. Sometimes simple is best. And putting the video together made me smile more over the past few days than anything else. Big thanks go to our partners the University of Gondar and Addis Ababa CCL Girls. And we wouldn’t be anywhere without funding from Peace Corps and PEPFAR. Last Camp GLOW post I promise! (until next year!)

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