Archive | September, 2013

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.

An Ode to American Toilet Paper

15 Sep

WARNING – this post is rifled with too much information on bathroom habits, and just a little bit about culture. Proceed with caution if you have a weak stomach, or at any point you ever thought I was attractive.

First, do NOT send me toilet paper. I can buy a roll here for the equivalent of 50 cents at any suk on the side of the road, and that space would be much better served housing a chocolate bar. BUT, when one of my friends left for America after finishing up her research here last week she dropped off a bag of goodies – Clorox wipes, a few shirts, some olive oil, and… American toilet paper.

Oh the joys of double ply quilted. I always knew ye, but I had forgotten. When I got a cold last week, you were there, not chaffing my nose. When I had “the gas” that injera eaters know all too well you were a comfort. When I reveal too much information about anything body related on my blog, you will still be there, soft and … well, soft.

Ironically, toilet paper here is called “soft.” It’s not. But, like I said I can get a roll for the equivalent of 50 cents… you get what you pay for.

Toilet paper is funny. To an American, the first thing I would update in a home would be the bathroom, or kitchen. To an Ethiopian, the first thing they would update is the main room or bedroom. I have been to so many houses with mud walls, rat holes, and a tarp ceiling, with a giant maple cabinet that holds their china dishware. I don’t get it. I would have put in a toilet, or a water heater, or a propane stove.

But, toilet paper is the metaphor for priorities – most Ethiopians don’t use it anyway, and they probably think I’m super gross for not using water… though a little water, tp combo does the trick. I really think it’s a North American thing. I’ve used squat latrines in Italy for pete’s sake.

The point is, small pleasures are so worth it. And I’m pretty sure an American grocery store is going to blow my mind when I get back. Multiple brands of toilet paper?? That I can buy in bulk?? Don’t even take me to the toothpaste aisle.

So for now I’ll use the roll Kristin left for me. And when it runs out, I’ll go back to “soft.” But the few weeks I could mooch off Morgan’s hot shower when she was homeless (rats… don’t ask… or do) was heavenly, and I only wanted to die a little bit taking that first cold shower again.

These are never the reasons people have a hard time. I’ll take power outages, pit latrines, and water scarcity over harassment any day. But that small feeling of home, reminds me I’m not living here forever… and I think I’m ok with that (sorry Peace Corps).

Maybe when I go back, I’ll appreciate the toilet paper (read everything) a little bit more.




13 Months of Sunshine

9 Sep

Melkam Enkutatash! Happy Ethiopian New Year! If you harken back to my post on the craziness of the Ethiopian time keeping system and calendar, you will remember that the New Year starts mid September (September 12 to be exact, this year), after a 6 day month called Pagumae. And it’s 2006.

So Pagumae is a 6 day month that happens as rainy season winds down to bring in the New Year. Since the other 12 months are always 30 days, this 13th month fluctuates between 5 and 6 days (depending on a leap year) to keep the system on track. So if you count the 2 sunny days we had during rainy season, it’s true – 13 months of sunshine. A tourism slogan’s dream.

The Ethiopian Orthodox calendar follows the orthodox christian (originally Coptic) calendar, so really orthodox Christians the world over will be celebrating New Years on Wednesday.

If you told me in 2006 that I would be living in 2006 in 2013 I would have been like…. does the Dolorian exist? Where we’re going we don’t need roads! Ironic, since there aren’t many here.

Anyways, Happy New Year and bring on the sunshine!


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!)