This is one of those blogs where I feel the need to start off with an apology. I haven’t blogged here in a long time. I could tell you I live in Africa and Internet is hard to come by. I could talk about the ups and downs of Peace Corps life and explain that sometimes you just don’t feel like taking the time to describe how different your life is to the people back home. I could tell you that my life has gotten much less exotic since I moved to Kigali, and that I have been lacking inspiration. There are many things that I could say, but the truth of the matter is, I’ve been a little sick lately. I’ve got malaria fever.
Last March, I was afforded the opportunity to attend Stomping Out Malaria in Africa’s Boot Camp in Senegal. Since then, nearly everything I have done has been malaria-related. I even recently went live on You Tube translating for my friend Justine as we shared our work with Peace Corps Volunteers and partners around the world.
It all started when John and I implemented Peace Corps Rwanda’s first major malaria prevention and control project, reaching over 1,300 citizens in Rwanda’s endemic Nyagatare District. Focusing on behavior change communication, community mobilization and interactive learning, we worked with our health center staff to develop, translate and facilitate five, two-day, 10-hour malaria prevention trainings for local health workers and community leaders. We made learning about malaria fun.
Participants played games, designed malaria prevention tee-shirts, made dream banners, and raced to answer malaria facts and debunk malaria myths. They discussed the devastating way malaria impacts Rwanda’s development and came up with community solutions to this largely preventable public health problem. Equipped with new skills, tools and knowledge, local community health workers and area leaders then collaborated to plan and execute their own community mobilization events in 19 different villages.
Then, there was a Girls Leading Our World GLOW Camp. Together, with my regional colleagues, we defied all sorts of obstacles in order to make malaria prevention education at Peace Corps camp a reality. Not only did we use Malaria No More’s NightWatch curriculum to inspire the camp’s junior facilitators to teach their peers, but we distributed nearly 100 mosquito nets to people in need. It was the first time Peace Corps Rwanda was the primary actor in a net distribution and we had started a trend. By fall, every Peace Corps region in Rwanda had incorporated malaria prevention education into their camps. The people at the President’s Malaria Initiative were so impressed they offered to pay for net distributions at all subsequent Peace Corps Rwanda camps.
Soon after, John and I moved to Kigali so I could take on the role as National Coordinator. In less than a year, we increased Peace Corps Volunteer participation in malaria prevention and control by 43%. We focused on building a team of malaria experts at Peace Corps Rwanda, increasing the availability of resources for malaria prevention and control, and improving volunteer training. Since then our volunteers have organized youth-led radio shows about malaria and HIV/AIDS prevention. They went on a bike tour in this land of literally 1,000 hills. They have organized lessons, planned events and had countless conversations with their peers.
Most recently, we organized Peace Corps Rwanda’s first Malaria Expo where we brought together 90 Peace Corps Volunteers and Rwandans to learn about malaria prevention and community mobilization. Participants went home with materials to inspire and motivate the people in their villages. In the next month, malaria murals are going to pop up on the walls of village schools, markets and health centers. Sporting competitions with malaria half time shows will be played. Malaria dramas will be performed, and there will be no shortage of community discussions surrounding the disease.
The people of Rwanda won’t know what hit them, but I will. It’s the malaria fever.
Well I am not proud it has been nearly a year since I last wrote, I am proud of how I have been spending my time. The global malaria epidemic is often said to be one of world’s most preventable public health challenges. The solutions are seemingly simple and cost effective, and unlike many other diseases that plague the developing world, treatment and care for malaria is readily available even in the most remote corners of the globe. Yet, the global malaria burden remains, impacting society’s most vulnerable. In 2010, 216 million people were infected with malaria–655,000 of them dying from the disease. The vast majority were children under five and African. Economists estimate that malaria drains 1.3% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s annual Gross Domestic Product, some $13 billion annually. Malaria is the leading cause of school-age absenteeism in Africa and reoccurring infection in childhood can lead to impaired cognitive development.
On April 25, 2011 the United States Peace Corps launched its Stomping Out Malaria in Africa initiative in order to eliminate malaria from Africa in our lifetime. Four years later, volunteers in Rwanda have gotten the message. They are doing everything they can to stomp out malaria and I couldn’t be more proud. They have malaria fever. Do you?
To learn more about STOMP Rwanda, click here to read our blog.
Copyright © 2014 Beth Walton – All Rights Reserved