August 08, 2011

o just saving lives, no big deal

Dear friends,

My purpose for this blog entry is twofold. The first being, I haven't written a blog in an incredibly long time (I wanted to write about the amazing 4th of July bike trip to Kedougou, but I got JT Adventures or Under Senegal Skies for the unbelievable saga). Next, I want to ask you for money again but thought it rather crass to post two fundraising pleas back-to-back. So..

Stomping out Malaria. It's MalARIOUS!!!

NGOs have lots of money and can do fancy projects like building a high school with air conditioning, or a water tower. Funding for Peace Corps volunteers, on the other hand, is a bureaucratic hassle that makes me want to cry/scream and come begging to you fine people for handouts. However, what we lack in budget, we make up for in heart. I wish licking the screen right now would taste as cheesy as that sounds.

Let me paint you the poster child of a Peace Corps project. The 13 volunteers of the Linguere Region pooled a little bit of our own money, time and creativity to create something beautiful. We went on a Malaria tour to each of our villages, the 11 villages cover a span of 135 kilometers. We rolled up to the villages sitting in the back of a truck, banging on bowls, hootin' n' hollerin' with a bullhorn calling the village to a general meeting place, usually the largest shade tree.

We begin our "traveling circus" with basic introductions and explain why an army of white people has descended upon the village. Then we move into short skits on myths of where malaria comes from, common misconceptions include eating lots of mangoes, drinking lots of milk, walking in a hot sun (when in Senegal is there any other kind??) and spirits. At the end of each skit we chant the phrase "mosquitoes bring malaria". The power of repetition is an very effective tool, add clapping and a sweet dance step and it's ingrained forever. Walking around Linguere yesterday people began chanting our song. It's going to be big.

After skits we use cardboard cutout people to explain how mosquitoes spread malaria from one person to the next. We had way to much fun searching through old magazines for the right heads to put on our people. In the end President Obama, Rihanna, and Justin Bieber (both as the head of a baby and a grown man) were our examples.

Next we moved on to ways to prevent malaria, including the importance of sleeping under a mosquito net and neem lotion. The lotion is made from boiling neem leaves, adding soap and a little bit of oil. Apparently neem works as a mosquito repellent. I started using it to see if it actually worked and was pleasantly surprised. Aside from the heavy feeling of coating your body in a film of soap and oil, the lotion is pretty good. Although, I choose to disregard the studies that find a connection between neem and infertility in rats.

Once the lotion is ready we do a Q&A session tossing bags of neem lotion as prizes to people who can answer our malaria questions. We close with our Peace Corps support staff, Tidiane AMAZING Diao, leading a summation of everything that happened. It truly was perfection. We educated over 1300 people on causes and prevention of malaria. People came to gawk at the whitey invasion, stayed because our program was interactive, fun and informative (and it's Ramadan so the other activity option is laying on a mat talking about how hot and thirsty they are) and left with memories and knowledge that will remain much longer than the goofy Americans that stay in the village for two years. Peace Corps is awesome.

One of many pots of mosquito repelling neem lotion.

Chatting with the kids before we start our skits.
It was MalARIOUS

This is us making neem lotion. Please notice our gorgeous visual aid in the background.

Explaining how malaria is spread.

Malaria Dreamteam:
All 13 of the volunteers in the Djolof region and Tidiane Diao

Probably in the middle of a chant.
Please notice the ridiculous number of people in the crowd.
This was only one village. We did this 11 times.

This is a moment of zen. We stroll into our radio station at 11pm. They immediately interrupt their emission in broadcast to put us on LIVE. They literally gave us microphones and headsets and let us go. After a 10 minute plug for our current Malaria Tour, we sang slash laughed through "Row row row your boat" for a solid 5 minutes until we could pull the man in charge away from his skype conversation. I love this country.

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