Monday, January 23, 2012

I may not be able to change the world but maybe I can change his…

One of my favorite Mother Teresa quotes “If only one little child is made happy with the love of Jesus,..will it not be worth…giving all for that?”

Peace Corps has been one of the hardest experiences of my life. The living conditions are tough and the emotional ups and downs are worse. There are days when I feel like I’ve made a real difference, days when I feel I’m on the brink of something great, and days when I want to put my head between my knees and cry because everything I previously thought was wrong. I’ll make progress only for things to regress. I’ll see change and then old habits reappear all in the blink of an eye. Sustainability is my worst enemy because it is my hardest goal. I’m working on it. I’m learning. Hopefully by the time I leave this place I’ll have made a lasting healthy impact on the people of Dioro. Time will tell.

The days when everything goes wrong and I feel like giving up I think of Fa. He is a seven year old boy who has stolen my heart. He can’t walk because of an over constricted thigh muscle. This little guy only has a few articles of clothing, very few toys, and isn’t allowed to attend school but NOTHING gets him down. He is always smiling and laughing and shares everything I give to him with whoever is around him. He comes from a big family with four kids at home and the four oldest kids in school.  Fa’s parents are spending a lot of money on school for the oldest children so they are backed into a corner and can barely afford meals every day yet alone send the other four kids to school.  I love this family very much and do all I can to help which, unfortunately, is not very much.  We cook lunches together and I brought back a ton of toys for the kids. I feel very lucky for the time I have with them and even luckier for the time I get with Fa. He’ll crawl up onto my back and I’ll secure him there with a Malian scarf and we’ll bike to my house where we can get some uninterrupted quality time together.  Last week we cooked Mac and cheese, thanks to my friend Ashley in WI, then watched one my childhood favorite movies “Land before Time.” He loved the food and really loved the movie except he held his little hands over his eyes when Sharp Tooth came on the computer screen. I forgot how scary that T-rex was..  We don’t get much time together but it’s always spent eating delicious food, watching cartoons, and laughing uncontrollably.  He reminds me that life is what you make of it. Be grateful for what you have and never forget to give away what you don't need.   

Changing the whole world may not be an option but if we can give and show love to the people around us and they do the same, I know we can make a difference even if it’s just one person at a time. I’m hoping to get Fa enrolled into a catch up program for school this next year and am looking into some handicap organizations to get his condition looked at by a specialist in Bamako.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Bono and elevating my Peace Corps experience.

The morning started out as a normal day in village. I got up around 6:30 to the sound of my family starting their morning chores and greeting each other.  I pulled my water, made my tea, and used the rest of the warm water for my bucket bath.  I knew there was an event in Dioro so I dressed in a full Malian outfit and carefully braided my hair. Little did I know I was getting ready to meet the creator of one of the biggest NGO’s in Mali, Jeffrey Sachs, and Bono from U2!!

The Millennium Villages Project is an NGO that has been working in Dioro for a long time now. They built a clinic for the community and train and pay community health workers to do Malaria testing and reporting.  My Malian counterpart, Samaila Coulibaly, is one of their best. He goes well above the 100 family a month requirement.  Together they have saved many lives by significantly reducing Malaria deaths in Dioro.

The percentages of deaths are down and the clinic is beautiful and functioning but there are still several flaws with PVM. Bad management, corruption, and the sustainability factor just to name a few. Pouring in lots of money and seeing positive results is great but what happens when they stop funding the program? Who is going to buy the rapid Malaria tests? How is the community going to pay for the medication?  The community health workers will no longer receive a pay check and will more than likely lose interest in volunteering because the “good guys” failed them. In Jeffrey Sachs' speech at the clinic he said that they were happy to be able to support them until 2015 and then their hearts will be with them.  Wait?! What?!

This is where I come in. I have one year left in Dioro and plan on doing what I can to bring some sort of sustainability to the program. One month ago I rolled out a training program “Keneya Ton Dioro” meaning Health in Dioro.  Samaila and I compiled 11 preventative health questions for the volunteers to ask when visiting compounds. The training was very successful and all 9 relais completed 20 surveys in one month. This gives me 180 surveys to collect data from. Treating sickness is great but preventing it is a lot cheaper and a lot more sustainable. If we can educate the community so that they understand why it’s important to sleep under mosquito nets and cover water we can also significantly reduce Malaria. The questions also spark great conversations about hygiene and preventing diarrhea, another big killer in Africa.  People need to be talking about washing their hands with soap, treating water before consumption, and exclusively breast feeding infants until they are at least 6 months old. Another part of the survey is asking about maternal health. Who in the compound is currently pregnant? Have they been to a prenatal consultation? If not, what’s prohibiting them? Do they have a birthing plan?  Educating women on these issues will also save many lives.

So that is all great but the big question now is, how do we retain free health workers?? I have no money to pay them a salary and if I got a grant it would only last for a fixed time. How can we take this project and make it lucrative? Sustainable? The best way from what I’ve seen since I've been here is to start an IGA, an income generating activity.  Teach a few of the relais how to make clothe and plastic diapers in an inexpensive way and sell to families as they are visiting compounds. Women spend a lot of money on their clothes here and take a lot of pride in their appearances. They carry babies on their backs and a lot of times are urinated and defecated on. A child not wearing pants while playing in the dirt can also cause bacterial infections so I’m seeing this project as a win win. The other IGA comes from a friend of mine working with Solar Energy.  A lot of families can’t afford a flat rate payment each month for electricity and have felt cheated in the past if their consumption was low for the month. This program allows them to buy energy credit as they need it just like they do with their cell phones. Amazing! With this project just rolling out they are finding they have a lot of extra energy. Sebastian had a great idea to buy freezers and sell ice for extra income for women’s groups. I’m going to use the freezer in Dioro Tinding for Keneya Ton Dioro. The relais can sell the ice and use the money collectively to pay themselves each month. Put all the money from each IGA into an account and split it 9 ways.  There are of course flaws in this system. What if some realis are selling more than others? What about the people taking time to make them? Will it be fair?  I’m working on all that. I hope that it will all fall into place as we go. First I just need to show them ways to make extra money and hope to God it motivates them to keep working hard and save more lives.

Thank you Jeffrey Sachs and Bono for the pick me up. It was very inspirational to have you here. Thank you Bono for saying I was your hero. I know it’s silly but I’m not taking that lightly. You set up a great program, now I hope to ELEVATE it by making it sustainable.  

You make me feel like I can fly
So high