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


  1. Hi Ashley. Thank you for posting your experiences while volunteering. I came across your blog from the Huff Post article:

    I myself have been able to volunteer often such as with orphans in Romania and Haiti. I feel that those of us who volunteer for periods of time and actually live with the people (my wife and I also took bucket baths while living in an Haitian orphanage).

    I'm no Bono or Sachs, but I am interested in exploring your ideas and learning more how to inspire the locals in such places to grow in self reliance. The IGA's seem like an immediate remedy. My thoughts are that unless the locals are motivated somehow, and perhaps even know how things could be better (health, education, well-being overall), they will not sustain any project that does not come from them.

    When given tasks to do *something* I found locals very willing to pitch in and help the volunteers. Yet when we left, things grew quiet, people kept in touch intermittently and then one thing fell through and before one knows it, they are in need of another volunteer group to come in and help pull them back up.

    I'm not surer of any answer, but I am trying to find the source and cause of the problem: land-locked environments? no economic incentive for technological innovators? corruption? lack of money/aid?

    You address that the aid will be provided until 2015 from Sachs and his organization, you will probably leave sometime in the near future, it seems like a vast issue and not sure how to get to the core.

    Preventing disease is better than treating it, I agree. But the root of the problem still grows. I know smarter people than I have thought some of these things through, but I think their brains are not the solution, though it certainly helps with strategy and planning. I'm tending to be led to realize that somewhere in the human heart is where the root of the problem lies. Some are motivated, others not. Some are driven to serve, many more don't.

    In Haiti there are over 4,000 NGOs in that small nation. Imagine if they all just left? Somehow the locals need to be "elevated" and find a way to desire the higher ground. Some do not even know that a better life is possible having lived within their reality fo so long, they know nothing else and only accept what others from the outside, who come in for a short time, tell them is possible. If they only take part when outsiders some in, then it's like giving a man a fish.

    The IGAs is a step in the right direction because it is possibly self-sustaining. Yet the willingness must be sustained or the greatest plan in the world will only be a mosquito net, it won't get rid of the mosquitos.

    Poverty will always be with us, and needs will always be. Yet these types of situations in Africa and other such places have solutions. I heard Bono once call it, "stupid poverty." A kind that can be eradicated. This kind can, it's the kind that takes heart. You are a hero. I don't know you, but am thankful for you and feel a kinship with similar volunteers. Perhaps if you can transfer your heart into these people through love it will go much farther and the plans will, along with your heart, from within your heart, become part of theirs.

  2. Chris H. =!/Veritas_34