April is Peace Corps Malaria month – that is, a month dedicated to malaria prevention (not the month when all PCVs get malaria!). Malaria is the number one single cause of death in Guinea and the entire population lives in high- transmission zones. People also have all sorts of misconceptions about malaria. For example, they say that if you eat mangoes after mango season you’ll get malaria. Malaria prevention is not difficult; it’s just a matter of people understanding how malaria is transmitted and taking steps to eliminate mosquitoes and mosquito bites. Soon it will be rainy season, which means there will be lots of standing water around, and thus lots of mosquito breeding. This is why myself, with thousands of other PCVs across Africa are dedicating our resources towards malaria prevention this month. In addition to the daily activities that people have been doing this month, the PCVs in my region decided that we would have a mass effort to sensitize as many people we could in one single day, at my site.
At first it seemed like a daunting task to plan a single day packed with malaria activities that 13 PCVS could all do together. However, after talking to some people in my community about it, they gave me suggestions and I realized how motivated my community was to host PCVs and to facilitate their work. The community stepped up and practically did all the work themselves. In the end, it was teachers, students, government officials, representatives of the health center, a theater group, a drumming group, soccer teams, and our local marching band who pulled together to make this day one of the most impactful and memorable days of my Peace Corp service. We reached out to 735 students, visited 81 homes, hung 21 previously unhung nets, and informed over 500 community members who came to our malaria themed soccer match.
In the morning, everyone met at my house and we headed to the school together; a parade of Fotes! At school we went into each classroom and played a malaria trivia game with the students, followed by a malaria skit. By noon we had visited each of the 12 classes that were in session that day. We headed back to my house, where my family had made riz gras for everyone, with meat that was very graciously donated by my community to welcome the other PCVs. At the same time, 15 of my students from last year, now in Terminale, had been asked to come and help us to do community sensitizations. The students came on time (a miracle!) and motivated. They started sharing relevant malaria vocabulary in their local languages and practiced telling each other in Susu and Pulaar about malaria. We then split up into groups of two Guineans and two Americans and had a competition to see who could visit the most homes and hang up the most mosquito nets in the different neighborhoods of my site. I was astonished by the initiative that the students took, going right up to any women or families that were outside their houses and explaining in their local languages all about malaria. They showed the families pictures and convinced everyone who had an unhung mosquito net to hang it up. I was SO proud of my students; taking what they’ve learned in class and sharing the knowledge they have with their community members. After 2 hours we regrouped at my house to tally up the work we did: we were able to see hundreds of people in their homes.
Immediately afterwards, we got dressed up in our soccer jerseys to play a mini soccer game against a co-ed team of the soccer coaches of my village and my soccer girls at our cultural center. Tons of people showed up, mostly to watch the white people play soccer. Our local journalist reported the game and interjected lots of information about malaria. A representative of our health center talked about the impact of malaria and a theater group performed a malaria skit in Susu for halftime. The game ended 1-1 and then went to penalty kicks. No one scored until we were down to our last player, who, incredulously, scored. The crowd stormed the field, screaming, dancing and cheering for us. Then everyone broke out into dance with the traditional drummers. And that’s how we ended a great day.