Uniting 3,000 Peace Corps Volunteers (6,000 stomps strong!) in 22 countries across Africa through efforts to end malaria. Visit us at stompoutmalaria.org for more information!
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One thing that bothers journalists a lot is the flow of publicity bids that arbitrarily designate a day or a month as the best time to ponder a certain pressing topic. Did you know, for instance, that May is National High Blood Pressure Education Month, Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month, National Skin Cancer Awareness Month, National Foster Care Month and Older Americans Month?

I tend not to open these emails. But recently I received an interesting Peace Corps release about a young man from Sarasota who is doing his bit for public health in Mozambique. The occasion was “World Malaria Day,” which came and went on April 25 without doing much to end malaria. But Shane Meckler is at least trying: “I have worked with my supervisor to give presentations on malaria prevention to a women’s group within our organization known as ‘Anamai Wakakombererwa’ in the local Bantu dialect,” he said. “It translates to ‘Blessed Mothers,’ and is a group of women living with HIV. We are also working with the local hospital to determine how we can go about distributing mosquito nets to these women in addition to families with children who are the most susceptible to coming down with severe malaria.”

Meckler, who graduated from Sarasota High School in 2007 and the University of Central Florida in 2011, has experienced the fragility of African children’s health firsthand: “Malaria is the number one killer in Africa — not AIDS, not starvation or any of the other things many Americans may think of. It’s malaria, spread through a simple mosquito bite. Unfortunately malaria also mostly affects children. Over half of the deaths attributed to malaria are in children under the age of 5. Every child deserves a fifth birthday and many more. Recently, a neighbor’s healthy 2-year-old daughter died suddenly after getting a fever and in all likelihood the culprit was malaria.
I emailed Meckler for more details, but it took a while to hear back from him because his access to technology is spotty. He apologized for missing World Malaria Day, and added that his parents, Susan and Gary Meckler, live and work in Sarasota.
It’s possible to end this – in our lifetime. What we need are not slogans about African Illnesses, emotional appeals to Save Those In Need, or personal campaigns to Guilt Everyone Into Donating Money. My neighbors here in Senegal are working diligently to protect themselves from infection.
Austin Post-Bulletin highlight on 3rd year volunteer Michael Toso http://postbulletin.com/news/stories/display.php?id=1494209
When I first started to understand these facts about malaria, I was filled with anger. It seemed like a tragedy. I couldn’t learn from the story, just mourn over it. But during the next two years of living and working in a tiny Senegalese village called Ndiago, I realized that we are living in a time of great hope and excitement. New technologies, growing awareness and intelligence, and a fresh zeal to eradicate malaria convince me that we’re about to see the disease’s hold on humanity ended, once and for all.
Blog from Senegal Peace Corps Volunteer Leader, Jessie Seiler, one of the first volunteers involved in the Stomping Out Malaria in Africa initiative: http://one.org/blog/2012/04/25/essay-from-senegal-what-the-ndiago-villagers-taught-me-about-malaria/

As part of our Blog About Malaria Month celebration, we’re highlighting Peace Corps Volunteers’ work in malaria: past, present, and future. Check out this latest story from RPCV Aaron Buchsbaum, Burkina Faso 2008-2010.

To see a video excerpt from the 2010 performance - a theater skit dealing with using mosquito nets, and avoiding unregulated malaria medications sold by vendors at the market here.

Sunday evening, after church, before sunset, outside the health clinic, 16 o’clock (4pm) to be “exact.”

As a newly minted Peace Corps Volunteer in Burkina Faso, it was perfect – the beginnings of a collaboration with a motivated, well-respected counterpart. I hoped my French would be up to the task of discussing the use of theater as an educational tool. I would settle for making a good first impression.

I worked to integrate myself into Burkinabè life, in particular with the West African concept of ‘time’: don’t expect meetings to happen when they’re supposed to, don’t expect a large turnout, do please enjoy some conversation and tooth-crushing sweet tea while you wait. Unfortunately, like a love-addled fool, I dove in too deep too soon and, in a cultural reversal of epic proportions, I was the one who botched the meeting with Gregoire Ouedraogo. Or more accurately, I rode my bike past the health clinic at 17h30, where the head nurse flagged me down and pointed to a bored looking man on a moped.


Shamed by such a fabulous non-introduction to an important community member, I sprang into action, intent to recover Gregoire’s good graces. Again, maintaining my role as a well-meaning (misguided) recent arrival, I offered to Gregoire the time-honored West African gift of kola nuts. Large, purple, and intensely bitter, these caffeinated “nuts” are widely adored by old men and women, perhaps for their ability make you think you’ve filled your mouth with iron-laden sand. Unfortunately Gregoire was not an old man (or woman), and as the pharmacist soon hinted to me, my peace-offering needed to be replaced by something for a younger crowd: cold beer. 

Greorie and kids

From this initial faux-pas (I did, in fact, buy Gregoire a beer) began one of the most important relationships I had while in service. The winner of a national theater competition in the early 2000’s, Gregoire captained a group of actors from several different villages, often contracted by local and international NGOs to perform educational skits covering topics like voter registration, vaccination awareness, and malaria prevention. We worked together on several community health initiatives, but shared our most interesting success by collaborating on youth camps organized during the summers of 2009 and 2010. 

Drawing crowds of 150 - 200 people, Gregoire and a cast of 20 students created some truly amazing crowd-pleasing education. They performed two 15-minute skits on topics of their choosing, with dialogue memorized entirely from Gregoire’s direction, and costumes from his personal stash. Both years, the students chose malaria as one of their main themes, a testament to the daily diagnoses I witnessed when working at the health clinic. Highlights from the 2010 skit included a “mayor” organizing his town to literally beat mosquitoes with sticks; cooler voices advocating for nets prevailed by the end.

Parfait listens to a visiting nurse

Make no mistake - I was very hands off when rehearsals rolled around. My work had already been done, organizing the camps, selecting materials for discussion, and acting as primary educator each week. As we hope for in the Peace Corps, I eventually “worked myself out of a job” and had the pleasure of watching Gregoire turn hesitant (yet giggling) 6th graders into a solid troupe of actors.

Of course, you never know what you’re going to get when your theater “stage” is a patch of dry red soil, and the curtain is a 12-foot bolt of fabric strung between two trees. But, by the time the actors took their bow in 2009 I was blown away. Already I knew the feat could (and should) be repeated the following summer. When September 2010 came, Gregoire and the students again set the stage. Only this time, we hosted some audience members from very far away…

Fati leaves home

My parents.

Would the production match the days when their own son performed in “The Three Little Pigs” at West Amwell Elementary School? In truth, no; like much of life in Burkina Faso, it would surpass their wildest expectations.

My father summed up the theatrical experience best, echoing the same thoughts that entered my American mind one year prior: “These kids are amazing, but I can’t stop thinking: How could anyone outside the country ever have any idea they are capable of such things? What would they do if they knew?” 

While there is a certain iniquity, knowing incredible efforts in ‘strange’ countries go unrecognized, it is an important reminder that creativity, dedication, and talent are in strong evidence in places where the literacy rate hovers at 25%. I submit this story in the name of Gregoire Ouedraogo, and the immense goodwill he has shown - and will always show - towards the community of Sabce, Center-North Region, Burkina Faso. May his work demonstrate to us all a little more about what is possible in life.

Murals in Madagascar Across Madagascar, volunteers have been working with local work partners, school groups, and community health workers to create malaria education murals. To see more of what Madagascar is up to for World Malaria Day, check out stompoutmalaria.org.