Happy Malaria Month! (More importantly, MAY IS HERE AND APRIL IS GONE!)

HALLELUJAH, it’s May! April is finally over and new things are on the horizon.

But first, let’s recap the past couple of weeks.

On April 25th, World Malaria Month began and I embarked on a dual-purpose mission: (1) teach malaria prevention strategies and help to lower my District’s very high rate of malaria and (2) remain as busy as possible to avoid dwelling on April’s travesties.

So far, so good.

As I’ve mentioned before, Rwanda celebrates “umuganda” (day of service) on the last Saturday of each month. April’s umuganda was quite special since April marks the anniversary of Rwanda’s 1994 Genocide. I spent the morning of Saturday, the 25th cleaning up around the Health Center and hanging banners and signs for the ceremony that was held the following Monday.

At some point during the next week, we “border” PCVs (my District borders Burundi on its Southern and Eastern fronts) received a safety and security e-mail updating us on the current state of things.

For those of you who don’t know…Burundi’s president, Pierre Nkurunziza, is seeking a third term, despite a constitutionally set two-term limit. Riots and turmoil have forced tens of thousands of Burundians to flee to the DRC and Rwanda. There are about 3,000-5,000 refugees crossing into Rwanda daily. Many of them are crossing into my District, stopping at one of the nearby temporary transit stations, and being moved into a refugee camp. The nearest camp is about an hour walk from my house. The influx of refugees isn’t exactly changing my day-to-day. The biggest change is that my Health Center and neighboring hospital are seeing more patients seeking psychiatric help (the current conflict in Burundi is bringing up many emotions for Rwandans who sought refuge during the 1994 Genocide). As far as Peace Corps and the Embassy are concerned, we’re perfectly safe; we just need to keep an eye out for a rise in petty crimes and theft.

As for doing my part? I’ll be splitting my time (75/25) between my Health Center and the nearby refugee transit station until the situation has leveled out. Since I live on the Red Cross compound, I’m getting a unique opportunity to help out with the women and children who have crossed the border. I’ll be ensuring that they’re taken care of until they reach the camps and that they have access to the resources they need to take care of their kids. One mama gave birth, via c-section, just after she crossed into Rwanda and is a first-time parent. Right now, I’m just helping keep her spirits up and make sure she’s breastfeeding regularly and hygienically.

[If you want to read more (which you should, since this is a conflict that is going to affect all of East Africa’s relationships…read this New York Time’s article, Burundi on the Brink.)]

The Wednesday after that e-mail was sent, I got a visit from our PCMO (Peace Corps Medical Officer). The medical team visits PCVs once a year and decided to move up our visits because of April’s events. My Health Center was stoked that they could speak French to the doctor; the visit went well and the doctor told me I’m spoiled because of my Health Center, home, and flushing toilet. (I really can’t say he’s wrong; I lucked out!)

Soon after, I was notified that a VIP from the Embassy would be coming to my regional town soon for a visit. I can’t really give out more details than that until said visit has happened, but it’ll be a good opportunity for me to meet and greet…and get to know some doctors who are here, from the States, to help at the refugee camps. (More details to come next week!)

Following that, it was time to prep for our Southern Province Malaria Walk! From April 30th-May 2nd, eight of us PCVs went site-to-site to teach about malaria prevention and treatment. We were able to reach three schools, a health center, and nearly 1,000 students. Aside from BE Camp last year, this was one of my favorite activities so far. We got to play games with the kids, watch some student-led skits, listen to malaria-related songs, and teach lessons on how to lower malaria transmission rates. I honestly do feel like we made a little knowledge dent in those kids’ lives…and it’s always a good feeling to feel productive in Peace Corps.

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I don’t know what’s going on with my face here, but we’re arranging the lifecycle of a mosquito and explaining how malaria spreads from person to person.

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Kim’s BE & GLOW Camp kids doing a sketch on what to do when you think you have malaria. (Hint: Go to a CHW or Health Center and get tested!)

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The sketches continue. P.S. Yeah, this is how males and females greet each other in Rwanda.

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IMG_8185On the Friday of the Malaria Walk, I had to skip a site to attend my Health Center’s Labor Day celebration. I was bummed to miss part of the Walk, but had such a fantastic time at the party. We were in my regional town at a swanky hotel and…here’s the kicker…all the food and drinks were freeeeeee. That’s right…I pigged out on frites and chicken wings and Coke and didn’t have to pay for a thing. (As it turns out, the government of Rwanda was footing the bill since our Health Center did so well last year.) Of course, in true Rwandan fashion, we all gave speeches about our co-workers and what we hoped to accomplish this year.

As I spoke, I came to realize that it’s been nearly a year since I left the States and nine months since I started working at Kibilizi Health Center. I’ve worked there longer than all of the interns, seen co-workers come and go, and bonded heavily with my supervisor and counterparts. As we celebrated, I thanked my lucky stars for the new family I have here in Rwanda. My counterpart and I spoke about the tight bonds we share as a staff. It’s quite unique and a testament to the wonderful people I call my co-workers.

The party planner, Rugamba (one of my counterparts) had decided weeks ago that we’d do a secret-santa style gift exchange for the holiday. It was incredible amounts of fun. Some people wrote poems to get us to guess who they were gifting to. Others danced their way to the giftees. When it was my turn, I think the staff was a bit shocked to watch me dance my way around the tables and trick various co-workers into thinking they were my giftee…before finally sneaking up on Josie (my true “cacaette” giftee). Afterward, my counterpart asked me, “Why are you not excited at work?” I laughed and told him that, in America, our work culture is very different than Rwanda’s; that I’m serious at work because that’s what I’m used to. He understood, but said, “America is not fun. You are VIP here.” I just cracked up because he’s so right. Later, I discovered that my best friend, Moseka, was my gifter; she got me three beautiful pieces of igitenge (traditional African fabric) that I’ll be making into a dress very soon. After filling myself with free food and joy, I hopped on a moto for my third hour-long ride and headed to Vanessa’s site…our last stop on the Malaria Walk.

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11169936_10100158516573701_4221807993316844623_n11150660_10100158516633581_1680226313635802688_nOn Saturday, when we finished up at Vanessa’s site, the eight of us basically got ourselves into a moto parade (seven abazungu on motos for an hour tends to draw attention) and went to our regional town for our quarterly meeting.

After April’s events, the South lost two Health 6ers…so the meeting felt a bit different. It was quieter, quicker, and more subdued. (Not that it wasn’t fun, but there was a new, distinct energy difference.) It was Kim’s last meeting as Southern VAC Rep; we elected Grace as our new Rep. Feels so strange that in three months I’ll be a member of the most senior Health group in country. Have I really already been here a year?! Where did the time go?

That morning, our regional town had a Genocide memorial event and tensions were running high for some locals. Two of our fellow PCVs had a run-in with a particularly angry local who shouted and cursed at them; they were forced to retreat to the safety of some nearby armed guards when he picked up a rock and threatened them. Luckily, we didn’t have any incidences when we went out as a group later (for fried pork and frites), but we all decided on a quiet night in…playing Goat Simulator and downloading movies. It made me realize that come December, when Health 5 and Ed 5 are gone…it’s going to be an even lonelier time for us Health 6ers. I’ve got a lot of hopes riding on the new Health group (that’ll be here in one month!)…hoping they’re up for the challenges and adventures that come with being a PCV in Rwanda right now. Health 6’s old motto, “No new friends” doesn’t apply anymore. We’re taking applications for honorary members, ya’ll! (Must love movie nights, Case cleanliness, coffee, and slip n slides.)

On the horizon?

This week, I’ll finally be installing the television in the Health Center waiting room. I’ve finally finished negotiating a price for a metal wall mount. So that’s exciting!

We’ve also pinned down a hotel for the WASH Training of Trainers and decided onΒ  dates (the last week of May). Come mid-June, the three of us doing WASH will begin our village trainings and finally start a program that’s been six months in the making.

As for David’s bleach dispenser project, we’ve all been trying to figure out how best to proceed. Unfortunately, all Health 6ers have grants out already, so we can’t take over his grant until we close out our own (around September). We also thought about getting a Peace Corps Response Volunteer to take over the project, but many Response Volunteers don’t get language training and wouldn’t have the communication skills required to get the project moving in Rugendabari. Finally, we’ve settled on the incoming Health 7 group. After their training is complete, they’ll have the language skills necessary for village life and will be aptly prepared for health work. We’re planning to explain David’s project, in detail, to them during their PST (Pre-Service Training) and, with any luck, one of them will want to be placed in Rugendabari and help us finish David’s project. It’s quite a unique opportunity, to be given a project that’s already fully planned out, and be responsible for oversight and M&E (Monitoring and Evaluation). Since David thoroughly planned everything out, the project itself will only last a couple of months (including the hygiene trainings). So by December, if a Health 7 PCV is placed in Rugendabari, they’ll be finished up with their first project and ready to move on to whatever they want. Fingers crossed! After the Rugendabari pilot program, the hope is that a good number of Health 6ers and Health 7ers will want to move forward installing bleach dispensers in their own villages; it’s too good of a project not to want to spread the project throughout the country.

So, that’s that.

Let me reiterate:

IT’S MAY! It’s no longer April. Much excite.

6 thoughts on “Happy Malaria Month! (More importantly, MAY IS HERE AND APRIL IS GONE!)

  1. Very good update…thank you for always being so thorough so as we in the states feel as though we really know what is going on…I am thankful for the insight you bring so that I feel just a little closer to you and know and understand your daily life away from home….love you and keep up the great work you and your fellow cohorts are doing.

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