Monday, September 26, 2011

Summer Camp, Mosquito Nets, and HIV, Oh My!

I’m finally back in Nafadji after a couple weeks of traveling around to different projects.  It’s nice to be busy!

The PC volunteers in Kedougou help to run a summer camp for middle school students every year, partnering with A.D.D.K.  (The Association for the Sustainable Development of Kedougou).  One of the volunteers in our region took on the task of helping to organize the summer camp and assign various camp sessions to the other volunteers.  The camp is funded in part by some of the mining companies in the area.  Ten days of hands-on activities in Dindefelo (the village known for its spectacular waterfall), how could the kids not have fun?

I helped to lead the challenge course, nutritional porridge, tree pepineer, and sports activities.  One of the volunteers is an ex-park ranger, and he used to run leadership challenge course activities in the States.  The kids had a blast doing trust falls and problem solving activities with ropes.  Between sessions of art and games, the campers learned other valuable skills like first aid, how to make a tree pepineer and how to make nutritional porridge.  The hope is that they will be able to use this information when they get home and pass it on to their friends and families.  Out on the field, I had fun playing soccer with the kids and teaching them how to play ultimate Frisbee.  The camp was bustling with energy, and the campers were excited to finally be at the summer camp they had been looking forward to all year.  The kids sang, danced, played games, and learned a lot as well.  A few other volunteers and I were able to sneak away one evening after one of the sessions to hike to the waterfall and swim around.  It was gorgeous!  All in all, camp was a lot of fun for everyone!

After an action packed few days at camp, I headed to Saraya to help out with a massive mosquito net distribution.  To “stomp out Malaria,” Peace Corps is working to provide Universal Coverage for the entire country of Senegal.  This means having a mosquito net covering every sleeping area in the country.  It’s a huge task to take on, but we’re getting there little by little.  Last year, the entire region of Kedougou got bednets except for the zones of Saraya and Khossanto by a glitch in the distribution.  This year, Leah organized with an NGO called Networks to cover the missing zones. 

When I arrived in Saraya, Leah and I held meetings to create committees of locals in Saraya and Khossanto to help with the distribution.  We held training sessions for all the local health workers in the two zones who would be doing the census and distribution.  Before we could distribute nets, the health workers had to go to every household and determine how many nets were needed based on the number of sleeping areas and number of nets the family already had.  After the census was complete, we held distributions in villages all over Saraya.  Luckily we had other PC volunteers come in to help out with the distribution, and between the 7 of us, we were able to divide and bike out to the various distribution sites (usually the local school).  At each site, we helped the local health workers run a discussion with the community on how to take care of and use a mosquito net properly.  These nets are meant to last these families for 5 years, so people need to realize they cannot use them in their gardens to keep pests out or be careless with them.  We wrote the names of every family head on the nets along with other identifying information to make the distribution run more smoothly.  The nets are treated with chemicals to kill mosquitoes, and I found out that it is a terrible idea to touch your face after handling hundreds of nets!  My face tingled for a while.

The 3 days of distributing nets in various villages was chaotic, but it was successful!  It was frustrating to have villagers complaining about not getting enough nets or lying about how many they had received in hopes to get more.  Luckily that negativity was countered by other positive experiences of villagers being incredibly thankful to be receiving a bednet and telling the other volunteers and myself what a wonderful job we were doing.  Leah and I biked out to a tiny village deep in the bush to help with a distribution, and we were blown away by the kindness and appreciation the community showed us.  They all waited around after they received their nets, and each head of household individually came up and shook our hands and thanked us for our work.  It made me feel like the work we’re doing is making a difference.

I love that the volunteers in my region collaborate on projects and are very motivated to do good work.  It was so much fun to work on this distribution with my friends.  The Networks slogan for mosquito net use is the “3 Toutes”:  Toute la Famille, Toute l’Annee, Toutes les Nuits.  In English that translates to: the whole family, all year, every night.  On the last day of the distribution, 4 other volunteers and I were biking out to a distribution site, decked out in our “3 Toutes” aprons and t-shirts, and I had a moment of feeling so happy to be working with such a fun group.

During the census phase of the net distribution, I snuck away from Saraya for a day to help do HIV testing in Nafadji.  I rode down with the Saraya hospital car and did the labwork for the HIV tests.  Some of the youth in the village organized to have HIV testing and a community discussion about sexual health at the school.  I was very impressed with their initiative and with their eagerness to learn more about sexual health.  It was amazing to see so many young people coming in to find out their serological status, and they asked some great questions at the community discussion.  It’s exciting to be part of a community that actively wants health information and is willing to participate in awareness raising events.

Now I’m back in Nafadji and have a little time to catch my breath and finish my baseline survey.  It feels nice to be back in my hut after so much time away.  As I walked my bike and baggage towards my compound, I was greeted by the little kids on my compound running out, screaming “Aissata naata!!!” (Aissata is back), and fighting over who would carry my bags.  In a week and a half, I’ll be heading to Kedougou to help run a cervical cancer training for midwives in the area. 

I still can’t believe it’ll be October next week!  I’m missing out on pumpkin season in the US!  Pumpkin bagels, pumpkin cream cheese, pumpkin lattes, pumpkin bread, pumpkin muffins.  My mouth is watering just thinking about it.  If you’re near some pumpkin products, eat some for me!


  1. It sounds like you are having such an amazing experience and it's so great that your family and community appreciate all that you are doing to selflessly help them.

  2. Great post as usual, Marielle. Except I didn't know what a pepineer. Neither does! So, of course I googled it. You might be interested to know your blogpost is one of the top ten google hits! Which of course doesn't help much. But the 5th post, also a blog from Senegal, kindly defined it as a 'vegetable nursery' (?) So, I guess you are helping your village and the area grow tree nurseries? Hope I got it right. Anyway, great going. XOX/Kevin

  3. Thanks Kevin! And yeah some of the terms we use here tend to be French terms that I should be using the English word for on the blog! A pepineer is a vegetable or tree nursery. We use tree sacks and plant tree seeds in them and then outplant those to their permanent spots in the land after the've reached a certain height. Hope all is well!