By: Stefan Tangen/PC Sierra Leone
A normal day in my village starts with greeting my neighbors, “Beeyi, e bi gahun?” Or in English, “Morning, how are you?” Frequently, the answer is “fine” or “I thank God.” However, many times the answer is “I’m not well, I’ve got malaria.” For a long time I thought people just didn’t know the difference between malaria and the common cold. Then I saw the malaria prevalence map for my region of Sierra Leone which shows 80-90% of people are affected by malaria.
I live in the village of Kortuhun which is a small subsistence farming village of about 550 people located in Bombali District north of Makeni. When I found out that Stomp Malaria, a Peace Corps group set up to address malaria throughout Africa, was doing a bike ride in my region I was ecstatic. The opportunity to address such a pressing health issue for the people in my village is exactly the type of thing I hoped to do in Peace Corps.
Kortuhun was the fifth stop on the tour and the only stop off of the Kamakwie highway. Being off the main highway proved a more challenging ride for some folks and led to a few minor injuries, but nothing too serious. In Sierra Leone things don’t always happen as might be expected so I wasn’t sure exactly how smoothly the program would go. Fortunately, my students took an exam in the morning so we had enough time to get settled and prepare everything.
As soon as the students finished taking the exam we set up and did our introductions. People in the villages really enjoy learning about where Peace Corps Volunteers work and Kortuhun was no exception. After intros we performed a skit that demonstrated a scenario that often happens throughout Sierra Leone. It featured an old granny that can’t afford to pay for malaria medicine for her or her family. Her pregnant daughter ends up dying as a result of the lack of treatment. The point of the skit is to show the importance of getting tested for malaria and also of getting treatment. After the skit we did a bed net demonstration to show how malaria travels from mosquitos to people who do not sleep under bed nets. We showed that by simply using a bed net malaria could be prevented in most cases. The students seemed pretty receptive to the program and definitely enjoyed our acting skills.
Once we finished the program with the students many of our female PCVs played soccer with the female students. People in Sierra Leone seem to always love a good soccer game and definitely enjoy Americans trying to compete against people they know. While the soccer game was going on the rest of the group that wasn’t playing soccer was able to give the program to nearly 80 community members. The community members in attendance included the section chief, the ceremonial chief and many other notable members of the community. Most of the participants were very engaged and had quite a few questions and concerns after we performed the drama and the bed net demonstration.
In both programs we were able to effectively deliver the tour’s main messages of prevention and treatment. Not only that, but the people of Kortuhun seemed to really appreciate the attention Peace Corps gave to a small village far from major city centers. All in all I was very happy with the program and glad that my fellow PCVs could share their knowledge of malaria with my community.