An important part of my service here in Guinea has been my involvement with a Peace Corps initiative called Stomp Out Malaria. STOMP is a Peace Corps program designed to harness the strengths of Volunteers on the ground with regard to malaria work. In Peace Corps Africa posts, members of the STOMP team work to make sure that all Volunteers have the opportunity to work on malaria prevention and treatment efforts during their services. I have been a member of the STOMP team since September 2013 when I attended an intensive STOMP training camp affectionately referred to as “Malaria Boot Camp.” Beyond simply working to encourage malaria prevention activities, STOMP is also dedicated to increasing the rigor of Peace Corps projects by encouraging sound monitoring and evaluation strategies and professionalism amongst Volunteers.
Peace Corps Guinea’s STOMP program launched in June 2012 with the arrival of our first Volunteer coordinator, Sean Cochrane. By the summer of 2012, Sean had set up a network of “regional malaria coordinators” volunteers interested in helping organize malaria events in their particular geographic regions of Guinea. Regional malaria coordinators (RMCs) serve as resources for the Volunteers in their region with regard to everything malaria related. In my role as an RMC, I connect my Volunteers with resources such as lesson plans, project ideas, or even mural sketches. As an RMC, I have access through STOMP databases to materials and projects prepared by Volunteers all over Africa. Additionally, RMCs keep track of partner NGO activities planned in our respective regions and try to get Volunteers involved whenever possible. Recently, our RMC team has been very successful in ensuring Peace Corps presence in the planning process for Guinea’s upcoming mosquito net distribution campaign.
Our latest project as a STOMP team was the organization of country-wide malaria month contest. The Stomp Guinea assigned point values to various malaria related projects and pitted the three regions of Guinea against one another. The region with the highest point total at the end of the month would win a cash prize as well as large gift basket from Peace Corps Guinea’s Administration, full of things that volunteers crave and have a hard time finding in country.
In wake of a month of regional malaria trainings around Guinea that taught Volunteers the basic science of malaria as well as gave them some tools to combat malaria in their communities, Volunteers became motivated to action. While most Volunteers know something about malaria after spending extended time in their communities, the trainings were designed to empower Volunteers to begin their own malaria projects at site. The trainings also gave Volunteers in each region the time to get together and create an action plan for malaria month. Each region’s training generated great ideas for malaria month, but it was Basse Cote’s training in Conakry that really started to light a fire in Peace Corps Guinea. After the training, bike tours, soccer matches, and trainings for community health agents were all planned. Volunteers in Basse Cote even organized a well-attended secondary strategy meeting at their regional capitol the last weekend in March just to make sure that everything was in place for April.
April turned out to be a great month for our malaria team all over the country. All month long, Volunteers participated in malaria events. For most of these Volunteers, it was their first malaria related project. As an RMC, I was busy the whole month trying to keep up with all the Volunteer activities going on! In Conakry, Sean was constantly sending out lesson plans, visual aids, and whatever other materials Volunteers in the field requested. It was so exciting to be fielding questions and offering advice to Volunteers independently launching their own malaria projects. The motivation and drive amongst Volunteers was remarkable, and I had so much fun being a part of it. The month capped off with a large soccer tournament/school fair/neighborhood tour in Wonkifong, a village outside Conakry. The event was special not only because we reached a large number of Guineans in fun ways, but also because we had the privilege of hosting both Julie Burns, Peace Corps Guinea’s country director, and Alex Laskaris, the US ambassador to Guinea, at the event.
While as Stomp Guinea takes a moment to breathe (although not for long because of the upcoming nationwide bed net distribution campaign!) and calculate the point totals from April, it is important for us to take a moment and assess why and how malaria month went so well. Since Peace Corps Guinea’s reopening in 2011 after a series of evacuations due to political unrest, many Volunteers have found it difficult to launch independent projects. Peace Corps Guinea has been evacuated so often over recent years that it sometimes feels like our present group of Volunteers is building the program all over again. For our Volunteers, malaria month felt like a big breakthrough. Volunteers collaborated with each other and built on each other’s experiences in ways not seen since our reopening. The feeling of “team” that emerged within the regions was encouraging and made the friendly competition fun for all Volunteers involved.
Where, however, did this momentum come from? Importantly, the competition aspect worked very well in our country. Volunteers loved hearing about how many points they’d earned or how their region was faring in the country-wide competition. The competition also encouraged Volunteers to work together and collaborate, giving an additional value to Volunteer activities across the country. Secondly, the materials and ideas provided at regional trainings empowered Volunteers to take action within their communities. With visual aid or a lesson plan in hand, Volunteers felt less intimidated by the idea of starting their own malaria activity.
Lastly and most importantly, malaria month would not have happened without the dedicated efforts of a few extremely motivated individuals across the country. These people served as “sparks” for the Volunteers around them and lent energy and momentum to malaria month. Many of these individuals weren’t official members of the STOMP team. Impressively, many were also among the newest Volunteers in country. Alexa Gudelsky, Maren Lujan, and Matt Chalupa went above and beyond the call of duty with their numerous market days, murals, and soccer matches. Dante Bugli, Geoff, and Ben Collins’ energy and enthusiasm fueled Basse Cote’s competitive edge all month long. Liz Chadwick’s soccer game and neighborhood tours gave many Volunteers their first chance to participate in a malaria month event. Tess Palmer’s Twitter campaign was a fun and innovative way for Peace Corps Guinea to share our work online. And lastly, Mary Tellers and Allison Glick’s translations of malaria terms to both Susu and Baga are execellent contributions to our growing STOMP Guinea resource database. All around, malaria month owes its success to hard-working individuals who were willing to stick their necks out and give malaria projects a try.
I’ll end my post with my favorite statistic from malaria month. Our goal for Volunteer participation in malaria month was 100%, and we achieved over 85%. Amongst the Volunteers in my region, that percentage rises to almost 100%. I love how that particular statistic conveys the “team” effort that categorized malaria month. Cheers to PC Guinea!