Category Archives: Health and Environmental Education in Podor

Depistage

Paul organized a great blood testing tour of Diambo (Evan’s village) and Taredji (Jonno’s village).  We tested 87 people.  There was a 25-30% syphilis rate and one HIV-positive result.

DEPISTAGE!

We spent two nights in Diambo and one night in Taredji.  In Taredji, Jonno’s MSS girls (many of them also participated in our girls leadership camp) performed a great theater sketch that attracted a huge crowd.  We passed out condoms (in secret to many teenage boys, much in the manner of a drug-deal, and to not so many older women who thought the condoms were candy or medicine) in addition to teaching many adolescents how to put on a condom correctly.

This was a great project to end our service with, especially because it involved working with our two closest friends Evan and Jonno.

Fa Ly taking blood from a patient

Fa Ly taking a blood sample

Jonno explaining how HIV can/cannot be transmitted

Paul hands out peanuts to some waiting patients in Diambo

Evan's brother Sinthiane

Teaching kids about HIV/AIDS

Abused puppy finally gets to play (normally spends his day in a hole)

Hitch-hiking for a ride to Taredji! We ended up walking most of the way.

Girls demonstrate proper condom use

MSS girls ready to do theater

Crowd gathers in Taredji to watch the theater sketch about HIV/AIDS and other sexually-transmitted diseases

 


Thank you!

I think that now would be the time to say a HUGE thank you to Appropriate Projects, Janine and Bob (and the Tiee family), and Yuan for their donations to my latrine project in Podor! I never really posted anything about the completion of the project, and Appropriate Projects has just posted the conclusion report.
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The project was a huge success, mostly because of the trustworthy and well-intentioned actions of my school director and president of the PTA. I am more than grateful for their willingness to translate my terrible Pulaar into action, filling in my blanks with their expertise and determination to improve the latrines. Before the project, the students were regularly not using the latrines and going in groups to relieve themselves behind the building. My last several visits saw a huge improvement in the usage of the latrines. Each visit, there were groups of girls and boys using the latrines due to the lack of smell, working toilets, re-constructed door hinges, and overall cleanliness of the latrines. The school works hard to maintain the latrines, rinsing them down at the end of each school day. The school, all students and teachers, are grateful for your donations!

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See our Completed Projects page linked above and here to see all the projects we’ve worked on. I’ve realized that we have been writing sporadically and very little about work. To summarize and add some small details and memories:

CCBI

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I wrote a grant to train about 35 Educators (teachers and school directors) of the Podor department on how to teach Community Context Based Instruction (CCBI) in the classroom as a way to incorporate nutrition and environmental education into the normal curriculum. 6 volunteers asked teachers from their communities to attend the training held in Ndioum. The french curriculum here in Senegal is quite rigid, all the lesson plans and objectives lined out day by day. CCBI tries to incorporate important and relevant environmental and health issues into normal lessons so that students can get more out of each lesson. Our APCD Mamadou Diaw did the training and it went fairly well. The teachers were especially interested by the section Diaw taught on Moringa and its uses as a nutritional supplement. PC Senegal has taken on a moringa initiative as a means to helping communities with issues such as malnutrition, anemia, and infant mortality. For the most part, the training went well–a few issues with transportation and the paying of drivers, but several mille later, all the teachers returned home at least a bit more informed on how to bring EE and HE work into the school.

Awa Tourney
Many volunteers in the area held discussions with PC coordinator Awa Traore during one week of January. Awa is an exceptional woman with a mixed Pulaar-Bambara ethnic background. Her background and experience make her the perfect woman to talk about certain topics that many volunteers feel they cannot address. She annually tours the entire country to visit PC communities to talk about sexual health, the importance of staying in school, and gender equality. Paul and I organized a talk at the Ndioum and Podor colleges. At Ndioum, we showed a PC film called Elle Travaille, Elle Vite! before the talk.

Awa really is an incredible speaker. She comes in and starts out by asking simple questions about names and age. She tells the audience that she is 19 or 18 and is the same age as a older sister or mentor (even though in reality she is quite a few decades older). All her information for her talk comes from the girls. She asks them about their culture, their dreams, their friends. She asks them what characteristics the students most admire about their friends. Then she asks for reasons that kids may have to stop going to school or the issues that face the youth. Slowly she works from this basic understanding of these students, their dreams and values to talking about sexual health and what the consequences of having sex are. She is one of the only people I know who talks openly about sexuality. To her, this knowledge is what will protect students from STD’s and early pregnancy, issues that ultimately lead to dropping out of school and a future that is quite limited.

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During her talk in Podor, the students brought up the issue of teacher-student sexual relationships. A girl, who walked in late but who had been participating more actively than the other girls, told her story. She had been asked by a teacher to have sex and had refused. Since saying no, her grades had been suffering. It was sad to see the transformation. This girl had been confident, gesturing with her strong hands to emphasize her opinions, her voice filling the room. As she was speaking about her situation, I could see her body curling into itself, her voice cracking and becoming small. She could hardly talk from the anger and sadness. Awa tells us that this is uncommon. Regularly she hears stories like this from all over the country and from many communities.

During the Ndioum film showing, our PC Senegal volunteer facilitator of the north (Tidiane Diao) explained the meaning of equality with a beautiful analogy: women and men are like left and right shoes. You would never say that the right one is identical to the left one, but both are of equal importance. (I then watched as a boy sitting near me took off both his shoes and switched them, trying to see if it was possible to wear his shoes on opposite feet. It wasn’t.)


Help get books to Senegal!

About 20 of the PCVs in Senegal are working together with our communities to bring books to villages and school communities in Senegal through an NGO called Books for Africa. I am planning on giving books to the 5 elementary schools, 1 middle school, and 1 high school here in Podor. Some of these schools have small libraries, whereas a few of them have no library at all. This project will be funded primarily through the generosity of people like yourself! We need to raise $8,000 to pay for the shipment of the books. If you can give a small helping hand of a couple dollars even, I will be grateful as will the students who will benefit from this project! As someone who spent much of her childhood with her nose in a book, I wish that students here had those same resources and access to knowledge.

Bring books to Senegal by donating here!


For Christmas….

…all I want is your support for my latrine project at the primary school where I work. Its another project similar to the one Paul did in Guia. Basically, improving the latrines there now so that the kids will actually use them. The biggest issue with our latrines is the ventilation (smells truly terrible in there and most kids opt to go outside) and the toilets themselves (lots of broken turkish toilets).

See the project here!

Thank you! And we wish you all a very wonderful winter holiday. We miss our families especially now during the time when we would normally be home celebrating the newly fallen snow and smell of firewood.


Eat Nebeday and you will Neverdie

Just a small work/life update about what Paul and I have been up to.

Moringa Tourney:

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For the first week of November, Paul and I helped with a Moringa tourney in the departments of Matam and Kanel.  We stayed in Ourosogui and worked with Counterpart International based there.  There were 6 volunteers in all divided into three teams.  Each team visited 2-4 villages a day for five days talking about moringa.  Three months earlier, another team of agriculture volunteers went to these same villages to teach how to plant a moringa leaf-intensive bed.  On this second tourney, we returned to the same sites to explain how to harvest the leaves, make moringa powder,  incorporate the powder into foods, and why it is so important.

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Moringa oleifera is oftentimes called the “miracle tree” by development workers for its properties.  Locally the plant is called nebeday (a butchered version of the english phrase “never die”).  It is a fast-growing plant that grows well here in Senegal with extremely nutritious leaves–high levels of Vitamin A, C, iron, protein, and calcium.  It is rumored to treat maladies ranging from diabetes to eye/ear infections to intestinal parasites.  Leaf powder can be easily added to food as a nutritional supplement.  Moringa  is good for use in a garden for live fencing or shade because its long tap root does not compete with other plants.  Additionally its roots are rumored to fix nitrogen.  Not only that, but the seeds can be ground to a powder and used as a flocculant for purifying water and honey.

We got to visit villages way out in the bush.  So far out in the bush, the Pulaar word means the bush of the bush.  We drove to villages as far west as the Podor department boundary and to villages so far east that we almost made it to Bakel and the region of Tamba.  Villages were typically motivated to grow the moringa and use it.  Most beds were planted in schools to encourage the use of moringa within student lunches.  We met amazing women’s groups, amazing teachers, and spoke huge amounts of Pulaar.  As you go east into the Matam region, the Pulaar gets crisper and clearer.  Paul and I had an easier time talking to people there than we do in the Ndioum Podor region.

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The moringa tourney was an amazing experience and we hope to be able to replicate it in the Podor department with the Counterpart International located in Ndioum.  Additionally, I would like to teach health workers how to plant and process the plant as a nutritional supplement for malnourished children who come to baby weighings.  Currently, kids that are malnourished are given sacks of potatoes and lentils from Counterpart Int. or the “Plumpy nut” generic made in Dakar from Terre des Hommes.  It would be great if we could add hospital-grown moringa as a supplement.

Women’s field

My project with the women’s group and their field has fallen apart.  Turns out that the women are squatters on the land they farm.  The land is owned by Eaux et Forets and the women had permission to farm the land last year, but not this year.  They farm it because no one else is and no one will kick them off the land.  There is no way I can help them purchase a pump until they have their own land.

Truly, I would like to spend most of my service doing work that does not involve money; money just complicates everything.  As Renee once put it, “once the money comes out, the bad people come crawling out of the woodwork.”  I want my work here to be sustainable–for what I teach to be practiced and taught to others for years to come.   This it the strength in Peace Corps volunteers: we stay and live for two years in a site so that we can teach people how to solve health and environmental issues for themselves.  NGOs are those who throw around money and PC is not like any other NGO here.  With that in mind, I have taught the women about the goodness of Moringa.  I will teach them better farming techniques that will increase profits until they may one day be able to purchase land or a pump for themselves.

Now

Tabaski (festival of the sheep) was mid-November–a huge Muslim holiday where most families kill a sheep (our family killed 6–but it was split between two houses and much given to families who cannot afford a sheep).  Paul and I helped clean one out and ate meat for the entire week after.

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Then we had a Regional Strategy meeting and Thanksgiving!  2 turkeys and 5 chickens.  My first time to ever kill a chicken.

Paul and I just attended the All-Volunteer Conference of West Africa in Thies and heard about the work of other volunteers.  We talked to volunteers from Togo, Cape Verde, Benin, Mali, Ghana.  I learned that gum arabic (Acacia senegal)  is the number one agricultural export of Senegal, bringing in about $280 million every year!  This tree grows extremely well where we live.

And now we are back in the North beginning new projects.  Paul is organizing a depistage tourney for HIV/AIDS testing  throughout the Podor department.  He wants to visit at least 6 different sites and end the entire tourney with the annual AIDS concert in Podor (something Lauren Canton, our ancienne, started that has been a highly visible way to raise awareness about AIDS/HIV/STDs).

I have been working to organize a CCBI training in Ndioum for the environmental education volunteers and their primary school teachers.  CCBI (Community Content-based Instruction) allows environmental and nutritional lessons to be incorporated into the strict French curriculum of schools.  Basically, we will train teachers how to use environmental health examples to teach concepts of Math, French, History, or other subjects.  For example, a class can plant a pepinere and learn about percentages or fractions concerning germination rate.

At my primary school, I am hoping to make the school what we call an “eco-school”.  We will repair the latrines, start CCBI lessons, establish a school garden and moringa leaf-intensive bed, plant shade trees, and put trash cans in all the classrooms.  I would like to start an environmental club to take care of the garden, however I need to find a parent or teacher who is motivated enough to help organize this.  If this all works well at this elementary school, I will extend this program to all the other primary schools in Podor (there are 5 total).


Check Paul out!

http://pcsenegal.org/paul.html


Peanut Harvesting and Gender Development

(this is a blog that started out only about peanut harvest…but has morphed into a blog about women and gender roles here in Senegal.  Its long.  Sorry.  I’ll save talking about FGC for another day)

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This has been an exhaustingly good week.  My fingers hurt from picking mud off of peanuts.  Our Neene Ba is part of a Tostan women’s group in our quartier.  And there are 50 women from the quartiers of Sinthiane and Lowa Demba in this group.  On the 2nd of October they, along with the other two Tostan groups from other Podor quartiers, are going to present plays to the town about some traditional but harmful practices: female genital circumcism (FGC), forced marriages, and ear piercing (improperly done without correct sanitation precautions).  And on the 3rd, the women along with the entire Podor department will take a declaration to end forced marriages, discourage FGC, and encourage proper ear piercing at the local hospitals.

As of today, this group of women has defined my service as a PCV in Podor.  They are all such amazing women, insisting on doing work not usually defined as women’s work as a way out of poverty.  A woman described it to me, as we are standing in their field:  So min liggotiima ɗoo e ngesa, min mbaawi yeeyde e jogaade kaalis. So min liggotiima, sukaɓe amen mbaawi ñaamde moƴƴo, mbaawi janngude haa lycee.  Ina waawi wonde haa universite. If we work here in this field, we can sell the food and have money.  If we work, our children can eat well and study in school until high school.  Maybe even through university.

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And so the women have a field where they harvest peanuts, bissap, cassava, watermelon, and corn.  I have spent the last week helping them harvest all the peanuts.  By the end of the day, there are at least twenty women sitting around buckets of water, pulling peanuts off of the roots.  They stay in the fields from mid-morning through lunch until the sun goes down.  Last Friday, after prayers, I ate lunch with them.  Fish and rice with the best tamarin sauce I have eaten yet, and then ataaya as we worked through the afternoon.  They yell at the cars that pass the field on the Route Nationale.  Ar soɗde gerte! It is my intention to help the women buy a motor pump.  Currently they rent one from the Catholic Mission, but at great cost.  So much is the rent that they can only afford to buy gas for the machine once a week.  Imagine that—a large field that is only watered once a week in this Senegalese desert.  The Sahel.  They fill the irrigation ditches with river water and let it slowly spread across the whole field.  I hope that if they can water more frequently, they can plant a wider and less destructive variety of vegetables.

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At the end of the day, as the sun is setting, the women busy themselves with rinsing the peanuts in the river.  Then Fatimata or Penda spreads them out, counting them in volumetric units of tomato pots—Lingere tomato paste.  No foti pots hande? They are averaging about 30 pots a day, which is about 60 kilos.  Fatimata fills up the can past the lip until no peanuts fall off the mound.  One pot.  800 cfa for one pot of peanuts.  For a day’s work, 24 mille.  Not bad at all.

My favorite part of it all is the women talking and dancing.  They break into chanting, drumming, and dancing intermittently.  If I go to the field only in the afternoon, I am met with them chanting: Kuumba arii, kuumba arii. Coumba has come.  And then the rest of the day is filled with them chatting about Tostan, people, money, work, children.  Malick, this adorable baby comes in on the back of his sister to be nursed by mom.  His two and only lower middle teeth smile at me as he runs over to greet me, little dirty hand extended.  The most beautiful smile I have seen.  There is a lot of yelling and fighting too—the women shouting at each other in rapid Pulaar and Wolof, their voices overlapping as they try to make their points.  Typically about money and how to split things equally.  But in the end.  Aɗa yarlo mi.  You should forgive me.  Peace only.  Every single woman must have her say.

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I have been realizing as I spend time here that I want my work here to empower women and girls.  Like our ancienne, the greatest issues I see here have to do with gender development.  Here in Senegal, serving as a married couple, I experience a contrast in how I fit into society.  Certain rights as a women, that I took for granted in the US, are few and overlooked here.  These differences stem from the Muslim religion and from traditional Senegalese gender roles.  A woman here has little say in how many wives her husband will have, as four is the maximum; but most woman have an opinion on this matter.  (People are convinced here that there are more women than men in Senegal, which is hard for me to stomach as a biologist.  More logically, that men are more likely to be educated and can leave Senegal.).  A woman typically may not divorce her husband, but her husband can divorce her.  The Pulaar language itself reveals interesting differences between women and men.  A woman is married (reseede) whereas a man marries (resde) but cannot be married.  A wife is called the jom suude (head of the room) whereas the husband is the jom galle (head of the house).  Rewbe liggotaako. Women do not work (work meaning in the fields or outside of housework) except for the few who sell food, goods, or produce.  Women pull water from the well, do the laundry, sweep the house every morning, and cook every meal.  PC men volunteers who try to do these tasks have often been met with criticism.  You are doing the work of a woman. I was told in training by a language instructor that a good wife is one who is last at the lunch bowl because she spends the entire meal throwing her husband pieces of fish and vegetables.  Only after he is full does she really start to eat.

Women, especially in rural villages, seldom finish their schooling.  They typically finish college and then get married, have kids, and keep house.  Most women cook for a majority of the day, especially as a Senegalese meal is a huge affair and takes several hours to cook.  Women wake earlier than the men to start sweeping and cleaning the house, then they go to market from 10-12 and then start preparing for the meal at 12 pm.  At 5 pm they start preparing for the dinner at 8 pm.  Most young girls have little time to study because they spend all their spare time at home waiting over the fire.  Empowering women as I see it gives each girl a chance to have a say in how her life plays out.  She can choose whom to marry, when, and who she wants to be.  These Senegalese gender roles prevent women from having the opportunity to be more than a house wife.  In my host family in Ngekhokh, one of the young girls (probably around 15 years of age) Binta is the one who always cooks for the family.  She does not go to school anymore unlike the rest of the kids in the house and it made me sad to see that she already knows this is her life.  Over the mud stove under the stars she would ask me how I got to Senegal.  Avion? Pointing to the sky.  Have you ever flown on a plane before?  It is something unfathomable to her, but within reach of any student who takes the bac for entrance into a university.  And it is something I did at least four times a year during college.  The most she can hope for is a lovely husband, nice kids, and a house.  Perhaps her kids will finish school and get the chance to choose their path in life.

In The End of Poverty, Jeffrey Sachs makes a small statement about how countries begin their path toward development when women begin to work and choose when to have kids.  True development of a country away from poverty starts with gender development.  The women in Podor are making small strides for themselves.  I have talked to several women who take part in family planning through depo injections or birth control pills.  I have met college-age girls who are planning to finish high school and teach or work after they graduate.  The other day, I entered a house and chatted with four girls who are studying at the university in Dakar.  I told them that I was happy but surprised.  C’est le nouveau generation. One step at a time, women and girls will get the tools and resources they need to live as they choose.