The primary objective of this project is to educate adolescent girls about issues related to health, education and life goals through a five-day GLOW, or Girls Leading Our World, camp. We hope to empower participants to lead healthier lives and give them the tools to achieve their life goals related to work and education by learning about opportunities available to them, and in turn teach other girls in their communities about lessons learned. The camp will be held in the capital city of Antananarivo for 100 girls and 20 women chaperones from 20 different communities across multiple regions of Madagascar.
The GLOW curriculum will focus on issues relevant to adolescent girls and specifically leadership development, self-efficacy, goal setting and life planning – including higher education and work. In the short term, we will encourage the girls to reflect on and discuss the subjects addressed during the camp, and then transfer knowledge gained to peer groups in their communities through additional trainings and discussions. In the long term, we hope that the girls will adopt healthy habits and become role models to other individuals in their communities, encouraging behavior change and eventually empowering themselves and others to lead their best possible lives. The community contribution includes supplies to promote a good learning environment for the girls throughout the camp, time donated by chaperones to help the camp run smoothly, and materials donated to facilitate learning in the communities after the camp has ended.
This project has been designed to expand access to education for girls in Madagascar as part of the Let Girls Learn Program. Learn more at letgirlslearn.peacecorps.gov.
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These women are the HEART and SOUL of the Cultural Center of Hope. It was amazing to be able to have them trained at the recent Peace Corps Counterpart training! They thoroughly enjoyed the accommodations, meeting new friends, and sharing funny stories about their PCV!
Thank you for being the backbone of my project!
I have been blessed with the experience to intern at the local maternity clinic! The photos above are actually from a clinic 90 km north of my village. Unfortunately we do not have an ultrasound as of yet, therefore expecting mothers must travel 4 hours north to get an ultrasound. My friend Nasrine and I traveled north to check how far along she was and the position of her baby. She is having a boy! (Actually by the time this post goes up she will have already have given birth!)
I decided to focus my third year on interning, watching, and soaking up information in the local health clinics. I have sat through mother child consultations, helped with vaccines, and will be seeing my first birth this month!
I have an enormous amount of respect for Operation Smile and the great work they do on their missions. From Op Smile meetings to Operating Rooms I have seen firsthand how the missions are organized and carried out. It was an honor to take part in the Operation Smile 2015 Tana mission. I met and worked with a team of 90 doctors, surgeons, nurses, anesthesiologists, volunteers, coming from 12 different countries. Since I arrived in Madagascar, I noticed the rampant amount of diseases, deformities, and illnesses. Cleft lip and cleft palate rates are very high in Madagascar. Researchers still do not know as to why children are born with this deformity but in a third world country, such as Mada, where formula and feeding alternatives are scarce, many of these babies die early on. I made it my prerogative to search out potential patients in the East Coast region and bring them up for the mission this past month.
I biked to many different villages on weekends, spread the news through churches and eventually was able to find about 10 patients that would be good candidates for surgery.
The trek: The search for patients is not an easy one. Many times people with facial deformities, such as cleft lip and cleft palate are ostracized from their community. If the baby lives and has a chance to go to school, he or she may start and many times ends up dropping out due to bullying and difficulties communicating due to speech impediments. By the time they are adults many have gone through so much backlash from their community that they are shy, timid, and reluctant to accept help,
On my search this year, I decided to use churches and religious leaders to help me reach out to these individuals. Seeing that locals trust pastors and priests much more than a blue eyes blonde haired”vazaha” (term for foreigner in Malagasy). Once I located a location or village where a potential cleft lip or cleft palate patient lived, I organized a trip there. Many took half days, even full days, and some trips amounted to crossing rivers, and trekking in mud for a couple hours. Because the rainy season had just come to an end yet Madagascar’s East Coast was hit with a tropical depression during the same time I was set on finding patients, this caused many hurdles with regards to transportation.
Meeting patients: Gaining trust is crucial. During the first five minutes of conversation, I must convey to the patient and his family that I am going to take good care of him/her. That this program is real and that I am not going to kidnap their child and eat it for dinner. (You can only imagine what stories are told about vazaha.) I tell them that everything from transport, food, and surgery is free, and that they will have the opportunity for a new life after this! If they accept trusting me they show up the date of departure. This year to make things a little easier, I ended up bringing a patient that had previously received surgery from Operation Smile on a mission in Tana 2014. He became my spokesperson, my walking billboard, he shared his story and they listened. I think this helped reduce anxiety and doubts in the family, and produced trust and willingness to join the mission.
Date of Departure: On the date of departure I rented out an entire taxi-brousse (very large van) to accommodate each patient and one chaperone. We left from my village and made our way up to pick up the rest of the patients on the road. Once all in the van, I noticed that there was an interesting energy that had formed between the families. One young girl, looked at another young boy the same age as her, approximately 9-10 years old, and said “you have the same lip as I do”. She has never seen another person with cleft lip. Imagine you are born with cleft lip and everyone around you looks “normal” suddenly one day you find yourself in a van with 9 other individuals that look just like you… its mind-blowing. The energy in that taxi brousee was magnetic mothers helped mothers care for the younger cleft lip patients. The older patients sat next to one another and sang Malagasy songs on the long 10 hour ride up to the capital.
The Ride: The ride up was magical but definitely a long one. 10 hours in a taxi brousse on a windy road necessitated many many “sachets” for car sick passengers. Every one of the individuals in that taxi brousse had never been to the capital. Many had never been in a car. A 45 year old patient screeched when she saw mountains and yelled out, “WHY IS THE EARTH RISING!!!” For me this moment really showed me how much trust I gained. These patients trusted me enough to come this far.
What is normal? What is okay? What is reality. After 2 years of living abroad I have seen myself, my attitude, and my values slowly change. I have noticed that my friendships have slowly come apart and my relationship with things “ back home” have changed drastically, I am not sure how to explain these feelings but can sum them up to be: relative. My world for the last 2 years has been revolved around helping others. While I have been here, I feel that it has been extremely difficult to keep frienships and relationships alive back home. I can only assume that it is because of the lack of relativeness between both lives. A wise PCV (peace Corps volunteer) once told me that it is harder to re-integrate into your community back home than it is to integrate into this community here. Seeing that I am coming up on my Close of Service, the though of re-integrtion is a scary one. My level of comfort with the simple life and current reality make it extremely difficult to imagine coming back to the States. I also look bak on all of the things I have been able to achieve here, whether successful or not successful, I have learned and grown tremendously through each experience. From organizing festivals with audiences amounting to 700 people to visiting the deep countryside reaching out to the poorest of the poor, and educating them about prevention methods to various diseases,
This country has changed me. It has opened my mind to a plethora of thoughts. I can confidently say that this is just the beginning of a long life of service. I am not sure where life will take me after peace corps. What I do know is it will involve serving others. It will involve giving my heart to those who need it most. The most fulfilling part of life is giving yourself, and that is what I intend to do.
Why did you apply to Peace Corps?
When you think about life, about what a life holds, for me it holds purpose. I know this may sound cheesy for some or generic yet I took this moto for life very seriously. From a young age service had always been a large part of my life. I remember having a world map in our bathroom growing up and my mother would pin point a place or even sometimes have me chose a place and we pack our bags and go. Once at this destination whether it was Belize, India, Nepal, China, we would spend some time visiting and touring and the other time giving back. This idea of service never stopped at the small trips we took but became a ritual. A giving ritual. During the holidays I spent my time volunteering at food banks, wrapping Christmas gifts, visiting Veteran hospitals. This became my idea of purpose. I saw what it meant to people that I gave my time. I saw that it meant a difference and produced happiness for them. I saw a purpose. I heard of Peace Corps when I was in Middle School. Unlike other children around that age instead of going to the movies or buying new clothes, I was at dog shelters walking pups, or cleaning trash at the local park.
Once I graduated high school and entered college, I began revisiting the idea of serving in another country for a long amount of time. I enjoy learning about new cultures, seeing new places, and felt that many challenges I could foresee I had already met in my previous travels. .I felt ready. I felt that Peace Corps could provide me with tools to help people serve themselves. Indeed after being here in Madagascar for 18 months, I have learned so much about myself and about how to work in the field. I am grateful to have had this opportunity.
I recently was asked this question and wanted to really dive into what has been my biggest challenge throughout my Peace Corps Service.
What has been your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it? What did you learn from it?
Biggest challenge I have had during my service is “saying no”. I know it sounds funny, “what does she mean saying ‘no’?” Well, once you have successfully integrated, when babies stop crying at first sight of you, and stares become smiles, people become comfortable with you. Every day community members ask me, “Please can you teach me English? Please would you be able to spare an hour to speak with me? Please can you give me books so that my children can become smarter?” When I first got to site, I felt much pressure to say yes to all requests. Soon I realized I could not split myself into numerous people and did not have enough time or energy to respond to all the wants and needs of my community. I became stressed out, not being able to fulfill everyone’s wants. I felt horrible if I said “no”, and would wear myself out saying “yes”. I was able to conquer this challenge, by asking my community for solutions, having conversations about their vision for Mahanoro. How could I develop something that would help many while still allowing me a good balance. The idea emerged to create a Cultural Center. A place that would provide educational opportunities for children and adults, a library stocked with books, and most importantly a place where the future of Mahanoro could develop and grow in a positive environment.