Tagged: change

A grandmother’s wish

I met Bao Zoma, mother of four and grandmother of seven, while taking a bike ride through the countryside of Madagascar. In September 2015, I joined Bao Zoma as she traveled to the Operation Smile medical mission in Tana with her middle grandchild, Sandra, who was in need of a cleft lip repair. Now that Sandra has a beautiful smile, Bao Zoma is motivated to find more children in need of critical surgical care and bring them to Operation Smile. She has become a spokesperson for Operation Smile in the part of her country where radios do not reach and many cannot read the posters that are taped up at the health huts around the village.

When asked what motivates her to find more children suffering from cleft lip and cleft palate, she responded: “My grandchild once suffered from cleft lip. My grandchild Sandra was teased, dropped out of school, and was a shy girl. Now I can’t keep her in the house, she has many friends, and is constantly smiling. She is beautiful. I would like to give that gift, the gift of smiling to others like Sandra.”

Bao Zoma recently recruited two other patients for the upcoming medical mission here in Madagascar in April.

I would like to give that gift, the gift of smiling to others like Sandra.

She walked eight kilometers, crossed a river and hiked another two kilometers to reach these children– a young boy by the name of Gino and a young girl named Nordine. I am happy to report they will be joining me on the medical mission in April.

Thank you Bao Zoma, not only for serving as a spokesperson for Operation Smile, but also for being an amazing grandmother.

Check out my story on Operation Smile’s Blog:  A grandmother’s wish




Let Girls Learn

Dear Family and Friends,

I am so excited to share with you this amazing project that we are developing here in Madagascar for young girls.
A group of 20 Peace Corps Volunteers are planning a National Girls Empowerment Camp for the end of April 2016. Each volunteer will bring 5 smart and ambitious young girls from their respective communities to attend a 5 day Conference in the Capital city, Antananarivo. This National Girls Camp will bring together Malagasy Girls from multiple ethnicities to focus on issues relevant to adolescent girls, specifically: leadership development, self efficacy, goal setting, and life planning – which includes higher education and work.
Regional GLOW Camps have been held across Madagascar for years but never engaging multiple Malagasy ethnicities in one learning environment. This National GLOW Camp promotes the leadership development of young women, of different Malagasy ethnicities, so they can become effective leaders. In order to achieve this, youth must be aware of themselves – of their current situation and challenges, of their goals and aspirations, and of their potential for success and leadership – and be aware of the community that surrounds them. Once aware, youth will be able to analyze themselves and their communities, become knowledgeable about them, and become able to propose solutions. GLOW Camp provides a proactive environment that applies equally to individual development and social actions. Furthermore, GLOW supports and nurtures young women, providing educational opportunities, guidance and validation – all within the context of reinforcing pride in the student’s cultural background and his/her self esteem. Through this National GLOW Camp, young women- of different backgrounds- work together, support each other, learn about and promote their heritage, and develop skills and commitment to serve their community.
This project addresses the critical issue of women’s empowerment, incorporating the components necessary to encourage girls to lead healthy and productive lives. In each of our communities, girls face a variety of difficulties related to their personal and professional development due to limited resources, assigned gender roles and lack of awareness of the opportunities available to them. Girls become sexually active at a young age and often do not receive adequate education regarding sexual health, particularly related to HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention. The promotion of a healthy lifestyle is essential for these girls to realize their life goals, along with the awareness of opportunities and empowerment needed to encourage them to take the steps necessary to fulfill these goals. As a result, educators, parents and community members have identified the GLOW camp as an effective tool for promoting girls’ development and community and youth development overall through the transfer of knowledge in the short-term and the cultivation of strong role models and positive behavior
change in the long-term.
How is the community the driving force behind the project?
In each of our respective communities, Malagasy counterparts will be directly involved in the selection of the girls to be involved in the camp, and all girls falling within the appropriate age group are encouraged to apply. Interested girls will complete an application that highlights their particular goals and reasons for wanting to participate in the camp. Participants will then be selected through a comprehensive process that involves several stakeholders and are believed to represent the greatest potential for personal development as well as potential to teach and influence other members of the community, particularly youth. Female chaperones from each community will accompany the girls chosen. These women are role models for the girls and can act as mentors for future life decisions, having made connections and received the same trainings during the camp. Both the PCVs and community representatives collaborated to identify priorities for youth development within each community, and camp subjects were designed to address these priorities including both health and life goals. Additionally, PCVs will work with representatives from local organizations and institutions to prepare the camp sessions with the intent to promote learning, discussion and critical thinking among the participants.
Desired outcome of the project:
The desired outcome in the long-term is to empower the camp participants and provide them with the tools necessary to achieve their life goals and to become positive role models capable of encouraging their peers to do the same. In the short-term, 100 young girls will be taught in issues relating to health, career goals and education to encourage their own personal development while building community capacity to address the issues that adolescent girls face.
Please take a look at the brochure I have attached and consider supporting this amazing project!
Follow the link below for more information on how you can make a difference now!

Interning at the Maternity Clinic

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!

A Brave Man



“I am now the best looking man”

Lezoma, 33 years old, ostracized from his community for being different. Since a young age he was teased for his different face. Children would scream and point fingers at him, calling him names. At 11 years old he decided to drop out of school and work the rice fields. He found peace in the solitude of the rice fields, no one calling him names, no one yelling mean slurs at him. He worked as a farmer and helped out during the various fruit picking seasons to make a living.

My first encounter with Lezoma was in January 2014. I heard there was a young man who had a double cleft lip who lived in a small village off the main road called, Tsaravinany. I took my chances and biked out to the village, before no time I crossed Lezoma on the path. He carried bundles of banana leaves and two large jackfruits which hung from thick piece of wood. I greeted him in local dialect. He looked at me surprised, even chuckled a little at the sight of a foreigner speaking local tongue. I asked if we could talk, that I had something important I wanted to ask him. I explained about the mission, Operation Smile was arriving in April to the capital, Tana, and I would love to have him join me. His face brightened. He immediately answered, “You can fix this!” and pointed to the large gaps in his face. I explained that if he trusts me and would like to come up on to Tana with me I would be leaving the first week of April and I would pick him up on the main road. He agreed.

Lezoma walked into the operating room barefoot, nervous yet calm. I was present for the entire surgery and held his hand through his fear. Lezoma’s surgery went amazing, his before and after pictures were tremendous. His courageous spirit was a highlight of the mission.

6 months after we had returned from Tana, I biked back to Tsaravinany, the small village lined with rice fields and banana trees. To my surprise, young kids whom I had never seen before, ran up to me screaming, “Lezoma! Lezoma!”. My heart beat accelerated as I wasn’t sure if this was a good or bad thing that they image3 image2 image1-2were screaming his name. I arrived at a small coffee seller, and there sat Lezoma. His dark brown eyes looked back at me, and small wrinkled formed on the sides as he smiled. “Charlotte! Mandroso!” he welcomed me to sit. I ordered a small coffee with sugar cane syrup. “How are you? How is everything? Tell me about you.” I requested. He stood up, “Charlotte, I have a problem! A big problem!” My heart dropped, thoughts raced, what could it be, an infection? Another health problem? “ I am so good looking now, all the ladies in town want me!” He chuckled, that familiar chuckle I had heard when first meeting him. I exclaimed “ OH MY! Yes you are a good looking man!”. We exchanged smiles. Later that afternoon I headed back home, as I turned around he waved once more, and said “Thank you, thank you.”

Journey from village to City

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.

Next week, its happening! YOGURT time :)

Found this awesome blog post from a PEACE CORPS volunteer in Paraguay! Definitely trying this next week. So to all my yogurt lovers lets do it!!!



Yogurt Singalong Recipeyogurt

A Cultural Event

The basics: Two temperatures, 180° and 110° Fahrenheit, are important in making yogurt.  But, you can still make yogurt easily without a thermometer, like I do, if you are adventurous.

If you have a thermometer, simply heat the milk up to 180°F, cool it back down to 110°F and then add the culture. (As mentioned earlier, this is a cultural event). Put the mixture in a closed container and let it sit on top of your refrigerator overnight.

Here’s my no-thermometer method below.  If anything doesn’t make sense, please contact me!

▪ A pot to boil the milk in
▪ No digital thermometer

▪ A long handled spoon for stirring

▪ A gallon (or less, whatever amount you want) of fresh milk. I just use boxes of whole milk from the supermercado here in my site. Milk straight from the critter would be best!
▪ Plain yogurt with live and active cultures.   That’s right – live and active.  Busy, busy, busy, they are.  This type of yogurt has no flavoring in it, not even plain vanilla. It’s too busy being active to stop and become flavored. Usually I find it in a tall white plastic skinny jug. Ask for it at your supermercado.
▪ A container or jars for the finished product
▪ Something groovy to listen to and to sing along with as you stir, while the milk boils.  Or you can go acapella.

Note: Yogurt can be made from all kinds of dairy milk including cow, horse, sheep, goat, but I just use the cow, cartoned whole milk. I don’t even want to think about milk coming from another animal, not even an almond or a soy, although those will work just fine.

Before you start, fill the pot with water and bring it to a boil on the stove top, let the spoon and jars sit in it for several minutes, and then pour the water out. Now, your supplies are fairly disinfected, mas o menos.  (Hard to get real serious about disinfecting when you have a lizard sitting on the windowsill, watching.)

Heat milk over medium heat while stirring. This usually takes about 20 minutes or approximately five 4 minute songs you can sing elsewhere in the house. Then, once the milk begins to heat up and get frothy, stand over it intently and stir to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pot, singing approximately 2 four minute songs.  My children would guess that I sing “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” and they’d be right.  If the milk gets a scum-like layer on the top, halt your singing mid-song and just look at it with an appalled expression, treat it like scum and remove that stuff with your spoon and toss it away.

Like I said earlier, let the milk get to a rolling, boiling point, then continue to heat it up, stirring constantly, letting it continue to boil for about 5 more minutes. If you have a thermometer, heat the milk to 180. If not, just know that 180 seems to be about as hot as hell, or hot as milk that has begun to boil and then continues to boil for another full five minutes, stirring.  If you get too involved in your song and you overboil your milk til it scorches like  I once did, you’ll enjoy a new flavor of yogurt I call Toasted Treat.

Then, you need to let the temp go down to 110 before adding culture. Adding culture can sometimes make one snobby, but in this case, it’s just milk, so no worries. If you want, you can set the pot of milk into a sink of water and stir the milk. This will bring the temperature down quickly (in about 10 minutes). You don’t want it cold. You just want the temp to go down to non-super hot, more like tepid.  The warm side of tepid to be exact. I don’t know who thought up the word “tepid” but it sounds like something neutral and boring, so that’s accurate. I guess it’s good to have a way to describe something that’s neither here nor there, neither black nor white, not real hot, but not cold.  Totally non- committal.

For one gallon of milk you will need 1/4 cup of plain yogurt. But, if you are boiling less than a gallon of milk, just add ¼ cup or some big tablespoons of yogurt. It doesn’t matter if you use too much yogurt, but it matters if you don’t use enough. It never hurts to be generous in life, you know. Typically, generosity given out will come back to you in even greater measure, so I’d say it’s worth it.  Trust me on this.  Fact is, not enough yogurt and it won’t thicken. Pour the mixture into one big container with tight lid, or several smaller containers with tight lids.

Yogurt bacteria works best in a warm, draft-free place. Bacteria is conniving and wants its privacy, so leave it alone. You don’t want to go there. The container can be placed in an oven with the pilot light on or with a heating pad. I just place mine on top of my refrigerator. It isn’t warm, but it works. My mother used to wrap the container in a towel, then a paper bag to keep it cozy. I may need to do this for my wintertime batches.

Don’t shake or jolt the container as it works to form yogurt overnight. Try to go to sleep and not think about it. If you get up in the night multiple times as I do, just keep walking past the refrigerator and avoid eye-contact. 10 or so hours later, do a fancy dance around the kitchen, sort of a majestic type fanfare, and with a big flourish, open the container and stir the thick yogurt and have a taste. It’s wonderful!

While enjoying this batch of yogurt, be sure to save back a 1/4 cup to make your next batch! Don’t wait too long, though, or the culture won’t be alive and won’t reproduce. (Eventually culture dies and no amount of opera-going is going to bring it back.)

P.S. If your yogurt didn’t develop and become a thick pudding, and is still liquidy milk, then reboil the milk to get it real hot again, let it sit and cool down for ten minutes, then put in more of your yogurt starter. Then place again in a quiet spot for ten hours. You can sing, just don’t be real loud about it. You may have a sensitive, introverted batch that just needs more attention, then some alone time.


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.