I met Bao Zoma, mother of four and grandmother of seven while taking a bike ride through the countryside. In September 2015 Bao Zoma brought her middle grandchild Sandra up with me to the mission in Tana. Now that Sandra has a beautiful smile, Bao Zoma is driven to find more children in need of new smiles. She has become a spokesperson for Operation Smile in the countryside where radios do not reach and many cannot read the posters that are taped at the health huts. When asked where her motivation to find more patients that suffer from cleft lip and palate comes from, she responds: “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 April Mission here in Madagascar. She walked 8 km, crossed a river and hiked another 2 km, to reach these patients, a young boy by the name of Gino and a young girl named Nordine. I am happy to say they will be joining me on the April Mission. Thank you Bao Zoma, for being not only a spokesperson for Operation Smile but an amazing grandmother.
“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 were 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.”
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.
This is Landrycia.
A couple months ago her grandmother reached out to me having heard that I brought children to an Operation Smile mission in Tana. I greeted her and her grandchild and explained that I would not be able to attend the mission held in Tamatave yet if she was prepared to travel on her own I would ensure that she would make it safely and be housed. I coordinated with the Catholic Church in Tamatave and paid this woman and her grandchildren fare up to the city.
Two months passed by and no sign of her or her grandchild. With no cell phone it was impossible to reach out to her. I didn’t know if she made it safe. I didn’t know whether her grandchild had been a candidate for surgery ( suffering from cleft lip).
At 8 months she looked tiny, thin, weak, and tired. Her mother had a difficult time breast feeding her because of the cleft lip and had been ostracized by members of her village for not properly caring for her child, thus leaving the child in the care of the grandmother.
Today, a young girl ( the one in the photograph showed up at my house. I responded “Akory!” (Hello!”) my mind turned she looked familiar. Then a few seconds later her grandmother came around the corner, “charlotteeyy! Efa sitrana Landrycia!” The grandmother yelled ” she is healed!” I stared in awe. This young girl was no longer weak, no longer thin, no longer without hope. She stood in front of me with beautiful big round eyes, healthy as can be barely a scar in sight.
Thank you Operation Smile.
“SMALL minds discuss people, AVERAGE minds discuss events, GREAT minds discuss ideas.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt
Vola is an 8th grade English Teacher in the small village of Mahanoro on the East Coast of Madagascar, one of the most Malaria prone regions of the island.
When I met my counterpart, Vola, her smile lit up the room. Her charismatic personality, positive energy, and drive to make a difference in her community, makes her the ideal heroine in my eyes. Vola, a teacher at the local middle school, has been a Stomp Out Malaria advocate since I have moved to site. Her creativity and love for educating has been a breath of fresh air to work with. Together we have started an 2 English Clubs at both Middle Schools and 1 High School Club focusing on Malaria awareness and prevention in the village of Mahanoro. Each club has an average of 100 students who participate weekly and have been educated with the Night Watch Curriculum. Last week we held a Dream Banner session at our club and over 175 students attended to “draw out the dreams” and hang them underneath their nets. Vola, teaches over 300 students and every morning she asks, “Did you sleep under a net last night?”. She goes above and beyond to ensure that her students understand the importance of properly hanging their nets and teaching them how to properly care for it.
Vola’s enthusiasm to help Peace Corps and USAID in its fight against Malaria stems from a long history with the disease. She explained to me that when she grew up her neighbors and family members were not properly educated about prevention methods or net usage. Instead of protecting their children from Malaria and sleeping under mosquito nets, individuals were using nets to fish shrimp or cover their crops. She mentioned that it became routine to see children under 5 years old as well as her younger siblings being sent to the hospital and treated for malaria. She stated, “Ever since I remember Malaria has been here in Mahanoro, but today I want to change that, today I want to make sure every child and family is safe against Malaria. Today we stomp Malaria!”
In lieu of Malaria Awareness Month, we are planning a Malaria Festival, inviting all the schools and community members to join. We are collaborating with the local health workers from 10 different countryside villages and inviting them to help in the demonstrations at the festival. We will be educating about Malaria and prevention methods through an all-day exhibition and hands on workshops! In addition, we will be holding a Malaria Mural art contest. Students will enter a Malaria Drawing representing prevention methods and healthy living practices, the winner will have his/her drawing made into a mural in the center of town. We are also holding a dance contest and singing contest to the very popular Malagasy song “Tazo Moka” by Jerry Marcoss. The songs lyrics speak directly about prevention methods, sleeping under a net, properly caring for your net, and ACT Malaria Medicine. Lastly, we will be having a soccer tournament and motivating students to participate in the Grassroots Soccer Malaria Drills. We have already received a great interest from the community and 4 different schools have signed up both girls and boys teams to participate in the tournament!
PLEASE CLICK ON THE LINK and ***LIKE*** the picture to nominate her as a malaria hero!