Dear Family and Friends,
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.
Please donate to our project!
“I think, therefore I am. (Cogito, ergo sum.)”
– Rene Descartes
Today I witnessed two of my students pass their High School Exit Exam. Joy doesn’t even begin to explain my feelings. I am filled with pride, joy, excitement, and many other emotions. I often forget the enormous barriers that students face daily here.
Many students move to Mahanoro to continue their studies. Mahanoro is a district town and is the only town with a government high school in a 90 km radius. Students come from all over to study. Many move away from families and friends. They rent small palm tree houses that they share with other students, sometimes amounting to 5 in one room. They cook, clean, take care of themselves all by themselves. In addition to the daily activities, these students take eight classes, a full schedule in high school. They wake up as early as 5 am and go to bed late after preparing dinner and washing dishes. All of these classes unfortunately do not have books, meaning that instead of following a textbook and writing down exercises. These students are writing a textbook in their notebook, which is being verbally lectured by a teacher. Miss a word or two; forget a sentence, well its not acceptable. These students have four classes a day, each being 2 hour long.
This morning Cecilia, my student two years ago, ran over to my house. « Miss ! Miss ! Miss Charlotte!!! » I opened the blue gate to find Cecilia literally jumping of joy. « I passed!! » she exclaimed with a squeal. I wrapped my arms around her.
Passing high school has been her dream. She is the first in her family to do so and hopes to continue on to university in the spring. I could not be more proud. Cecilia you have climbed mountains and I am positive you will succeed in University and anything else that comes your way.
To all the amazing determined students whom I have had a pleasure teaching over these couples years, thank you, thank you for being absolutely inspirational.
“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.”
Check out my photography page 🙂
Photography has always been my way of expressing what I see, feel, sensations I come across and people I meet.
ENJOY 🙂 Would love feedback.
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.