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.
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
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!
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.
The Cultural Center of Hope is going extremely well. I could not be more proud. A person very dear to me once said, “Charlotte when things get rough just put your head down and go.” Things have not been easy lately, my parents recent divorce, my uncle passing away, medical issues. Yet, this Center has truly given me hope. It has given me strength. These children are inspiring. Seeing them eat books with their eyes. Seeing them starve for knowledge, its really amazing, its truly inspirational. The center has been a work in progress. I have gone from just being a high school teacher to opening the first ever Cultural Center in Mahanoro. The children flock from every direction once I open the door, screaming “ Hello MISS! MISS Vocabulary!!! Miss I like the book!!!”
My mornings start early. At 4:30-5:00 I get up water my plants (still attempting to garden). Then open the center at 6:30 so kids can hangout before school starts. My librarian, Madame Bao Sabine and Madame Kameline arrive, take my place and I bike 2 miles to the high school. I teach from 7 am – 9am then again from 9am – 11 am. By 11:15 I am back at the Center closing it up and answering final questions from kids. I head upstairs (where I stay), attempt to gather together a lunch. Right now it has consisted of grated carrots and sardines! Sometimes My neighbor (I think she notices how late I have been preparing lunch and that I do not eat rice and feels bad) so often she brings over fish or rice. Very very sweet of her.
By 2:00pm I am opening up the doors of the center and staying open until 6:30pm. Adults start trickling in around 5:00 pm when they finish working their day jobs or have just gotten back from the countryside for clove picking season. We go over some vocabulary and I answer any dialogue questions they may have.
Classes will begin in January. I am really looking forward to teaching.
I received great news the Chef Cisco will be building an exterior bungalow to be used as an extra teaching space! This comes to me as wonderful news seeing that we have 670 members!!!
Classes will begin in January. I am really looking forward to teaching.
I received great news the Chef Cisco will be building an exterior bungalow to be used as an extra teaching space! This comes to me as wonderful news seeing that we have 560 members!!!
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.
Some people ask, ” What are your biggest challenges being a Peace Corps volunteer?”
A couple things come to mind…
1. Using holes as toilets and getting overly joyous when a kabone (hole in the ground) doesn’t have swarms of flies or larva flying around. Ew..
2. Forgetting what water pressure feels like and when the opportunity is available for a hot shower you burn yourself because your skin squints as the foreign heat approaches your body.
3. Being squished, okay squeezed, okay piled on top of people in a taxi brousse. Where normally 4 people sit comfortably you find yourself side by side toppled over 8 in one row. Don’t forget the chickens pecking at your heals, the baby gnawing at your purse strap, and the woman asking you to hold her voandalana (gift to bring home) while your butt cheeks have lost all sensation from sitting on the hot withered brousse seats.
4. Having people look at you all the time, let me repeat ALL the time. Kids yelling VAZAHA, while running circles around you.
5. Missing market day and making crazy concoctions of food for dinner- hoping for a good outcome. Personal favorite- (rice [of course], sakay [hot sauce], parmesan cheese [lifesaver! thanks mom] and some sardines) Don’t forget the PROTEIN!
With these every day challenges comes the joys, the ups, the reasons why we volunteers do what we do. Some great examples of these joys in the past year of service:
1. Waking up to my two little sisters (neighbors, but you know everyone is family once you live next to one another long enough) singing at 5 am. Then when they see that my door is open at 5:15 am they peak their heads in and yell “GOOODDD MOrrrrrNING CHARLOTTTTEyyyyy! Now that is a wake up call and a beautiful one.
2. Malagasy people are some of the most giving, sweet, and nurturing beings I have met. Yes there are those days where I have missed the market, taught 8 hours and wasn’t able to buy food for the night. I come home lay down on the floor (where it is much colder believe me it is HOT out here) and just here my tummy rumble. All of a sudden I here my Neny (host-mom) yell through the wood and palm tree panels separating our homes, “Mandroso SAKAFO!” This translates- “Come get some food girl!” I smile, and walk over to a pile of rice and my favorite, homemade lentils with garlic- we eat together and enjoy each others company.
3. Sometimes having people look at you all the time, curiously investigating your freckles and assuming you don’t shower, can be difficult. (People have told me I need to shower more because I have dirt dots on my skin… freckles are mysterious things- who would have known.) Yet, the benefits to having people look at you all the time is that you can then look at them all the time too! This leads to the ritual greetings, “Manakory, Ino vaovao?” Hey Whats up? Next thing you know you are having a full on conversation about their kids, their family, the rice fields, the weather. And, after all that you have either been invited for lunch, to the wedding ceremony next week, and undoubtedly to attend church with the family this coming weekend. Stares are a beautiful thing- get used to it, and embrace it.
4. Rice. I repeat. RICE. I had a love hate relationship with RICE when I first landed in Mada. Now, I can’t live without the white grains on my plate! I don’t feel full without eating rice and all my meals MUST include this beautiful RICE! haha.. okay really though I have grown to enjoy it- even if many times it involves cracking parts of my teeth on pebbles (or rocks) which were hiding in the grains.
5. My favorite UP this year and my most joyous moment: speaking Malagasy. I remember trying to learn Malagasy greetings through a Youtube video when I received my acceptance letter for Peace Corps.
youtube: repeat after me “Salama”
me (thinking): oh…goodness here we go..
Now a year later, I am impressed not only with how I have been able to adapt to this new culture, and new way of life, but how I have been able to express myself in Malagasy. I think in Gasy, I speak in Gasy, I even sometimes have DREAMS [I kid you not] in GASY! I love surprising Malagasy people with my Malagasy. They automatically think all foreigners are French (due to the fact that Madagascar was colonized by France, many people speak French here). They see me they revert to French, when I answer in Malagasy- an enormous smile appears. That smile is worth many many nights reading a Malagasy dictionary!
“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!