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
“For Africa to move forward, we must get rid of malaria” -Bill Gates
Madagascar is implementing the PECADOM+ Project, an active case detection methodology to fight against Malaria. Peace Corps Volunteers are working in close collaboration with PMI, PNLP (National Malaria Control Program) and local health officials to eliminate malaria.
PCV Astrid’s site on the East Coast in piloting PECADOM+. During one of her community sweeps, checking mosquito nets and checking for malaria symptoms, she noticed a “Dream Banner” hung inside a mosquito net. PCV’s encourage youth to produce “Dream Banners”, which consist of drawing out their dreams on paper and placing it under their mosquito net. This reinforces the idea that if you sleep under your net you will be able to be healthy and achieve your dreams. Great Job!
For more information on PECADOM+ and the work Peace Corps Volunteers are doing on eliminating malaria.
Check out what PCV’s in Africa are doing to stomp out malaria: http://www.stompoutmalaria.org
Photo Credit: PCV Astrid
We received the furniture from the carpenter today! He did a stunning job! I spent the morning painting bookshelves and varnishing tables 🙂
We decided to organize the books by level.
Blue = medium
Red = difficult
All books have small color dots on the inside cover coinciding to the color of the bookshelves! Students will be briefed on our “lifestyle” at the center as well as the class schedule!
Two weeks ago I brought 4 girls from Mahanoro to participate in a GLOW camp- Girls Leading Our World weeklong camp in Tana. ( the capital). The catch being that when they come back they needed to develop their own Girls Empowerment Club.
This is a photograph taken of their first meeting yesterday! Over 45 girls showed up. My 4 outstanding Presidents of the (soon to be) GLOW Club Mahanoro held an amazing meeting. They discussed and outlined the different topics that will be discussed every week. Topics carrying from “how to further your education” to “how to properly out a condom on”, “how to avoid teenage pregnancy” … Etc. every week we will have a strong woman from the community, a doctor, teacher, mother, come and talk to the Club about her life story and her goals.
It brought tears to my eyes to see 45 girls show up and to see the leadership skills come out in my 4 presidents.
So proud of them.
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!
Lush green forest. Wake up to the songs of Indri Lemurs calling one another. Andasibe is a haven for researchers, tourists, and families. Enjoy day walks or longer hikes through the beautiful National Park. Make sure you take a guide, many speak different languages and are well experienced in the wildlife and flora found in the park. Interesting talking point- medicinal plants!
Tip: Go early, before noon- lemurs feed at that time and you will avoid the hoards of tourist buses in the afternoon.
Great Hotel recommendation: Feon’ny Ala which translates to “song of the forest”. You can hear the Indri Lemurs singing from your wooden bungalow.
Make sure to bring extra layers if visiting in the months of June, July, September as it gets chilly during the Madagascar highland winters.