Focusing in on the Future.
Monica Skelton, a health volunteer in the south of Madagascar, turned what was originally an idea for a simple World Malaria Day project into a multiple week event to educate youth and their families about malaria prevention. She went around to every house in the small villages – fokontanys – surrounding her commune, to take pictures of families who already properly use mosquito nets for her community’s “wall of fame” for malaria fighters. “I would say generally about half the families in all the small villages I visited actually used a bed net to sleep under. I did hit the jackpot though in this little village community called Maromoky that literally means ‘lots of mosquitoes’…every family there uses a bed net!” said Monica. Throughout her World Malaria Day outreach events, Monica and her counterparts identified an important barrier to malaria prevention that we are now sharing with our partners and other volunteers here in Madagascar: it’s not that most families don’t use mosquito nets, it’s that often only the adults sleeping under them because they are the family members that get to sleep on the bed. The children sleep on mats on the floor and are left unprotected during the night. This little piece of information has help volunteers design more effective behavior change communication projects surrounding malaria prevention here in Madagascar.
Everyone was invited to the events held in the commune center: the painting of a mural depicting the transmission of malaria and the importance of using a mosquito net every night, a session on dream banners, and ending with a community skit.
Working with the youth in her community proved to be most rewarding, especially while doing projects that related malaria prevention to kids’ futures, like Dream Banners. In her own words: “All the kids who attended my malaria day activities were given paper and crayons and asked to illustrate their answer to the question ‘When I grow up I will…’ This was my favorite activity of all the things we did on World Malaria Day. Creativity and individuality are not things that are valued here in terms of the education system. Little kids don’t color in their free time, and generally don’t even know how to hold a pen until they go to school when they’re 6 years old. In their first year of school, they study how to draw and then get tested and scored on their drawing abilities. So this whole exercise in creativity was something that all the kids had actually never done before. Asking them to wrap their little minds around the abstract idea of the future was really challenging, but I am so happy with the way things worked out. They drew big houses and farm fields and flowers and happy families and cows. They wrote their names in huge letters and asked if they were allowed to keep their masterpieces. When I asked some of them to explain what they drew, their responses were simple: ‘This is my house that I’ll live in, this is my family being happy, this is the flower that will grow where I live.’ I was really proud of the fact that all my kids were able to grasp what I was asking them to do in imagining their futures. It also made me so happy just to provide the opportunity for them to have this small creative outlet. Watching this small army of kids walk home clutching their small drawings created with the one color crayon I handed out per kid made me feel more validated than all the other activities I did on World Malaria Day.”