Before leaving Swaziland to attend Malaria Bootcamp IV in Senegal I knew very little about what to expect. I’d never been to West Africa. I knew very little about malaria and had no experience working in malaria prevention. Before arrival I did know two things: I was excited to see a new country and there were a lot of Peace Corps Volunteers on facebook enthusiastically posting a lot about malaria.
I arrived on a Tuesday. My first 24 hours in Senegal I was in a sleep deprived haze. One thing that sticks out in my mind was how all the Senegal PCVs I met at the office were very good about making sure I was feeding myself enough. Late that evening enough of us had arrived in the country that a Peace Corps vehicle transferred us to the training site.
Sessions began Wednesday afternoon. As we discussed our planned events and I slowly got to know my fellow bootcamp participants, two things became very obvious to me: I was definitely brought up here to work but was going to have fun while learning. Over the next few days I became much more familiar with electronic tools. How a person actually catches malaria, how it travels through the body, and the roles of certain medications in both treating and preventing the disease was finally made clear to me as well. I’ve thought more about behavior change in the past few days than I did the whole semester when I took a social and behavioral public health class. I think this is because I can now see how all these concepts might be useful for my future work. I have found it impressive that we have also been able to interact with malaria professionals around the world. We have used Skype so that malaria experts could present and share their knowledge with us in a money saving method.
We have also gotten to see some examples of malaria prevention with our own eyes. It was very enlightening to travel out into a rural community to see what some local communities had done to bring down malaria rates in their area. It was very touching listening to a man tell his story about how his daughter died from malaria which has inspired his passionate efforts to eradicate the disease within his community. We also had the opportunity to visit some of the local health care system institutions. I have also learned a wide variety of other skills ranging from bednet distribution to monitoring and evaluation.
Not even half way through this training I realized all that I was learning was well worth the trip up here. Not only am I eager to go back and apply some of these concepts in Swaziland, I’m even more excited to share them with my other Swaziland volunteers. I am also looking forward to being part of this new network of malaria professionals around the world. I have no doubt that once my fellow participants and I spread out all over Africa we will still keep in touch. I know that I feel very lucky to be able to access such a strong support network as I go off to work on malaria prevention in my own country of service.