During the school break in Rwanda, youth freed from their daily lessons cram buses and flood back into villages to visit home. But there is no rest for the weary. During break, Peace Corps Volunteers in education and health sectors in Rwanda team to organize regional youth camps. Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) is a global Peace Corps initiative with the aim of encouraging leadership, empowerment, and development of young women around the world. Peace Corps Volunteers in Rwanda have more recently introduced Camp BE (Boys Excelling), focusing on specific issues that prevent young men from leading, developing, and allying with women to create a better future.
We returned from Boot Camp in Senegal after the planning for this round of camps was nearly complete and there was little room for last-minute incorporation of malaria. Just in case, we prepared a malaria lesson plan and activities that we distributed to Regional Camp Coordinators. We made arrangements to observe camps to learn more about them and how they operate, as well as improve opportunities for malaria outreach through them.
Our plan was to attend Camp BE at the Groupe Scholaire du Bon Pasteur in Kinazi, Ruhango in the southern province of Rwanda. Kinazi is known for its extreme heat and dryness. As a result, malaria is endemic to the area. One day, I received a phone call from the Camp Coordinator asking us not only to observe, but participate, in the camp. “What would you like to do a lesson on?” he asked. I smiled. “How about malaria?” I suggested. We were in!
We traveled over dusty red dirt roads and green rolling hills to the camp site perched on a mountain overlooking a valley shrouded in clouds. Working with a Rwandan facilitator, we taught four sessions on malaria to 56 boys aged 14-18 in one day. Our goal was for each student to be able to explain how malaria is transmitted, how to prevent transmission, the signs and symptoms of malaria, where to go for treatment, and common malaria interventions and strategies by the end of the lesson.
Our lesson strategy was interactive. Activities in the lesson demanded student’s involvement and they were willing participants, exceeding requirement to ask insightful questions. We clapped for a skit that illustrated a mosquito biting a student suffering from malaria, then a healthy one, and explained how the healthy one would become sick. We laughed when students demonstrated fever, head and body aches, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea; the signs and symptoms of malaria. We refuted some common malaria myths that exist in Rwanda, in particular that patients should be given ACT even if testing for malaria is negative, nets are dangerous to touch because of the insecticide, and cutting bushes and alcohol consumption prevent malaria. Students were very interested in learning about the history of malaria and why it predominantly affects poor countries in Africa, including Rwanda.
The most enlightening part of the lesson was when our Rwandan facilitator shared his experience with malaria. JMV is a teacher from a local secondary school who suffered a bad case of malaria. He admitted that he used to be too proud, believing that his immune system was strong and malaria could not affect him. One night about five months ago, a mosquito bit him as he slept without a net. He became very sick and endured severe headaches. Finally, he visited the hospital where the doctors told him that he suffered from malaria. “Now, I sleep under a mosquito net every night,” he concluded. He was a role model for the young boys, relating to their own perceptions of pride and strength to reinforce the importance of using a mosquito net. Before dismissing the class, we asked who planned to sleep under a mosquito net every night, and every student raised his hand.
At Camp BE in Kinazi, we witnessed how camps could be successful channels for malaria outreach to youth. Youth are a niche of Peace Corps Volunteers, as they are a cohort with which we tend to have great rapport. Our goal is to expand and incorporate malaria lessons and activities, and possibly bed net distributions, into future camps, hopefully all. Even though this round of camps is complete, we have more work to do preparing for the next, taking place during the long school break from November to December.
It wasn’t all malaria talk at Camp BE. We did get out of the classroom to interact with students in other activities, such as arts and crafts. The boys created soccer trophies and cars from paper mache; unfortunately no mosquitoes. In the fun, some of the paper mache even got on us! If we can’t appeal to their reason for using a mosquito net, perhaps a malaria monster can!