The Faces of Malaria

April is World Malaria Month!

Worldwide, there are…

  • 214 million cases of malaria reported annually.
  • 438,000 malaria-related deaths every year, 90% of these in Africa.

In Malawi…

  • there were 6.9 million cases of malaria in 2015.
  • 40% of hospitalizations in children under 5 are malaria-related.
  • 30% of all outpatient visits are for malaria.
  • 57% of households have at least one ITN (Insecticide-Treated Net).
  • 34% of those families slept under an ITN the night before the survey.*

At my health center, there were…

  • 8,655 confirmed cases of malaria in the last year.
  • 312 confirmed cases of malaria last month.
  • 4 consecutive months of malaria test kit stock-outs in the last year.
  • 4.5 months of malaria treatment stock-outs in the last year.

But those are just the numbers. What do they really mean? How are families affected by malaria? What happens when there is no malaria medication available? It is difficult to get a clear picture of the problem when you focus on the numbers alone. Everyone’s story is vital to gain a better understanding of the situation. These are the faces of malaria…

Women, men, girls, boys, babies, grandparents, sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers… malaria does not discriminate. Its wrath rips through entire families with no mercy.

My counterparts and I have completed numerous door-to-door malaria surveys in our catchment area. I have learned more about how malaria has affected Malawi through these conversations, than by reviewing any amount of statistical data.

The numbers don’t tell you about the 4-year-old girl who has been unable to walk since she was diagnosed with cerebral malaria in January.

Or the man who cannot tend to his fields because he does not have the energy to move.

Or about the mother who traveled 2 hours to the health center daily for a week, praying for malaria medication to be re-stocked.

Every household has a story to share. These narratives make up essential pieces of the malaria puzzle. In my community, malaria is accepted as inevitable. Everyone gets it; it is just something that happens, like a common cold. People were shocked to hear that we do not need to use bed nets or worry about malaria in the United States.

Foster (my counterpart) and I are collecting photos of families who sleep under their bed nets. We will post them at the health center as a “Wall of Fame” to encourage others to use their bed nets correctly. To my surprise, every house we have visited so far has had at least one bed net hung.

Now that doesn’t mean they aren’t misusing some of the bed nets. There were many households with a bed net properly hung next to one being used for maize storage. This was an opportunity to discuss other solutions to these issues so people will no longer need to use the bed nets for anything but sleeping. The more we talked, the more we learned. Several families acknowledged that they only sleep under the nets during the rainy season, when mosquitoes are ubiquitous.

Overall, community members know a lot about malaria, how to prevent it, the symptoms, the importance of seeking treatment, etc. Nevertheless, when malaria meds are out-of-stock, most families have no choice but to wait it out. One mother talked about preparing for the stock-outs by not completing malaria treatment when it is available. She felt that it is better for both kids to get some treatment, than for one to get none at all. My counterpart and I can go to great lengths to explain all the problems with not completing treatment, but will the advice be heeded in desperate situations?

I have been doing malaria work at site for almost a year and there is so much more I need to learn and understand to complete this puzzle. I have the numbers. They create the essential outline of the puzzle, but the narratives fill in the rest. It’s these faces of malaria that have helped me find new, better ways to assist my community.

Bed Net Care & Repair Session

Bed Net Care & Repair Session

We can talk and teach until we are blue in the face, trying to close the gaps we have discovered. Yet, there may be more than meets the eye. My counterparts and I will continue to facilitate bed net care and repair sessions… sharing new skills and ideas, but even more important will be our door-to-door follow-ups with the families. It is during those conversations that we find out the malaria story of each individual and where their needs still lie.

*(The statistics for this post were gathered from the Stomp Out Malaria in Malawi Manual, the 2015-2016 Malawi Demographic and Health Survey, and my health center’s monthly reports.)

Tour de Students

After a heartbreaking loss for our Peace Corps family, it was hard to imagine how things would ever feel normal or good again. But life is full of surprises. You end up finding happiness and inspiration in the most unlikely places. It took 3 days of muddy roads, dambo crossing, new faces, a ton of laughing, and lots of maize to remind me why I made the decision to leave my friends and family and join the Peace Corps 13 months ago.

The English Club at the secondary school wanted to send family photos to their pen pals in the U.S. My neighbor (Mr. Maganga), who leads the club, explained that many of the students live very far away. He did not want me to feel obligated to travel all over the area. Mr. Maganga suggested just taking some more pictures at the school. I could tell the kids were excited at the prospect of getting photos of their homes and families. I knew we had to make it work somehow. I had no idea this journey would turn out to be one of the best experiences of my service.

Day 1

It rained on and off all morning. Luckily, it turned into a light mist just as we were ready to leave around 9am. My guide, Meria, offered to lead me to the students’ homes located closest to the school.

Exploring new areas

Meria and I knew each other a little from the pen pal exchange and my GRS program. Yet, upon arrival at the first house, we were unsure of exactly how to proceed. Meria and I switched back and forth between English and Chichewa, both a little embarrassed when we were unable to understand the other. Neverthless, as the day continued and we fumbled through translation, we grew more comfortable with each other. I could tell a friendship was beginning to blossom.

Meria with another student’s family

We were able to reach 5 families and make it home around 1pm. It was enlightening to see where the kids live. I have interacted with them mostly just at the school. I was surprised by how far some of the students commute on foot. Meria chuckled when I said this… I had no idea how much farther out our adventure would take us the next day.

Patuma with her mother and sister

Day 2

I arrived at the school around 2:10pm. To be honest, I was a little tired, feeling sad, and wanting to be home. The boys were ready to go so I knew I needed to suck it up. They were beyond excited and luckily for me, that energy is contagious. It didn’t take long for my own mood to shift. I was even more elated when I found out that Meria would be joining us again.

About 15 minutes into the trip I realized this was going to be a little tougher than the last time. The “roads” were about a foot wide with huge potholes, rocks, and water everywhere. I thought maybe it would only be that way for a short distance but after an hour, it was clear that this was as good as it was gonna get.

The start of Day 2… Little did I know what lay ahead.

Along the way, the students helped me learn so many Chichewa phrases. And I was teaching them some new English words, like swimming pool and sunburn. I was initially terrified and nervous about biking the treacherous pathways. What if I fall? I don’t want them to laugh at me or think I can’t keep up. Those thoughts were quickly tossed aside when 3 of the boys flipped over their bikes on a particularly “chunky” section. We all had a good laugh, knowing it wouldn’t be the last fall of the day.

One of the boys who took the initial tumble off his bike

The families were incredibly gracious and happy to have a visitor. At every house, my bag was stuffed with maize, which was so generous when you consider the extent of this past hunger season.

On our way to the last student’s home, he told Meria and I, “don’t worry, this is a good road.” Well, I taught them how to say “swimming pool” after we waded through thigh-deep water and rice to reach his family. And to think that is how he travels to and from school, 5-6 days a week.

Photo taken after we survived “the swimming pool”… the green around Meria is all rice.

Meria and I made it back to the school just as the sun was beginning to set. Mr. Maganga was tutoring some students, and they all made the standard Malawian “eeeeeeeee” noise when they saw what state I was in.

I think Mr. Maganga was worried about my mental status until I explained how much fun I had. It’s crazy to think I have been living at my site for almost a year and there is still so much I have yet to see.

Day 3

Our journey was not nearly as intense as day 2, but still so much fun to get to know more families. My favorite picture of the day…

Lemelero was dressed in his school uniform but told me to wait while he changed into his farming attire. When he came out, I could not stop laughing. Lemelero thought he was pretty funny, and so did I. You know when you laugh for so long that your face starts to hurt… yup… that’s what happened. He said, “They need to see real Malawi and that is farming and maize.” We all agreed it was our favorite picture from the Tour de Students (credit to my sitemate, Alexa, for coming up with that title).

Meria is boarding at the school so we finished up with her showing me where she sleeps and cooks. She is going to teach me how to make the best nsima and I will show her how to bake the most delicious brownies.

Three days, 16 students, 1 flat tire, a lot of smiling later… and I feel like there is some light and passion back in my life and my service. I went into the Tour de Students only focused on the logistics of getting it done. I had no idea what a memorable experience it was going to become for me. And I cannot even fully explain why. It was fun. It was silly. I felt like I was a little kid again. I made new friends. I felt strong and adventurous. I saw more of my community. I learned about Malawi. I laughed. It’s as simple as that.

Trampled

I would like to believe that I have cultivated good relationships with most of the animals that inhabit Malawi. I share my house with spiders, cockroaches, scorpions, ants, and lizards. We have agreed upon arrangements that work for all parties involved… well, maybe not exactly… my apologies to the cockroaches and scorpions, but I will never be fond of you and it is my mission to rid you from my nyumba (house).

As I ride to and from outreach clinics, I encounter a multitude of chickens and goats along the way. I slow down to ensure I don’t hit them. They are ALWAYS indecisive about which way they should run, in order to escape impending death.

The pigeons love to create a racket when fighting amongst each other and bouncing around on my tin roof, but I have grown accustomed to their ruckus. And don’t we all love a 4am rooster call or even better… a rooster who decides that it is ideal to make noise ALL day and night, because no one should ever sleep.

Elephants, hippos, crocodiles, kudus, and baboons have graciously allowed me to stare in awe and photograph their beauty, with no complaints. Well… except for that one elephant. That one time.

Let’s just say that in general, I appear to be in good (or maybe just “okay”) harmony with Malawi’s creatures. However, last week, this tranquility with the animals was trampled… quite literally.

I was on my way to the school to meet with my GRS (Grassroot Soccer) group. Several months ago, my neighbor told me about a shortcut that would get me to the school quicker. Ever since, I have always taken this path, along with students and other community members just trying to get from point A to point B.

On this particular afternoon, there was no one else on the path. Kids were still in school; families were finishing up lunch. As I turned the corner from my neighbors’ house, I stumbled upon some creatures. One was resting, the other was munching away on grass. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.

The one, who had been busy eating, stopped and stared at me… he held my gaze and refused to let go. I thought “hmmm… okay… that’s interesting… the animals usually look away after a second or two.” I continued to walk towards my destination when all of a sudden, in my peripheral vision, I saw him stampeding towards me.

This creature was charging right for me, full force. He rammed me from behind… HARD. I started to panic, but knew I shouldn’t run. I assumed that would provoke him more. I continued, walking as briskly as possibly, trying to exude a calm aura.

Next thing I know I hear him charging towards me again. I get rammed even harder and knocked to the ground. He tramples me and then walks away. I am sure if anyone was witnessing this encounter, they were having a real good laugh. Even now, I can’t help but giggle when I think of how stupid I must have looked getting trampled by this thing.

Luckily, he was satisfied after taking me down and didn’t come back to finish the job. Now you are probably wondering… what was this creature… a lion… a crazed goat… a village dog… a baby elephant.

No… no… no… and once again, no. My arch nemesis is a sheep.

There he is (the next day) claiming his territory.

That’s right… a sheep. I later discovered that he belongs to the neighbors behind me and is known for this behavior. He rams anyone that gets too close to his female counterpart. I originally thought he was a pregnant sheep, about to give birth and irritated by my disturbance. Clearly, I don’t know much about sheep, but I had an interesting first lesson, that’s for sure.

I cannot lie, some days here feel long and monotonous, just like we experience at home in the U.S. And then there are the days when you think “Did that just happen? Is this real life? I wish someone was here to witness this.” The day that I was chased, rammed, and trampled by a sheep will be forever engrained in my memory. I am grateful for the encounter, if for no other reason than it is amusing to look back at and laugh about. Thank you Malawi, for giving me another first… you continue to provide me with the scariest, most hilarious, and utterly unforgettable experiences.

Watching him through my fence… always best to know where the enemy is.

One Year Later…

It feels like just yesterday that I flew to chilly Philadelphia for my Peace Corps staging event. I was anxiously searching the conference room, hoping that I would find commonalities and develop strong friendships with the people in my cohort. One year ago today, the CHE ’16 volunteers (Combined Health & Environment) arrived in Malawi together, as strangers. A year flew by in the blink of an eye. Those strangers I met in Philly are now some of my closest friends. Malawi has become a second home to me. I have grown and changed in ways I could have never imagined.

As I reflect back on my Peace Corps service so far, I want to share all that this year has taught me…

*Malawi is absolutely beautiful…

*…and so are the people who live here.

*Amazing things happen when you shut up, listen, and allow people to share their stories.

*My family and friends back home are irreplaceable. I can always count on them for guidance and encouragement.

*I could not ask for a better boyfriend. He has supported me 100% and gets me through some of the toughest days.

*Malawi is full of kind, caring, generous people, who are also some of my biggest supporters.

My counterpart, Foster, has gone above and beyond to help me with projects and in my personal life.

My neighbor, Mr. Maganga, is one of the most genuine people I have ever met. I can never thank him enough for all he does for me.

family-4-1

The woman who taught me how to survive and thrive in Malawi – my homestay amayi!

*It is okay to ask for help. Working together makes it better.

*Patience is key. Stop and take a breath, it helps. I need to continue working on this.

*Enjoy every moment, no matter how terrible or trivial it seems at the time. These moments help us learn, grow, and become better people.

*Care packages make me cry tears of joy.

*My life is full of privileges. Remember to appreciate all that we have, every day.

*Love overpowers hate. One smile can change your whole day.

*Running is still my vice. It helps keep me sane. I need it in my life.

*Poverty does not take away your ability to smile, laugh, or experience a crazy amount of happiness.

*Laughter really is contagious.

*Surrounding yourself with positive people will make you more motivated and creative. (I love working with these girls!)

image1.JPG

*I am strong.

Photo by CJ Mishima

*Government-issued friends are one of a kind.

Photo by Rachel Walls

*One person can help make a BIG change.

*Mosquitoes can be so evil.

*This experience has been full of ups and downs so far, but I am grateful for every minute of it. I love this journey! The people here are changing my life and I hope I am doing the same in return. We are growing together.

Discover Dedza

Last weekend it was time to discover Dedza. Having only passed through on minibus rides, while heading to my site, I have been anxiously awaiting this visit. You may be thinking… hey, Kristina… I have no idea where Dedza is! Don’t worry… I found a handy map to show you:

You can see Dedza in yellow in the central region. My district is Machinga, also in yellow, but farther south and to the east.

As Alexa and I traveled north from our sites, the weather cooled off. Dedza was a pleasant change from the heat of Machinga, where my house still feels like an oven and my glasses struggle to stay on my face. They are constantly battling the immense amount of sweat that is dripping out of every pore imaginable.

I wore my Melly for the first time in months!

As with most of Malawi, the rains have made everything green. Beautiful does not even begin to describe the wondrous landscape that surrounded us all weekend.

We stayed at Dedza Pottery, a restaurant, shop, camping area, and lodge. If you ever visit Malawi, you have to check this place out!

It is fun to watch how the pottery is created and painted, as you spend lots of Malawian Kwacha on all of the beautiful pieces in the shop.

We also had the opportunity to visit Henry, who sells handmade items just down the road from Dedza Pottery. He was kind enough to show us his step-by-step process for making new paper from recycled papers, which he then uses to create cards.

1. Soak recycled papers

2. Pound them

3. Use frame and sieve to create new paper

4. Squeeze out excess water

5. Press it

6. Hang it to dry!

Henry, his wife, and his brother also make other treasures. Cards, dolls, purses, wallets, picture frames, trivets, coasters, bracelets, books… they do it all! Needless to say, we spent a bit of ndalama (money) at his shop.

One of Dedza’s main tourist attractions is the Chongoni Rock Art, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, with 127 identified rock painting locations. It is the richest concentration of rock art in Central Africa. There are 3 sites open to the public, specifically Chentcherere, Namzeze, and Mphunzi. We could only get to Mphunzi because of bad road conditions.

Photo by Marc Mahan

The Mphunzi Site consists of 8 painted rock shelters. Sadly, #6 has been covered with graffiti, making the original rock art difficult to see, but we were able to visit the other 7 sites.

Photo by Marc Mahan

Our tour guide, Lenton, was enthusiastic and informative. He helped us identify all the symbols painted on the rocks.

Pointing out the elephant

Lenton explained that the older paintings, in red, were made by BaTwa pygmies, who inhabited the area before the Bantu migrations.

The white paintings were created by the Chewa people. You may remember that one of the most common languages in Malawi is Chichewa (the language of the Chewa tribe).

Most of their paintings depict animals, which represent spirits. These are an integral part of the Nyau dances. Nyau is a secret society of the Chewa people. I have previously discussed Gule Wamkulu, which means “big dance.” It is the best known dance of the Nyau. These rock paintings are critically linked to current cultures in Malawi, including the Gule Wamkulu.

Photo by Alexa Griffin

In addition to seeing some awesome historical sites, we ate good food. Always a priority during these weekend vacations.

Cheesecake!

Chocolate cake, coconut-raspberry tarts, and iced coffee frappes 😊

I cannot wait to go back and check out the other 2 rock art sites. And buy more pottery. And visit Henry. And eat cheesecake. So much to do, so little time.

One year ago on March 4th (this Saturday), I arrived in Malawi! Time flies!

“Although time seems to fly by, it never travels faster than one day at a time. Each day is a new opportunity to live your life to the fullest.”

-Dr. Steve Maraboli

What Nature Does

Rain. The key to life in Malawi. Rain brings maize. Maize is food. Food brings life. But rain also brings something else. Destruction and chaos. Or so I have learned.

The night before I left for a meeting in Lilongwe, it poured rain for hours. This is not an unusual occurrence during the rainy season in Malawi. I have grown accustomed to the rain’s thundering assault on my tin roof; however, this particular evening would prove different. At 11:30pm, I was startled awake by the sound of shattering glass near my head. The window. The neighbors’ house had partially collapsed; their brick wall came crashing down, shattering my bedroom window in the process.

I had to leave early the next morning so there was little time to fully process what had happened. Later on, I thought more about the rain. All the good it brings and all the destruction it can cause. A delicate balance between prosperity and disarray, never knowing when the scale will tip.

Little did I know that while I was in Lilongwe, my bafa and chim were crumbling to the ground during another massive rainstorm. I came home to further havoc.

What once was my bafa and chim

Luckily, my sitemate took me in until my landlord was able to construct a new bafa and chim.

New structures

Nature. It provides so much for us and can take it all away. We are incredibly fragile in comparison to the immense harshness that nature can literally “rain down” upon us. We are reminded of our humanity.

But there is something beautiful about that. The aftermath of nature’s chaos bonds people together and makes us stronger. Neighbors help each other and share what little they have, thus increasing the trust, sense of safety, and compassion between them.

There is something alluring about the power of nature. It teaches us about life… what we need to do when faced with challenges and obstacles. The recent heavy rains and resulting upheaval prompted me to reflect on my personal relationship with nature, prior to arriving in Malawi.

Yosemite – Fall 2015

Rivers, mountains, trees, snow… I love it all. Not that we haven’t had our own struggles together. So why have I continued to seek adventure in the outdoors, even when it has knocked me down time and time again?

The sense of accomplishment I gain from climbing mountains is unlike anything I have ever experienced. More importantly, such journeys have taught me to appreciate the beauty every step of the way, not just once I reach the top. I remind myself of this lesson whenever I am struggling to be present in the moment… which happens often.

Mount Yale Summit – Fall 2015

During Zack and I’s first 14er climb, the most amazing thing happened… we stumbled upon mountain goats. As they looked right into my eyes, it was clear they were wondering the same things that I was… how did you get here? Where did you come from? Where are you going?

Zack was a few steps behind. I exclaimed, “look honey… animals,” not knowing what they were at first glance. “They’re white.” Zack quickly identified them and soon the goats continued on their journey.

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Do you see them?

You can see the most incredible things when you step out of your comfort zone. Encountering mountain goats, while climbing my first 14er, was an unforgettable experience. Seeing these animals on TV or reading about other people’s experiences pales in comparison to this firsthand encounter. Get out there. Discover it yourself.

Costa Rica – Winter 2016

“Life is short and the world is wide.” We yearn to see more, do more, reach new heights… it is at the very core of the human spirit. Nature is unpredictable, but so is life. We need to learn how to take the punches and get back up. Nature helps with this… it allows us to recognize that we can accomplish anything, even when things seem impossible.

It is true that my time “in the wild” has not always been euphoric. While hiking, rafting, snowboarding, I have felt afraid, terrified at times, but I’ve also never felt so alive and free. These experiences have made me more confident, self-reliant, courageous, and strong.

Park City – Winter 2015

Stressful situations also create strong relationships. Just like what happened with my neighbors. Their house collapsed but everyone came to help. They were not alone… they were supported… once again showing how much nature gives us, even when we think it is only causing hardship and frustration. In the aftermath, there is so much growth, personally and in the relationships with those around you.

That is the story of Zack and I. Nature knocked me down, but Zack picked me up and then encouraged me to reconnect with the outdoors. And I am so glad he did, otherwise I would probably not be here right now. He helped revive my sense of adventure and desire to explore.

Landscape Arch (Utah) – Fall 2015

And so it goes. Nature gives. Nature takes away and then gives again, in new ways. It is truly beautiful.

Ptarmigan Lake Hike (45).JPG

Colorado – Summer 2015

Love Poem to Malawi

In honor of Valentine’s Day ❀️, this is my love poem to Malawi…

On the map, you may look small
But in reality, you stand so tall
I knew very little before I came
Now I know, I will never be the same

My amayi taught me how to live and thrive
Without her guidance, there’s no way I would survive
A stranger from a foreign land
I was welcomed and made to feel grand

I worried I would never feel at home
Going into my new community all alone
But alas, I have found my place
I am getting used to the Malawi pace

I love waking up to your orange skies
And feel hopeful when your clouds begin to cry
Now you are looking so pretty and green
Good harvests and happiness is what that will mean

I love all of your guavas and mangoes
And when I am offered pumpkins, I do not oppose
Mandasi and madonas are also the best
I even enjoy nsima with the rest

Your land and people are so diverse
In your culture, I love to be immersed
Smiles and laughter everywhere I turn
But the suffering is great, I continue to learn

Regarding my neighbors, I have been blessed
They always help me, when I am in distress
I love to bake them American treats
And they fill me in on the community deets

My counterpart has given me a great start
He exemplifies why you are called the warm heart
Pad projects, bed net demos, health education with the youth
He is the perfect partner for it all, and that is the truth

Visits to the lake to discover even more
I love snorkeling and spending time on your shore
The plateau in Zomba gives a different feel
It is so breathtaking, sometimes I forget that it is real

You are home to so many creatures
I think it is one of my favorite features
Although the scorpions are kind of scary,
Your hippos and elephants make me merry

I have been with you for almost one year
We still have one more together, so have no fear
It has not always been easy
But you have made me grow, and I don’t care if that sounds cheesy

With people so resilient
I know your future will be brilliant
Your beauty and strength will remain in my heart
So we will always be connected even if we are far apart

Sunrises.Sunsets Njombwa (7).JPG

We Are Marching Too

I must admit that part of me is relieved to be thousands of miles away from home right now. Although I wish I could be there to support these movements, from what I have seen on social media, my friends and family pretty much have it covered 😊. Shout out to all those who are making their voices heard! In Malawi, we are marching too… just in different ways. My current projects are focused on equipping Malawian women with more knowledge, skills, and the confidence to make their own choices.

Leaders of one of the community groups… and they both love my kim chi 😊

Foster and I are still facilitating pad projects and bed net demos, but we recently started a new program at the secondary school. You may remember that back in October I attended a training for GRS (Grassroot Soccer).

GRS Crew

It is an adolescent health organization that uses soccer to educate and empower youth regarding health issues, mainly focusing on HIV. GRS was started in South Africa but the programs are now being implemented in countries around the world.

When I met with the head teacher to discuss GRS, he suggested starting with the girls who board at the school. Since they live there, it was easier to find a good time to meet; a time when they are not busy with other school activities. We have completed 3 sessions so far and I must say, GRS is my favorite part of the week. The girls are having a ton of fun with it! They are interested, engaged, and have so many great questions.

Due to some scheduling conflicts, I am facilitating GRS with Foster, rather than my female counterpart. Luckily, as I am sure you have noticed, Foster is an amazing male champion and advocate for women. He is marching too!

What I love most about GRS is how active it is. The kids are learning but it is all through games and fun.

Our topics have included HIV testing, what puts someone at risk of contracting HIV, and distinguishing between facts and myths about HIV. The girls know a lot already, but there are also so many myths floating around the community. We hope this program will fill in those information gaps and encourage them to make healthy choices in life. (My personal favorite question from our last session: “People say you get Vitamin K from sex, is that true?”)

The girls also had a lot of questions about how to use condoms. Luckily, there is time for a condom demonstration already built into the program. Foster and I have really been encouraging them to feel free to ask any and all questions. We want them to get the most out of the program. Since this group is all girls, Foster and I have been focusing on gender equality, in addition to HIV. I will be interested to see what happens to the group dynamics when we do GRS with both boys and girls at the same time.

I am not too worried though because so far, I could not ask for a better counterpart for these very female-focused interventions. Foster is an ally for women everywhere. Here are a few photos from recent pad projects we have done:

Also, since we have been conducting our bed net demos at under 5 clinics… the crowd is mainly mothers and babies.

I love working with the women in my community. The camaraderie I witness during every project is so inspiring… similar to how those at the marches felt, I’m sure. Malawian women are strong, powerful, and honestly, the glue that holds families together here. I admire their resiliency.

One of my favs who used to work at the health center

Now that Foster and I have been successfully engaging the women in our community, we also want to spend some time with the boys and men. Foster is a great role model and we need more male champions EVERYWHERE in the world. They also have a BIG part to play. We will continue to “march” here in Malawi, with more allies joining every day. Everyone has a right to be heard.

Pad Project: A Closer Look

A few people have asked me how we make the reusable menstrual pads. Since this has been a big part of my service so far, and will continue to be, I wanted to share the step-by-step instructions with all of you.

MATERIALS:

-Chitenje (fabric)

-Black plastic

-Some type of absorbent material

-Buttons

-Sewing needles

-Thread

-Scissors

(The Peace Corps Malawi Office provides kits that include enough materials to make 30 pads, which is awesome! Since my site is far from the office in Lilongwe, I cannot always get a kit when I find a group of interested women. I have also bought some of these materials on my own. The items can all be found in larger trading centers throughout the country.)

STEPS:

Some people choose to have the girls or women cut the materials, but so far, I have been cutting everything beforehand, mostly because I only have 2 pairs of scissors at the moment. 😝

In the Pad Project Kits from Peace Corps, there are sample lessons to teach alongside making the pads, and there are also patterns to use.

For every woman, I cut 2 pieces of chitenje and 1 piece of black plastic using the standard shield pattern. I also cut 2 pockets for each pad, (out of chitenje). Every individual will also get a needle, thread, and a button.

Additionally, I cut the absorbent material into smaller squares, which will be handed out at the end of the session.

After giving materials to everyone, we can begin…

1. Each pocket has a rounded side and a flat side. The women will fold the flat side over about 1 cm and sew the seam, for both pockets.

2. The 2 pockets will then be sewn to 1 piece of chitenje, at either end. The women will not sew over the seams they have already made on the pockets… there needs to an opening.

*Some chitenje have a “pretty or right” side and an “ugly or wrong” side. To make the nicest looking pad, it is important to pay attention to that. For step #2, the pockets should be sewn onto the “pretty” side of the chitenje.

3. This tends to be the trickiest step, in terms of getting the order correct. The women will stack the layers as follows: the black plastic piece, then the chitenje with the pockets (“pretty” side facing up) on top of the black plastic, followed by the other piece of chitenje (“pretty” side facing down) on top of that. All 3 pieces need to sewn together leaving a small 1-2 inch opening.

4. The opening will be used to turn the project “pretty” sides out when done.

Before pulling “pretty” sides out

After pulling “pretty” sides out

5. Then the opening needs to be sewn shut.

6. A button is sewn on 1 flap. (Same side that the pockets are on… the front side.)

7. A hole is cut on the opposite flap for the button. The women should sew around the hole so that it does not fray.

Finished product (front)

Finished product (back)

8. We hand out 2-3 pieces of absorbent material per individual and show them how to put these in the pad. We also go over how to use the pad, along with care and repair instructions. Everything can be washed, which is great! And the women can use a lot of different items for the absorbent material part. They can carry extra pieces with them, when they are away from home, and change them throughout the day. Used material can be stored in small baggies (“jumbos”) until they can be washed.

Throughout the session and at the end, Foster and I discuss HIV, safe sex, and healthy choices. We also talk to the women about the importance of getting tested and where they can go to do so. Foster and I have done the Pad Project with 3 groups of women so far and have plans for more sessions already.

I wrote about this project in a previous post as well, but I want to reiterate how valuable it is. The women all walk away with new knowledge and their own reusable menstrual pad, which will hopefully make their lives a little easier. Below is a link to a recent article I read about Pad Project in Malawi:

https://www.google.com/amp/m.huffpost.com/us/entry/us_586fa510e4b02b5f8588554e/amp

Please comment or contact me with any questions! Also, I always love to hear project ideas or cool things you have seen done in other places. 😊

How I Spent My Holiday – Photo Edition

Check out HOW I SPENT MY HOLIDAY in Malawi. I missed my family and friends back home but luckily, I have another family here. We blended some American traditions with Malawian culture to come up with new festivities to celebrate the season.

*H…


Hiking. (When I am hiking on Zomba Plateau, I feel like I am back in Colorado or California, totally encompassed by the natural world no matter where I look. It is my happy place. 😊)

*O…

Photo by Rachel Walls

Observing cichlids. (Snorkeling in Lake Malawi is incredible. There are about 1,000 species of cichlids (a type of fish) that call it home, and I had the privilege of swimming with them!)

*W…


Wearing glow sticks. (What would New Year’s Eve be without glow sticks? My hometown girls know what I mean…

…throwback to Summer 2014 when we were always glowing! #glowsticklife #countryconcerts)

*I…


In awe of the beauty all around me. (Is this real life? I feel blessed to live close to the lake, and at the same time sad that most of my village has never had the opportunity to see it.)

*S…


Skyping. (Service is rarely good enough for a video Skype session… gotta take advantage of it when we can. P.S. Zack is in Costa Rica, hence his shirtlessness. 😝)

*P…


Playing bao. (Addicted to this game. It is similar to Mancala, which I used to play when I was younger. I am hoping to score some major village points when I whip out my board and play bao with my neighbors. So glad I learned how to play over the holiday!)

*E…

Christmas morning breakfast

Crocodile braii (Photo by Rachel Walls)

Eating. (We had so much delicious food. It was amazing. No need to elaborate.)

*N…


Near elephants. (They are trying to beat the heat too…

Photo by Rachel Walls

…we also understand that hydration is the key to surviving hot season.)

*T…



Trekking to waterfalls. (Another hidden treasure on Zomba Plateau.)

*M…


Matching. (Matching Christmas PJs for the win. The boys were good sports about it. πŸ˜ŠπŸŽ„)

*Y…


Yipping with glee… (…after eating this chocolate lava cake. Officially the best dessert I have had in Malawi. This cake and I already made future date plans for any time I am in Cape Maclear.)

*H…


Hearing hippos. (Yes, they make noise. There are so many in the Shire River that runs right through my boma, Liwonde.)

*O…


On Zomba Plateau. (The plateau is my favorite place in Malawi… so far. Every time I come here, I discover something new. Adventure always awaits.)

*L…




Photo by Rachel Walls

Loving my friends. (Could not have asked for a better group of people to spend these 2 years with… Fingers crossed for all of us as we continue to ride this crazy roller coaster every day.)

*I…

Photo by Alexa Griffin

In Lake Malawi. (We spent hours in the lake every day. How could we not, it was only a few steps away from our lodge.)

*D…


Dressed up. (Thanks to Nikki and Jenna, I had something fun to wear for New Year’s Eve… although I will always enjoy going out in my Chacos and cheap tank tops.)

*A…


Appreciating sunsets. (No matter where I am in Malawi, the sunsets are always amazing.)

*Y…


Yearning for another great year in 2017. Let’s make it happen!

One of the main reasons I got this tattoo was to carry peace and love with me always. This world seems to get crazier every day. Let’s not forget to love and care for one another… we are all connected… we are one. πŸ’š