Saturday, November 21, 2015

Addressing Persons with Disabilities in Rural Cameroon

Last week my girlfriend and colleague Rachel visited Mbakaou to initiate a health training at my local health center.  Let me take a step back.  While I have primarily worked in health education with my main supervising body being the local health center, Rachel works with a disability support organization in the Northwestern city of Bamenda.  She regularly works with persons with disabilities, performs workshops for groups of men and women with disabilities and goes on a weekly radio show to discuss different issues for persons with disabilities among other projects.  It is often unusual for there to be strong support systems for persons with disabilities even in a city.  In the country side it is even rarer and often dependent on support systems from nearby cities.  Such support is more common in the Northwest.  In places like my region of Adamawa, it can often be rare.  This is a large problem that is often ignored by foreign organizations despite the fact that 95% persons with disability in Cameroon live under the poverty line. Thus for the last few months we have been discussing a project that could bring increased support for persons living with disability in my rural Adamawa village of Mbakaou.

I finally got to show Rachel around my post and I got to see her for the first time in one and a half months (it takes two and a half days to get from my post to hers, it actually takes less time to get from the capital of Yaounde to the United States), but we wasted no time in getting to work. The day after she arrived we started a workshop at the health center to train health workers and community mobilizers on the struggles of people with disabilities, added vulnerabilities of persons with disabilities and statistics illustrating the situation.  Over the course of the two day workshop, ten health workers and community mobilizers attended the workshop, and eight of the ten attended the full two days.  Along with educating the volunteers about the struggles and vulnerabilities we had a series of activities to illustrate our points.  We had the volunteers write their name with their writing hand, then their non-writing hand, then their writing hand on top of a book on top of their head and then with their non-writing hand doing the same thing.  We also had them listen to a monologue with cotton balls in their ears and race each other to the health center wearing blindfolds with guides providing only verbal support. 

Rachel’s pre and post tests showed very encouraging results and proof of our volunteers new found appreciation and understanding of issues for persons with disabilities.  Yet the largest proof of the workshop encouraging the volunteers to be proactive with disabled individuals was their demand to start a new support group immediately.  Before Rachel left we had held our first disability support group meeting in the health center, created an action plan and a constitution and chose a leader for the group.  The individuals of the first meeting were all physically handicapped and some needed help from the community organizers getting to the meeting. 

Since that time, we have had another meeting coordinated by my friend and community organizer Mohammed “FBI” Yaya and myself with the group.  The group is in it’s early stages but I am excited that the members are clear about their interest and their agreed upon goal to start income generating activities.  I can only hope this is a beginning to greater progress for the members of the group and the disabled community as a whole in Mbakaou.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Still Alive!

Hey everyone! I am so sorry that I have not written in several months but I am finally back and hoping to be consistent this time.  Part of the difficulty of writing this blogpost is writing original, interesting and positive material.  Part of the Peace Corps objective is third goal, which basically entails representing the host country back in the United States, or at least describing it for Americans.  So here we go again.

Since I am getting back to work, it is worth talking about a new project as of August that is one of my top priorities right now, and that is house visits.  In the last few months I have had a handful of setbacks when two or three projects fell through and the main counterparts I work with have been busy, away, moving away or simply uninterested.  School has also been out of session and a large amount of people were away visiting families between Ramadan and school starting.  So I began performing house visits, in which I would go into a home, check to see if the homeowner has and uses a mosquito net, and discuss malaria with them as well.

This project is well worth mentioning because it gave me a chance to see how active people were in fighting such a relevant and dangerous disease in the community.  The results, to be blunt, were a little disappointing.  I would say about three quarters of the people I visited had mosquito nets but less than a quarter of those people actually used them.  What made this worse and more awkward was that most people told me they did not have them even when they did and they would insist that they were using them even when they were clearly tied up and had been for a longtime. They did this because they thought (incorrectly) I was giving them or registering them for new ones.  Thus I asked people to let me into their bedrooms (that was the awkward part) so I could see if they actually had  or used them.  Twice, I was standing in front of someone's house, asked if they had one, was told they didn't and then I pointed to the mosquito net through bedroom window behind them and asked what is that?

I understand why some of them lied, they wanted or needed another one. But what bothered me was it was often clear the ones they had were not being used in the first place and they were often tied up over the bed of the head of the household instead of being used for the most vulnerable: young children (and pregnant women).  This was a little disheartening but I used the time to encourage the use of the mosquito nets they had, explained how pregnant women could get them for free at a nearby hospital with a prenatal consultation and explained important details of malaria.

Recent news reports indicate that efforts to fight malaria have been working and showing impressive results.  However, as I have seen, efforts by governments and NGOs will only show truly significant results if individuals are as active in fighting malaria.  I also performed house visits in Bolinting where my counterpart Housseini was extremely active in promoting health in the community. Sure enough the difference was impressive. Many more people used their mosquito nets each night.  However even there far from the whole community had and used them, which is so important in fishing villages like Bolinting and Mbakaou.   I hope to see improvements in the future, since as of now, the malaria vaccine is far from ready and personal practices are the greatest protections from the number one killer in Africa.

I hope you are all well and I promise to get back to writing these on a more regular basis.