WAHOO! WHAT A SUPER FANTASTIC, service-filled past few weeks, mostly accredited to our Fety Riba Mena. (party of the red ribbon). This was the name of the 3rd Cirque de SIDA , I've done. The 6 PCV's around the region of Lac Aloatra, the lake we biked 222K around to do AIDS sensibilizations for 2 weeks, did an awesome job of organizing this fety, which was filled with skits, singing, dancing, and teaching/ sensibilizations about what AIDS is, how it's transfered, and the severity of this epidemic, which still has no cure. It sure was exhausting as we 22 PCV's got up each morning about 6AM, packed up our tents and gear, and biked anywhere from 10-60K each morning to get to the next town. We would arrive usually before noon at each of the 10 villages we did fety's at, set up our sleeping arrangements which was either at a village guest house, or the PCV"s house, then began setting up our "booths". Our 6 booths all had an AIDS prevention theme, but included all the 4 sectors of Peace Corps here in Madagascar: health, teaching, environment, and small business. From 1-3PM, we would take turns at all the 6booths,
1.) an HIV/AIDS info booth
2.) overall health (balanced nutrition, preventing malaria/diarrhea);
3.) budgeting family finances &family planning;
4.) what is Peace Corps?(our 3 objectives of technical training, sharing American culture with our villagers, &sharing the Malagasy culture with friends back in the western world) We also talked about the meaning of the red ribbon, because this is an American-created symbol of AIDS awareness and most Gasy didn't know what it meant at first sight
5.) a song booth, especially for the kids to learn the songs PCV's used the tune, to make up new lyrics about AIDS prevention to well-known songs such as Shakira's "WacaWaca" World Cup tune (is this huge in the West as well?) and another Malagasy artists' pop song of "za tsy kivy" (I'm not disappointed) Gasy love to sing and LOVED even more watching the vazaha(white people) sing Gasy!
6.) advanced farming techniques/ esspecially focusing on planting ananambo (moringa in english), which is a tree with tiny leaves, that power-packed with TONS of nutrients- Vit.A,B,C,D, thiamin, potassium, calcium, and protein!!! and it typically grows well in all types of soil, even sandy nutrient-lacking soil such as my own here on the east coast so is a super cheap/free source of healthy eating, especially for those with diseases or a weakened immune system. Has anyone every seen this in the States? Because I'd never heard of it before coming to Mada?
Then from 3-5, we put on our 'performance', that attracted usually a couple thousand at each village. We were lucky enough to have PSI come with their speaker/music equipment and their sensibilization expertise. I was in charge of organizing and leading the 'condom relay races', which included recruiting 12 volunteers for the 2 teams that had to master each of the 6 steps of using a condom correctly. (1:Checking the expiration date& that the package still has air 2:Opening the pkg with hands, not teeth! 3:Setting the condom, correct side up on the penis and rolling down slowly 4:When protected sex is finished, carefully taking off the condom being careful not to spill the rano aina (I don't think I need to translate what this is;P) 5:Tying the condom to prevent spillage 6:Wrapping in paper/ throwing in the kabone (latrine) or rubbish bin. So there ya go, sorry if my sensibilization offends, but I'm just completing part of my objective as a PCV, to share my work and experience with friends back home:) I've thought about how a public performance like this probably wouldn't be ok with so many of the conservative family activists, but the game relayed (no pun intended) essential info in a way that really got people more comfortable with the idea of protecting themselves, their partners, and families against diseases that can kill, so why shouldn't we make it a public performance!?? But I truly think all 10 fety's we did were a huge success, that reached thousands of people. Maybe even millions, since on the last day, in Ambatondrazaka, the region capital where we finished our bike tour, I was asked to do a t.v/ radio interview to explain our Fety Riba Mena, so who knows the numbers of people we reached out to to spread such an urgent message of protecting Madagascar's future from this devastating disease that killing thousands and thousands each day, all over the world. But with baby steps and education, we can do what we're capable of in halting this epidemic.
I had an interesting chat with a waiter yesterday, about the effectiveness of 'aid' organizations such as Red Cross, USAID etc that come into a poverty-stricken place to provide food and medicine hand-outs. NO doubt this aid is appreciated by the people.....but then expected. The waiter had observed that the recipients became lazy to help themselves and started asking when the next shipment of food would arrive. This brought a surge of emotion over me- sadness knowing that this is a true fact and down side of foreign 'aide' organizations; stricken, knowing that a local made an impressive insight in recognizing this problem, which is a step towards awareness, which can be a step towards change, if taken seriously; happiness and fulfillment knowing that I, as Peace Corps Volunteer living in a small village with no electricity/running water,and easily getting by on my living stipend of $200/month, am NOT part of this 'aide', but am quite the opposite. My role is to supplement this 'aide' that's given to developing countries, in this case, Madagascar, the 10 "poorest"country in the world in statistics of wealthy nations, but one of the richest in varieties of animals, plants, fruits, landscapes, beauty, and culture. I've had villagers ask for money and medicine, them recognizing that I have much more than they do, which is no lie for sure; but I no hand-outs are not sustainable and would also lead to a chain reaction of people asking for $ & meds. I'm a community health volunteer, dedicated to helping villagers help themselves. And it's surely not just them getting help from me! Although I feel as if I have done a lot of good work here, though my daily interactions with friends in Antetezambaro, teaching students at the local elementary& middle schools, organizing AIDS awareness festivals, chatting with young mom's about the importance of vaccines on bush taxi's, helping the urgent patients that have come to my house looking for a doctor that isn't around- all of this couldn't compare to everything I've gained from the Malagasy people, culture, lifestyle. Mifampianara: to teach each other, I teach you; you teach me. This philosophy, which is 2/3 objectives of Peace Corps is the most magical part of these few years that will be with me forever.
I don't know if many people are still reading this, as I recognize that I've gone on quite a ranting reflection, but to summarize all of this, I DO think that foreign aide organizations are doing lots of good work and reaching out to people in need all over the world. But I also think it's important for all of us to also think about how we can supplement financial aide- that is used up quickly and sometimes incorrectly and quickly causes the recipients to ask "where's more?". How can we give a deeper, more meaningful and sustainable aide? For me, I've already had 1 1/2 years of obtaining this goal and objective of providing sustainable aide, which has in return given me more sustainable knowledge that I'll use in my own life, forever. Serving others= serving yourselves,families, and the world!!!