Monday, December 30, 2013

Photos and updates from November&December

Wow! Its been way too long since my last update, either in photos or in words, and for this I offer my apologies. Here are some photos from the past two months, and some quick updates on what I've been up to since I last wrotein the past year or so:

April: Talked a lot about mosquito nets and malaria prevention in sessions with people in village around hair braiding stations, cafes, homes, schools, and markets. Got ready to help with the big bednet distribution by coordinating a census of all village residents and training local Guinean NGO workers from Kouroussa in Excel to compile census data and plan distribution logistics. Was subsequently disappointed, but not totally surprised, when the distribution did not happen on the 25th, World Malaria Day, as planned, but was instead pushed back by an entire month.

May: I went to Senegal with my parents on vacation. Our travel plans included: Dakar, St. Louis, Touba, the Sine Saloum, Joel Fadiouk, Saly, and M'Bour. Watched Rebecca give a presentation to government officials in Conakry on environmental policy and forest co-management.

June: Hung lots of mosquito nets in village, as I arrived back from vacation shortly after the bednet distribution came to an end. Took care of baby kitties. Biked to Bissikrima. Helped Rebecca pack up and leave village

July: Hung out in village. Learned how to process Shea butter with host fam. Presented on moringa and nutrition during Ramadan.

August: Went to Conakry for all malaria coordinator meeting. Went to Paris.

September: Kicked project into gear. Sat in my hut for four weeks of "standfast" while elections meandered along.

Over the past two months my primary concern has been helping the health center management committee, or CoGes, undertake a renovation of Sanguiana's only health facility. The Centre de Santis a five-roomed building that serves a cachement zone of 13,000 people. It has no constant electricity and no electronic medical equipment except for a refrigerator powered by solar panels, the newest of which were installed a few weeks ago by a surprise visit from UNICEF. The refrigerator was also an NGO donatation of some sort, and has been here for a few years. It often breaks down but does a decent job of keeping the major vaccines at the right temperature. When we go out on door-to-door vaccination campaigns, polio for example, we take ice packs from the small freezer section to keep the vaccines cold in an insulated container. The center is staffed by two full time doctors, brothers from the Forest region who both go by the name Pivi, and many "stagieres" or interns, including two young women also named Pivi. The stagieres have studied medicine for two to three years at either the national medical school or a vocational school, and actually have a fair amount of freedom to decide where they'd like to do their internships. However, they're at the whim of the government and regional health structure as to how long their internship is, where and if they'll be placed as official state health workers, and when. There are many stagieres in the country, but few doctors.

The project has been a hassle and a half due to interference with the national legislative elections in September, the big village celebration of Tabaski in October, and the general lack of accountability that permeates every level of government and civilian life here. The culture of impunity and responsibility-shirking makes the simplest tasks into weeks-long struggles over the phone, in person, and in the rare but desperately needed group meetings. Luckily, though, the actual renovation and repair work has gone incredibly well. The masons and carpenters and all their daily laborers have really pushed to meet deadlines and fulfill their promises of a job well done.

The health center now has a new roof, a new storage room, and will soon receive a fresh coat of paint. From the get-go I have insisted to people in the community that concrete and a fresh coat of paint will not itself help improve the local state of public health. People in the community agree with me on this fact, and the ComGes politely nods their heads when I talk about the importance of organizational development for better health center management, in addition to the need for more health talks by the community agents to encourage preventative care. However, now that I have become a "financier" of an infrastructure project, peoples' reactions towards me have changed in a few interesting ways. On the one hand, people are incredibly appreciative. I'm thanked daily in the street and walking to get bread like I've never been before, and everyone I speak to mentions their thanks for the work on their health center. At the same time, I feel less involved in the project now that the actual physical labor has taken the center stage, and in my detachment from direct efforts to address health problems I realize that this is the role more familiar to most development workers.

I have just a few more weeks left in village, and then its onwards to Conakry and then to the US! I can't believe my two years in the Peace Corps are coming to a close, and I'm very excited to be back in the states.
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