Making malaria awareness fun for youth
Coming into Peace Corps Senegal as a Health Volunteer, I imagined myself tackling the big issues: malaria and malnutrition.
Once settled in at site in the region of St. Louis, I learned that cases of malaria are relatively low in my region. Despite this, there was an outbreak of malaria in this part of Senegal the year before my arrival. Recently the nephew of a friend of mine was diagnosed with this disease and had to be hospitalized. Fortunately, the young boy is fully recovered and in good health, but this goes to show the necessity to always be vigilant in regards to malaria prevention.
As the third Health Volunteer at my site, my friends and family have been sensitized to malaria and the importance of sleeping under a mosquito net every night. The low incidence of malaria however instills the idea that it is not a severe disease. Taking this into account, I designed an educational activity that was fun and engaging to get the community excited about malaria prevention.
It just so happened that at the time the Health program staff had released a project template for a malaria art contest activity in preparation for World Malaria Day. At the same time, STOMP, the volunteer-driven malaria awareness committee, was promoting PaludisMan – a comic book based malaria curriculum for primary students. I thought these were the perfect building blocks for a creative and imaginative project. Armed with both of these tools, I approached two local primary schools with the idea and both enthusiastically agreed.
Over the course of a month, the teachers of these two schools and I collaborated to sensitize local youth about malaria through art and superheroes (Paludis-Man). The curriculum itself is three days long and the students loved the interactive aspect of the course. The teachers were also intrigued by the comics. Once the education component was completed, I gave the students a week to create their own malaria masterpieces. Equipped with colored pencils and a couple of pens, they came back a week later with the most interesting and Picasso-esque works of art. At the end of the month, we held a celebration of World Malaria Day where we played malaria themed games and handed out prizes to the art contest winners. The kids were swept up in the spirit of competitive camaraderie and elicited cheering from the crowd. All in all, it was a resounding success.
In response to the positive feedback I received from the community, I would strongly recommend this project for any other volunteers out there who want a good behavior-change approach to malaria education. Since World Malaria Day is at the end of April and close to the end of the school year, it can be a little tricky to. Otherwise, it was a joy to work with such an energetic group. It brought me much closer to my village.