Written By: Kathryn Meagley, Zambia Health Volunteer
Photo taken by Kathryn Meagley.
High heels and business attire are not usually the first things you pack when you are preparing for a two-year service as a Peace Corps Volunteer. For me, it was a pair of Keens and a ton of quick dry shirts. That seems like the logical packing list of someone preparing to live in a rural Zambian village in a mud hut with a thatched roof, no electricity, or running water. Little did I know that those heels would come to define my service. I have needed them more and more as I find myself collaborating and networking with partners to increase access to services, rather than just working within an isolated community. We are challenging what it means to be a rural health volunteer and changing the way in which we approach our service in the village.
It all started with an idea and moved to something so much bigger. One fateful day early in our service when my PCV neighbor, Lindsay Martin, and I were reflecting on our experiences:
“I see my service as connecting my community to services rather than just giving health education,” she said to me. Whipping my head around to her, I exclaimed, “No way! Me too!” We have not looked back since.
Lindsay and I had found that most individuals know what malaria is, how to prevent it, and that they SHOULD go to the clinic if they think they have malaria. So, why was malaria still such an issue? Why were individuals in our communities still not visiting the clinic for malaria treatment? There was one thing that everyone kept saying when we asked why they were not going to the clinic;
“Ah, but the clinic is just too far.” We said, “You can’t get to the clinic because it is 25k away and you have no energy because you are sick? Ok. We will bring the clinic to you!”
In order to do this, we have begun fostering more collaborative relationships with various organizations and stakeholders involved in malaria control these last few months. In addition to a training of trainers within our villages on numerous health issues and strengthening our Neighborhood Health Committees, Lindsay and I are working to link our communities to malaria services that otherwise have been inaccessible to those more remote areas. During this process we discovered a program called PECADOM+ and thought that it would be a solution to increase access in remote areas. It operates similarly to a test and treat program, except there is also an active detection component where community volunteers sweep villages trying to detect people sick with malaria that have not sought out clinical assistance.
Kathryn Meagley and Lindsay Martin
With the blessings of our District Medical Office and the support of our PC Programming and Training Specialist, Simon Banda, and National STOMP Out Malaria PCV Coordinator, Julie Polumbo, we’ve been able to network with partners. After meeting with the Supply Chain Manager at the Churches Health Association of Zambia (CHAZ) and the Resident Advisor for the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), our project has evolved and taken a different angle. Our focus is now building up more of a preliminary foundation – increase the overall number of Community Health Workers and those trained in Home Management of Malaria and Integrated Management of Childhood Illnesses, while incorporating a more active detection training component.
Our project evolved and became more informed with the consultation and involvement of partner organizations. For a project of this scale with so many moving components it is critical to ensure a project fits within the local and national strategy. We hope to strengthen the existing healthcare system in our district by training local healthcare volunteers and increasing rural access to malaria testing and treatment. Peace Corps’ strength is having Volunteers at the local level. We can serve as a voice that connects our villages with the organizations that are working to serve them. We started with just an idea and a pair of high heels.