Oh Uganda! The land of beautiful scenery, friendly people, and let’s not forget, ravenous mosquitoes. In our beloved corner of East Africa, it is not uncommon for a Peace Corps volunteer to awaken each morning to a battalion of mosquitoes patiently waiting outside of one’s bed net, quietly humming with the hope of retrieving a nutritious blood-fueled breakfast from their unfortunate victim. With a vampirish thirst and an ability to spread infection quite rapidly, mosquitoes in Uganda are more than just a nuisance, but a very real, and sometimes fatal, danger to those who reside here. Unfortunately, Malaria continues to be the leading cause of sickness and death in Uganda, especially with regards to children under the age of 5 years. But, in the face of these grim statistics, many Peace Corps Volunteers have sought to help put an end to this very preventable disease through the power of education.
In the northern reaches of the country, PCV Emily Cobbs spends her days teaching Math and ICT to her students at St. John Bosco Core Primary Teachers College. However, after a few months at her site, she quickly realized the vast amount of misinformation that seemed to permeate her campus about Malaria and it’s causes. “[I wanted to] inform the student body of Malaria facts and dispel any myths they held”, she writes. And so, with the help of her counterpart, Emily decided to organize a week of activities during the month of April dedicated to this goal.
On the first day of her “Malaria Awareness Week”, Emily invited a local Health Officer from Yumbe Hospital to come speak with her students about the causes of Malaria, how it is spread, preventive measures one can take to protect themselves from infection, as well as options for treatment. Armed with this new wealth of information, Emily then used her knowledge and love of drama to help her students create dramatic skits representing various myths and facts about Malaria. During this activity, Emily addressed many misconceptions that her students seemed to have about this disease, including the idea that Malaria can be spread from parent to child, as well as through saliva and sexual contact. However, one of the most alarming myths surrounding Malaria that Emily discovered was the notion that sleeping under a mosquito net can result in cancer.
As one of the leading ways to prevent contracting this disease, the idea that individuals in Uganda were avoiding the use of mosquito nets and risking their well-being based on misinformation was concerning. As such, Emily decided to address this issue by dedicating a large portion of her Malaria activities on demonstrating the proper way to wash, repair, and hang a mosquito net from a 4-poster bed, as well as from a single point in the ceiling (as is the preferred method in many circular huts or where beds are not available)
Following this activity, Emily created a fun role-playing scenario where she invited her students to pose as nurses, local health authorities, doctors, politicians, etc. and host their own pretend “Radio Show” for their peers. Students in the audience were encouraged to “call in” to their classmates’ “Radio Show” and ask for their expertise regarding a variety of questions about Malaria. As Emily says, “[my students] unironically love drama and skits and music here, which I love.”
As the week finally came to an end, Emily joined with herfellow tutors to host a “Game Show” program in order to quiz her students on what they had learned during the week’s activities. She discovered great strides made by her students regarding their knowledge of Malaria and its causes. “The entire week was exhausting”, she writes, “but the results were good. [...] While I’m thrilled with all the things I did, I look forward to doing more, multiple times a year.” In Peace Corps Uganda, we are very happy to have many dedicated volunteers like Emily serving to make their corner of Africa a little better each day.