Weekly Awesome Senegal: Taking the Malaria Message to the Schools

By: PCV Chelsea Moeller

My name is Chelsea Moeller and I’m currently working as a Preventative Health and Environmental Education Volunteer in southern Senegal. I’ve been serving for seventeen months in a village of about 3,080 people located on the main road from Velingara to Kolda. My second rainy season is almost over, which means I have successfully lived through monsoons and barely avoided the wide variety of diseases and infections that flow through the streets and hide in the hallucinogenic greenery.  But what’s even worst than that, millions of deadly mosquitoes are alive and ruthless this time of year. Malaria is at an all-time high.

Carlos is a Malaria Hero in his community because he never fails to use his passionate caring nature towards spreading awareness to his people about this deadly disease.

A new program was introduced through Malaria No More called “NightWatch”, a six day curriculum about malaria designed for young teenagers.  The objective is to show the students that by keeping themselves safe under their mosquito nets, they’re keeping their dreams, goals, and futures safe too. Since the end of the school year was winding down and everyone was getting ready for their summer break, it seemed like the best time to implement the Nightwatch program. The objective was for the students to leave feeling prepared and motivated to take the necessary precautions against malaria when it’s at its worst. With a little help from my English teacher counterpart Moustafa Balde, the middle school health teacher Mamadou Watche, and the local health post worker Boubacar Diallo, we got straight to work.

I began meeting with the teachers in May to go over the Nightwatch program packet so each person had a copy of the curriculum and would have time to prepare. The next week we appeared at the school health club meeting and asked which students might be interested in participating in the program.  Once the health club was on board, we picked the two best students from the remaining classes judging by their attendance, participation and grade point average. By selecting these particular students, we figured we would have the most motivated group.

I met with my school principal to discuss the logistics of the program and what to expect from both the students and staff members. We decided the best time and place would be everyday from 12 PM-12:30 PM in the first empty classroom available. This way the students were already present at school and the curriculum would not intervene with regular class time. The students were motivated and honored to be chosen to participate, not only for themselves, but to be known afterward  as the experts in malaria prevention for their community.

Implementing the Program

The first day, thirty-two kids showed up. The three teachers and I did a brief overview of the entire week’s lesson plan and then ended the day with two questions, “Do you own a mosquito net? If yes, did you sleep under your net last night?” The following  day, we began with a discussion and analysis of the two questions. Only 3 students replied “yes”, they do own a bed net and “yes”, they did sleep under it the night before. Thirteen students replied “no”, unfortunately they do not have a mosquito net and therefore do not sleep under one. The other fifty percent replied “yes”, they do indeed have a mosquito net, but “no”, they do not sleep under it.  When asked why they did not sleep under their net, they had various responses like “it’s too hot”, “mosquitoes don’t exist”, and “the net make me claustrophobic”. Although I was surprised at their reasoning, these two simple questions helped me to better understand my students, their situations, and what I was working with. More importantly, it helped the students to understand one another and it created a sense of honesty within the group.

Mr. Balde, Mr. Diallo, Mr. Watche and I spent the next two days discussing the myths and facts about malaria with the Nightwatch students. Together, we brainstormed ways to combat this horrific disease in a united effort. The beautiful thing about this program was that it created a safe space where students felt like they could ask questions, share stories of sadness, loss, recovery and survival within their lives and the lives of their loved ones. It created a conversation where the students were able to do most of the talking instead of being lectured. For them to understand that malaria is a serious, deadly, yet preventable disease was a realization they came to themselves. When asking them if they personally have ever had malaria or if anyone in their families had it, every single student raised their hands. At that moment, the students took it upon themselves to declare they do not want to see this show of hands in the classrooms of their future children.

The next day, the students sauntered in the classroom and discovered a beautifully decorated mosquito net hung from the top of the classroom ceiling. We had received these “beautified” nets during our conference with Networks in April and I decided, how best to demonstrate using a mosquito net than to have one on display in front of them? The hanging net was simply reinforced with local fabric which was sewn to the bottom and again around the ring at the top. This demonstrated an cheap and easy way for them to add their own style to their nets, thus enforcing pride and motivation when displaying it in their bedrooms.

Mariama Diallo stands under the net in front of her classmates and declares that her big dream for her future is that she wants to be a journalist.

After discussing the myths, facts, and questions about mosquito nets, we began our “Dream Banner” activity.  I passed out white fabric in the shape of a flag and had the kids use colorful crayons to design their flags. They used their imagination with pictures and words in order to portray their plans for the future. Each student took turns ducking under the mosquito net and presenting to the class their dreams drawn on their flag. Students shared a  variety of career goals such as police women, doctors, nurses, soccer players, scientists and even journalists. At the end of the presentations, we clapped and said in unison, “Mballen jam” which in their local language of Fulakunda means, “sleep in peace.”

The second to last day, the students took a nine question exam on malaria and bed net facts we covered all week. Afterward, a fellow Volunteer, Tristram Dammin, came to teach them how to make neem lotion, a homemade mosquito repellent made using exclusively local materials. At the end of the day, the teachers and I handed out certificates of “NightWatch” completion, along with a copy of their corrected exam and a sample of neem lotion to take home.

Beyond the Lessons

Once the next school year starts in November, I will be following up with the Nightwatch students in order to see how effective the program was and how much information they retained. I plan to do home visits and observe if their mosquito nets are being properly used. If not, the student and I will have a wash and repair day with the nets in their compound, along with a small interview about their mosquito nets and neem lotion to better understand the progress they’ve made towards behavior change.

After my home visits, I will gather the students back together and quiz them on the malaria facts we reviewed during the Nightwatch program and discuss their progress in education and prevention. I’ve found that the best way to encourage students to participate and stay motivated is with theatre skits, artwork, and games. We will be starting a Nightwatch club where the students can have fun while teaching in creative ways. They will be inventing their own malaria skits to perform for their classmates, decorating the classrooms with malaria educational murals and banners, as well as joining together after club meetings to play fun games. Not only are these kids now certified malaria prevention experts but they made a promise to be the good example for their families by sharing the information they learned and holding their fellow community members responsible in joining the fight against malaria.

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