Today, Alfred, a member of Special Needs Entrepreneur Group (SNEG), graciously met me and Veronica, one of my work partners, at his work place in town center and accompanied us to his home which is located on the outskirts of Bamenda. When we arrived at his home, he first showed his father’s living quarter.
While Alfred has a mobility disability in his left leg caused by Quinnimax injection, his father also has a disability. His father was a police officer for 27 years. Then about five years ago, he fell and injured his right hip. He was not able to visit a health center to treat his hip. He was forced to retire from his job. He is always in pain and can’t move well, especially on the right side of his leg. He stays in his home all day everyday. When he was working, he lived in the town center, but when he injured his hip, he had to move into his son’s compound so that he could be looked after. In his living quarter, the floors were not finished, and so, it was just mud. While he does have a bed, he has no mosquito net. However, officials from a health center did stop by his home about three months ago and did note that he needed a mosquito net. They told him that they will be back with a mosquito net for him.
Alfred then showed me his living quarter which is right next to his father’s. His living quarter was very different. The floors were finished and his home was fully furnished. His and his wife’s bedroom had a mosquito net but the sides of the net were folded into the top of the net. It was not knotted at all. This is a sign that they may sometimes sleep with the net down. He then showed me his children’s bedroom and the net was completely down which meant that the children do regularly sleep with the net. Yes, all three of his children sleep on one big bed. This is actually very common in Cameroon – children traditionally sleep on one bed rather than having their own individual bed.
After visiting Alfred’s home, I visited a home of another member of SNEG, Che, who lived nearby. Veronica and I met him at a business place and then, he took me to his home on a bike. Che has arthritis which was diagnosed when he was 17 years old. He has no job, which is why he joined SNEG so that he could get help in finding a job. He lives in a very rural area where roads are not paved. While his home was generally clean and well maintained, he did not have a mosquito net. He told me that officials from a health center visited his home about three weeks ago and even showed me the official paper signed by the health center stating that he does need a mosquito net.
He told me that even when they do bring him a mosquito net, he doesn’t think he will sleep with it because he feels too hot under the mosquito net. I tried to encourage him to at least sleep under it during the rainy season because the weather is so much cooler. I told him that it’s still important regardless to sleep under the net everyday year round because it takes a collaborative work for us to end malaria. I explained that if every single person slept under the net, we could eradicate malaria because mosquitos get malaria just simply by biting people who are sick with malaria.
I just completed giving the 4th malaria workshop a couple weeks ago. This workshop did not result in the best outcome because it took place outside during a very rainy weather. Even though we were under a cover, the rain was pouring down so hard that the water was flooding everywhere. As a result, only about nine people were present at the workshop due to the difficulties of getting transportation during the rainy weather. Then, I believe many people had difficulties paying attention during the workshop due to the distraction of the rain because the post-test results were not so great. Only two out of nine scored 100% on the post-test. It’s important to note that one of them was actually a participant at the third malaria workshop. She actually scored 100% on the pre-test also. This means that she did retain the information well in her head, which was great. For everyone else, while they were able to correctly identify some symptoms and steps to prevent malaria, they did not identify all symptoms of malaria and all steps to prevent malaria. At the end of the day, all we can say is that we all tried our best.
In order to see if the workshops translate to behavior change, I am visiting homes of select workshop participantss and hope to follow up with this group of participants every three to four months. I have so far visited three homes, and I plan on trying to visit at least seven to nine more homes in the next couple weeks.
When some participants told me at the workshops that they do indeed have mosquito nets and sleep under them, I honestly didn’t believe them. A week ago, when I visited two homes of two different women with disabilities who are members of Northwest Association of Women with Disabilities, I saw mosquito nets hanging down from the ceiling. I was very impressed. They were not tied up in a knot, which is not commonly found in many homes.
Their homes were also very clean and their yards were reasonably well maintained. It’s important to note that landscaping and gardening is not hugely part of Cameroonian’s culture likely due to financial reasons.
Then, yesterday, I visited a home of a woman, Helen, who is a member of Special Needs Entrepreneur Group (SNEG), and has a physical disability. Her hands and arms were injured when her stepson attacked her with machetes. She was one of the few members of SNEG who offered me to come visit her home for monitoring and evaluation of the malaria workshop.
While the purpose of visiting the home was to see if the home was clean and there were mosquito nets, I discovered far more devastating issues. When she showed me her bedroom, I immediately noticed that there was no mosquito net. I asked her if she ever had a mosquito net. She told me “no” and then mentioned that four children and another young woman who live with her sleep on the wooden board on the floor. So, not only there is no mosquito net, but also there is no bed for these five people. As officials from the minister of health are visiting homes throughout the Northwest region to collect information on which homes need a mosquito net and which ones do not, she told me that officials did stop by her home and she did request a few mosquito nets.
Her home presented typical traits of a poor family living there. The floors were not finished. They were made of dirt and mud. While there was a roof, there was no ceiling. The walls were also not finished. All windows didn’t have glass but they all did have plastic sheets cover although one window had a cover that was ripped. Thus, while the home was clearly not in a good condition to prevent malaria, we can’t blame her for creating the environment in which she lives. This situation taught me that while I could do everything I can to educate people about how to prevent malaria, some people may still not have the option at all to change their behavior due to financial reasons. As I have said over and over, money dictates how one can live their life. She said she wants mosquito nets but has no money even though she should hopefully get some from the officials for free soon.
Timing couldn’t have been more perfect. I recently finished reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book, “Lean In.” This book speaks about gender inequality that still exists in the United States. While women in the United States today have more choices than ever when it comes to deciding how to live their live, they are still facing barriers in receiving support to fulfill their career goals and a tremendous amount of responsibilities in caring for their families and home. Sheryl explained how men need to share more responsibilities with their spouse in caring for the family and the home and how workplaces need to provide family benefits for both women and men because it is both economically smart and the right thing to do. She shared in a great detail about how men can be the best partners for women and help change the gender inequality which includes splitting the household and childcare responsibilities, creating policies at workplaces that help women advance their careers and earn an equal pay, and encouraging more women to be interested in fields that are dominated by men such as technology and engineering.
Like the United States, Cameroon faces gender inequality but women face far more issues due to both lack of policies supporting women and understanding how to treat women with respect. To help improve the gender equality in Cameroon, Peace Corps recently hosted a three-day Men as Partners workshop. The goal of the workshop was to educate women how to advocate for their rights in protecting their sexual reproductive health and asking men to share household responsibilities and educate men how to respect women, share responsibilities with them and support them in their advocacy for gender equality. All Peace Corps Volunteers who attended the workshop brought one or two Cameroonian work partners with them. I brought Ruth, my official Peace Corps counterpart, and a deaf man who works in disability advocacy, Tabod.
While we covered a wide variety of topics including how women feel about men and how men feel about women and sexual reproductive health, how improving gender inequality can reduce the transmission of HIV/AIDS, Peace Corps Volunteers and Cameroonians exchanged their own different cultural viewpoints. For example, during an activity called “Looking at our Attitudes,” there were five different signs on the wall: Strongly Agree, Agree, Neutral, Disagree, and Strongly Disagree. We were asked various questions relating to our attitudes towards women. When we were asked, “Women who wear revealing clothing are asking to be raped,” all Americans went to the sign, “Strongly Disagree” and all Cameroonians except for two went to the sign “Strongly Agree” or “Agree.” The two Cameroonians went to the sign, “Neutral.” One has to keep in mind the viewpoints of these young Americans’ at the workshop do not represent the viewpoints of all people in the United States but I do believe that our viewpoints do give a good representation of the majority of young people in the United States. There is a definitely a growing trend of young Americans speaking out against rape, especially on college campuses. In any case, seeing our viewpoints on whether or not revealing clothing do ask for rape did lead to a fiery debate. We, Americans, explained to the Cameroonians that regardless of any circumstances, there are no excuses to why people are permitted to rape. We also had a discussion on what sexual consent means and a number of Peace Corps Volunteers explained that when one says “No” to sex, it means “No” and people have no right to force sex on people. Many of us, Americans, felt that there is a long way to go in educating Cameroonians about sexual assaults.
In spite of some cultural differences, we also did find some common viewpoints. For example, when we were asked, “A woman who carries a condom in her purse is ‘easy,'” majority of the participants stood by the sign “Strongly Disagree.” Only two stood by the sign, “Neutral.” When we were asked, “When a woman is pregnant, preventing HIV to her child is her responsibility since she carries the child,” and “A man is more of a “man” if he has many sexual partners,” all Americans and most Cameroonians stood by the sign, “Strongly disagree.” When we were asked, “It is okay for a man to have sex outside of relationship, if his partner does not know about it,” all Americans except for one and all Cameroonians except for one went to the sign, “Strongly Disagree.” The two went to the sign, “Neutral.”
We then did an activity where we had to identify which household responsibilities men and women were responsible for. Cameroonians showed that women are responsible for most household responsibilities and hold more responsibilities than men. Peace Corps Volunteers then shared that men and women are responsible for all household chores and not one chore should be exclusive to one gender.
We also did an activity called “Gender Fishbowl” where women had to sit in a circle and men had to sit outside of the circle. Women shared their feelings about how men interact with them, their struggles in being a women and how men could be better partners. We then reversed by having men sit in middle of the circle and women sitting on the outside of the circle. Men shared their struggles of being men, what was difficult to understand about women and how they can be better partners for women.
Men as Partners has been far my most favorite workshop Peace Corps has offered. This workshop really gave us, the Americans, the opportunity to educate the Cameroonians about how we can advance gender equality and also learn Cameroonians’ perspective on gender roles. If Peace Corps offers this workshop again before I leave Cameroon, I will most certainly attend again but bring different Cameroonian work partners so that I can provide more Cameroonians the opportunity to learn about gender equality.
Last April, I collaborated with a disability group to host my very first malaria workshop to a group of persons with disabilities in Bamenda. This past Sunday and today, I hosted two additional malaria workshops for persons with disabilities so that I could reach out to many more persons with disabilities in Bamenda area. I collaborated with two associations, Special Needs Entrepreneur Group and Northwest Association of Women with Disabilities. I followed the same curriculum that I developed for the first workshop for the two additional workshops. This blog post will focus on the sharing the results of the pre- and post-test.
On the pre-test, almost everyone answered correctly to the question on what is malaria but most did very poorly on the other sections of the pre-test. For example, most were not able to answer correctly on how to prevent malaria and what are the symptoms of malaria. However, after giving the workshops, 11 out of 13 attendees at the second workshop scored 100% on the post-test. One additional person almost scored 100% but answered slightly wrong on how to prevent malaria by leaving out taking malaria prophylaxis as one of the options and also under what are the symptoms of malaria, the person left out nausea as one of the symptoms. Seven out of 12 attendees at the third workshop scored 100% on the post-test. Two additional attendees almost scored 100% – they answered one of the questions slightly wrong. One of them included visiting a witchcraft doctor as an option to prevent malaria and the other did not include dry cough as one of the symptoms of malaria.
At the second workshop, on the pre- and post-test, majority said that they cannot access to medication because they do not have the money and transportation access to a health center. Seven out of 13 said they do not sleep under a mosquito net on the pre-test but on the post-test, four of them said they will still not sleep under the mosquito net because most said they do not have one and do not have the money to purchase one.
At the third workshop, on the pre-test, surprisingly, only four said that they do not sleep under the mosquito net because they do not have a mosquito or do not have the money to purchase one. However, on the post-test, all four responded that they would now consider sleeping under the mosquito net which would indicate that they may get one after learning that becoming ill with malaria does cause financial hardship. Because I want to see if they do truly have a mosquito net and sleep under it, I plan to visit some of their homes to see what is the reality. Majority of the people from this group also said that they have access to medication. I have come to realization that because they were all able to come to the workshop on their own by paying for transportation with their own money, they are likely to have the financial means to pay for medication too. The ones who are likely not able to access medications are those who never leave their homes and are unable to attend the disability group meetings. I will need to see if I can figure out how I can reach out to those who never leave their homes.
While the results of the post-tests are very good, I am not sure if what they learned from the workshops will translate to behavior change. In other words, will they change the way they keep their home clean and start using a mosquito net to take preventative measures not to become ill from malaria? I will find out when I visit their homes soon.
A few days ago, Peace Corps submitted a proposal to the federal government to change their policy that would prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities during the application process. If this new policy is fully implemented, it would be a wonderful huge step forward in hopefully seeing more persons with disabilities serve in the Peace Corps!
Also, recently, the White House announced that the Corporation for National Community Service will release a toolkit for persons with disability who served in the Peace Corps, that will provide them with information on transitioning to employment after their service and their rights as persons with disabilities.