Friday, October 30, 2009

A lot of catching up to do

I'm in Niamey to start the bureaucratic crunch that signifies the imminent end of my Peace Corps service in December, and I've been thinking about the work I've done here. We're supposed to find ways to "quantify our experience" that will help us "sell ourselves" to the work force in the US. I will do it, for the sake of my supervisors here who need the numbers, but dammit, I am resisting in my heart.

I do like to share with YOU guys what I do, because you don't ask for Anticipated Outcomes and Number of Participants and Percentage of Participants Who Benefitted and blahhhhhhhhh. Since it has been awhile since I filled you in---

The classroom! Green doors! I'll get more pictures on here, with kids, because the kids are the whole point, asap.

School has started, at last, even though a lot of the kids are still spending their days in the fields to bring in the last of the harvest. We haven't opened the new classroom yet, for two reasons- one is that the headmaster is insisting that he arrange a ceremony to appreciate all of the donors (that's YOU!), and he hasn't been able to find a date that all of the officials in the region can attend. (And I really hope that he never does, because I don't want a ceremony. But I'll do it, for him, because he says it's important. "This is Niger," he said, "and in Niger we have ceremonies".) So, okay. The second reason is that I've asked the contractor to return and do some more work on the doors, which were installed funkily and need some work. That should be cleared up by the time I get back next week!

Here is Habi, holding her daughter Samsiya, on the day they were released from the hospital in Illela. Habi's husband Shaibou is sitting on the left.

You know how it can be hard to write about something that you really care about? I feel that way right now but I'm still gonna get this out-- Word has been out for a long time in my village that I am available to connect mothers of severely malnourished babies with treatment centers in our region. You guys have heard about that work from the blog- you know about Habi and Samsiya, and the others. In the last couple of months, mothers started to bring their babies to me, just to look and see if I could tell if they were okay. Other mothers who I'd visit and advise to seek help were likewise much quicker to go get it- just a couple of weeks ago I ran into one such woman, Jemila, on her way to a feeding center south of us Tajae- she told me she'd been going weekly ever since I encouraged her to take her son there. I didn't even know she'd started going, and when I saw her son I didn't recognize the kid! That was really cool.

I started to realize that maybe, somehow, the stigma about severe, life-threatening malnutrition ("tamowa" in Hausa) is starting to change in my village. Instead of feeling intense shame and staying home, mothers seem to be taking action and getting themselves and their babies to the clinics. And it seems to help if someone is there to give them an extra push, encouragement, and basic information about what they can expect. I have filled that role for some women, and it's been, I think I can say, the most important thing I have done in my time in Niger.

Last month I talked with several women's leaders in the village to figure out a way to transfer the responsibilities that I've taken on to others, so that there is always someone to provide that supportive role to mothers. Narba and Ana, the main women's leaders, presented a plan to the larger community- about 200 women- and picked four women from the village (two from the east side and two from the west- they're so on it) to act as what I refer to in my head as The Baby Patrol.

The women- A'I Mano, Haja Kalau, Rabi Masali, and Salamu Anza- have the following responsibilities: to know what severe malnutrition looks like, to be on the lookout for it in their neighborhoods, to be available to mothers who want to show their babies to someone in private, to provide accurate information about the local services available for tamowa, and to accompany women to local clinics to get services and/or referrals from the nurses there. I met with the Baby Patrollers last week to go over some basic information, and arranged for a nurse from a neighboring village to come down and give them a training about how to recognize severe malnutrition. I think he'll come in November...

So, that's what I've been up to. That and trying to get ready to come home to my other home, in Oregon. It's going to happen soon, and as much as I love home, leaving Niger is going to SUCK. But this post is long enough already, so I'll save that conversation for later. Or for never, or for Just in My Head.

Shaibou and Habi, each with Samsiya


Merry said...

I swear, I am becoming a broken record. YOU ARE AN AMAZING YOUNG WOMAN and I couldn't be prouder of you!I don't know what your expectations were before going to Niger,but your experiences have known no boundaries and you have grown in ways you never would have imagined! I would have given anything to be as strong as you when I was in the Peace Corps;I never would have been capable of going to my village as a single woman,totally communicating in a very foreign language, bonding with the villagers, familiarizing myself with local customs in the way that you have. Yes, it will be hard to leave your African family, but we need to be able to put our arms around you and hold you too!! And I need to stop reading blogs at work that make me cry at my desk!!!I LOVE YOU!!! My word verification is liona - you are a mother lion!!!

Marcia (Liz's mom) said...


You might consider "quantifying your experience" -- as uncomfortable as it must feel -- to be just another way of communicating. Putting numbers with your descriptions will help future employers (and anyone) understand what you have done.

Thank you for all that you have shared and continue to share with your community, and with all the rest of us.

Anonymous said...

I'm so proud of you!
The work you have done there will live on and at the end of the day, that is the kind of impact that I think we all are searching for.
Yes, it will be hard to leave and that's the way it should be. You've invested two years of your energies, heart, muscle, and intellect--in other words your life--in this experience. So how do numbers capture that? They don't, but I suppose as Marcia has commented, maybe they can help someone understand your experience and hire you one day.
You've come a long way since we met in Ecuador and I can't wait to see you again.

Anonymous said...

One person CAN make a difference. Those of us who have met you, and read your blogs know that. If not in body and daily presence, the people in Africa you have touched, and helped, and educated will have you in their hearts forever.....

Oregon welcomes you back home soon, but us PCV parents know a piece of your heart and soul will forever remain in Africa. As it should....... :)

Krista's PCV Mom (Oregon)

Patricia said...

As the aunt of a new Niger PCV, Chad Morrow, I am so happy to have been able to read your blogs. It is helping me and his Mother, my sister, to understand some of the conditions that he is encountering. Your videos and pictures have been a pleasure to see.
Thank you for all that you have done, Jessica. The Mothers and their babies will be healthier and happier because of your hard work. Perhaps you would like a profession in Public Health, when you get back to Oregon. I retired last year from the TN Dept. of Health, as a Public Health Office Assistant. Although I was not a doctor or nurse, I know that the work we performed, on the local level, promoted better health for our community. Preventative Health has many positive outcomes. You might want to become a Public Health Nurse, Practioner, Nutritionist, or Physician. Perhaps working with your state's W.I.C. program, might be something you might want to check out. With your love and compassion for Moms and babies, you could teach them many healthy options. Again, thank you so much for your dedication to helping humankind in a place that is so poor. Know that we love you and will welcome you home in December. Just as Chad is starting his work in Niger, and you are finishing your projects, we pray that you and all Peace Corps Volunteers experience peace and happiness in the future.