Date: October 26, 2013
Author: Anne Linn, 2nd year Peace Corps Volunteer Saraya, Senegal
Photo caption: Playing with midwives’babies: It’s not technically work, but it goes a long way.
In the brief moments of calm that surface here in there amongst the madness of the prevalence study, we have snuck in conversations regarding the strategic planning for Peace Care’s work in Senegal and the role of Peace Corps volunteers in these different strategic advancements. My contributions to these questions have come to be based off of the following thought:
No matter what specific role we have, the greatest contribution that I have made as a Peace Corps Volunteers to the Peace Care model is the relationships I have with our Senegalese counterparts and the communities within the Saraya Health District. This has become especially apparent to me throughout the last month as we prepared for the prevalence study by either training or refreshing every midwife in the region on the IVA visual screening technique, and then in the launch of the prevalence study itself.
My fellow volunteer Chip pointed out in a previous blog post from this trip that much of the project planning in Senegal takes place at the last minute. I would actually take it a step further and say that a lot of the planning and logistics takes place after the last minute, when you should have left for the mass screening already and you realize all the things that are still left to fix. These are the moments where, without relationships to fall back on to find solutions, some things just could not happen.
When we arrived in Saraya with the Peace Care team to find the cellphone network out across the entire department, I knew I was going to have to utilize both my legs and the rapport I have built over the past year and a half to get things rolling. When organizing teams of midwives for the mass screenings, we had to go to their houses to confirm their readiness for the next day’s outing. A non-governmental organization (NGO) that comes in with no knowledge of the local partners and where they live couldn’t do that. When we couldn’t call the community health workers in the outlying villages to let them know we were coming, we had to rely on our partnership with the community local radio station. Fortunately, this partnership is so strong that I have the ability to go and interrupt almost any DJ’s show in order to announce the next day’s outing to the health workers and women of the village. (The strength of this relationship can also be exemplified through the fact that on the radio station’s sixth birthday party last month, the Peace Corps Volunteers were presented with the liver of the cow slaughtered for the event (quite an honor, indeed). My husband Patrick said that when he brought the liver to Kedougou the next day to share with the other volunteers, no one in the car batted an eyelash at the giant organ he was holding in his lap.) In addition to my frequent interruptions of radio programming, I would send messages to people I knew from these villages who happened to shop in Saraya. I have spent a great deal of time traveling and working in the small villages surrounding Saraya, and it paid off to know who could get the word out.
The mornings of outings, I had to rely on my knowledge of who could be sweet talked into loaning us their roll of cotton or box of gloves so that we could leave at a somewhat early time (“We’ll pay for it later, we just really need the gloves right now!”). Understanding the goals, motivations, and limits of different individuals got us going, even when people we were counting on to organize things were sick or called away.
Some relationships are earned, and some are gifted by quirks of the Malinke culture. Upon arriving in Saraya in May of 2012, I was given the name Sadio Tigana. My host mom is my namesake, and the namesake bond is strong—strong enough that we are in many ways considered to be the same person. For example, her children call me mom. At one of our mass screenings, I was able to overcome the reluctance of my host mom’s adult daughter to get screened not by explaining the benefits of screening but by telling her “I am your mother, and you should do this for your health.”
The relational aspect of Peace Care’s work is one of the things I appreciate most about the model. In my view, the friendships formed and sustained through the biannual visits and the partnership with Peace Corps Volunteers have done as much to advance cervical cancer prevention in this region as the technical training.