The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government, Peace Corps, or the University of Montana. This is not an official Department of State publication and does not represent the Fulbright U.S. Program or the Department of State.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Stomping Out Malaria

Recently all eyes have been on Guinea and neighboring countries in wake of the Ebola outbreak. It’s a country few could’ve placed on the map just a few short months ago and is a place I’m proud to call home. Yet, as somebody who’s lived, worked, cried, loved, and laughed here for the past 18 months, there’s a disease that hits much closer to home.  While people watched aghast as 142 lives were lost to Ebola (an incredible tragedy) news sources remained silent on the largest public health issue and killer in Guinea and much of Sub-Saharan Africa—malaria.

For anyone that might not know or needs a refresher, malaria is a mosquito-born infectious disease caused by parasites known as Plasmodium. It begins with a bite from an infected Anopheles mosquito, which introduces the parasite into the circulatory system via her saliva.  The parasites eventually find their way to the liver where they reproduce. Malaria typically manifests itself as cyclical fevers, headaches, chills, and nausea, but if left untreated can lead to seizures, miscarriage, coma or even death.

Malaria kills one child every 30 seconds in Sub-Saharan Africa and is responsible for 14% of death and 34% of hospitalizations in Guinea.  The entire population lives in high-transmission zones.  Since January 2014, 556 people have been diagnosed with malaria in my community alone. Keep in mind these are only the cases of people who visited the health center for treatment and doesn’t account for the people who relied on traditional home treatment or simply didn’t have access to the health center.

Throughout Guinea, misinformation about malaria abounds. I’ve had many a heated discussion about whether or not you can get malaria from eating green/ too many mangoes (you can’t!!!). Others claim mosquitoes are only a problem in the capital Conakry and malaria doesn’t exist in my community. Regardless of whether or not somebody wants to believe it’s a problem, the numbers speak for themselves.

However, the good news is that malaria is a disease that is easily preventable and treatable.  In 2011 Peace Corps Guinea joined with all other Peace Corps Africa countries to finally eliminate malaria. There are over 3,000 volunteers like me who are striving to bring malaria deaths in our host countries to zero by 2020. It’s a goal that sounds daunting but is possible.

The largest component of this campaign as a volunteer is the dissemination of proper information about disease transmission, treatment availability, and proper use/ maintenance of mosquito nets. For the last month I’ve put many of my other projects on hold to educate my community. Together with other volunteers I completed a bicycle tour to educate five different communities over 3 days. In total we talked with ~600 people of all ages and backgrounds. Last weekend we hosted a net washing training and soccer game with half-time malaria talk in our regional capital. Tomorrow I’m kicking off my educational campaign in my community’s nightclub and at the soccer field. Even if they don’t come to learn about malaria, they surely will to watch me play soccer and dance. Pictures to follow.

I hope you learned a little something about malaria. Please share this with other friends or family members and help spread the word about malaria.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Books for Guinea

Disclaimer: This blog post is an open letter to friends and family, a shameless plea to help bring the love of reading to my community.

Ever day my little 5-year-old brother comes to my door with a simple demand, a single word, “Livre”. He wants to look through one of my  National Geographic’s. He loves the pictures and never tires of asking, “What’s that?” though I’ve explained every article a dozen times. It’s wonderful to share in his excitement. Whenever friends visit he borrows an issue and happily recounts his own version of the stories. 

However for most Guineans, books play a very small role in their lives. Like most people in my community, the only books my family owns are textbooks. Whenever I pull out a book while waiting for a taxi or lounging in my hammock, they assume I’m working. They’ve never read a novel. Libraries are a rarity and books in the region’s few bookstores are too expensive. A culture of reading for enjoyment or self-education is virtually non-existent. After all, the national literacy rate is ~30%.

Twenty-five other volunteers and I are working to change this reality by getting books into the hands of children and other interested community members. We're working with the non-profit organization Books for Africa to send 22,000 French books to communities across the country. We will share these books to create new libraries and expand existing ones.   The books will range from children’s reading books to high school textbooks. My community library will allow residents to check-out library books for the first time in their lives and host a reading room.  Our library will partner with the local literacy advocacy group to makes books accessible to the most community members possible. 

For transportation costs, we need to raise $20,000. Obviously, that’s
a lot of money, but essentially it is less than $1 per book. We can’t
find a better deal than that. Our local communities have shown their
dedication to the project by agreeing to raise $5,000 themselves to
cover port expenses and in-country transportation.

If you’re interested in helping our project, you can go to our project
page on Books for Africa’s website here
Thank you so much for your time and support. Together, we can greatly
impact education in Guinea and help foster a love of reading.

My lil bro and I

Tuesday, March 25, 2014


Whoa. It has been a long time since I've posted anything on here. Unfortunately I don't have much time for a full update, so I'm posting an article that I recently wrote about beekeeping for our technical exchange newsletter. Enjoy!

When approaching a beehive something in your most basic, animalistic biology tells you this isn’t good idea. Opening the lid, that voice gets louder, screaming at you to stop. It’s understandable. Bees can be dangerous. Yet even with thousands of bees around, a larger part of you, the part of you that collected bugs as a child takes over and thinks, “ Wow! This is awesome.” Somehow at that moment your fight or flight impulse disappears and all that’s left is clarity and an amazing job to do.

Yet two short years ago when applying for Peace Corps, beekeeping was the last thing I wanted to do. I’d never even been stung by a bee and couldn’t imagine any circumstance that would make opening a beehive appealing. Turns out you change your mind pretty quickly after six months of sitting at site doing nothing. Suddenly beekeeping didn’t sound like a ludicrous idea only done by people of questionable sanity. Now it was my project, my baby, and my reason for staying in Guinea.

At this point you might be thinking, “that’s all well and good for you, but why is beekeeping even important to PC Guinea?” To the skeptics out there: if your site has agriculture or any flowering plants bees play a key role in your community.  Often unseen and under-appreciated bees make sure we get to enjoy mangoes, cashews, oranges, and countless other fruits and vegetables. As Einstein famously said, “If bees let the planet, man would have 3-5 years left.”  Wow.

While bees naturally and plentifully exist in Guinea, few Guineans actually practice beekeeping. The majority of people who interact with bees do so either as honey hunters or beehavers.  Honey hunters are folks who search out naturally occurring hives and take the honey.  One step above honey hunting is beehaving—providing bees with a protective man-made structure where the colony can live but not doing any active hive management.  These hives are made from a variety of materials including woven grass, hollow tree trunks, gourds, etc.   Beehavers provide the bees protection as a means to facilitate future honey harvests.

While both practices are successful in harvesting honey, they can have detrimental impacts.  During harvest, hives are traditionally subdued by lighting a smoky fire below the hive. This calms the bees somewhat, but when the harvest is complete and angry bees are swarming, the fire may be left burning while harvesters flee to safety.  Unattended these can turn into devastatingly large brush fires.  Traditional harvesting methods may collapse entire colonies by destroying brood comb/ killing the queen or lead to bees abandoning the hive.

So now I’m sure you want to know how PCV’s can get involved.

We can assist local honey hunters and beehavers in adapting their practices to become beekeepers.  The main difference being that beekeepers possess enough understanding of bee biology and organization to work with and actively manage bees. Making the transition doesn’t require large financial investments, just training and practical application such as tweaking traditional hive designs to allow greater colony management and monitoring. For example, you might add top bars to a woven grass hive or make protective beekeeping suits from old rice sacks.

But even if getting down and dirty with bees isn’t your thing it’s still possible to work with local bee workers. Help increase honey quality and profitability by teaching local harvesters how to filter honey and recognize the differences between good and bad quality honey. If you’re feeling more ambitious, why not transform comb that would otherwise be thrown away into profit. It’s easy to purify wax and transform it into a variety of products including: candles, body butter, soap, or lip gloss. All are fun projects, great souvenirs to bring home, and possible to make with ingredients available at your local market.

Hopefully I’ve managed to convince a few of you that beekeeping would be an awesome project. If you want to learn more about bees pick up a copy of “Small-scale Beekeeping” (available at your regional house in both French and English) or feel free to contact me with any questions, concerns, or to get several GB’s of beekeeping materials. Be sure to apply to the upcoming beekeeping training, tentatively scheduled for June 16-20. Till next time, keep an eye on your local pollinators.