Today, the preschool at the Catholic Mission had an end-of-the-year celebration, a “graduation” of sorts for the eldest pre-schoolers. This meant that the kids performed sketches, dances, and recitations for the assembled audience. The entire event was fantastic and hilarious. Some kids were all done up to the nines, some in miniature-people suits, others just wearing their normal preschool uniform (which is pink overalls for the boys and pink dresses for the girls, both with a white blouse beneath – absurdly cute). One of the sketches was titled “AIDS intervention.” I was surprised that they would address this subject, and further surprised (and flattered) when one of the six kids on stage turned to another and said “Voici Rebecca!” The “Rebecca” character proceeded to give advice about being prudent to avoid getting AIDS. It was a riot, and just another kick in the butt for me to actually accomplish something here before I leave. I guess I’m now known in the community as the white girl who talks ceaselessly about HIV and AIDS. But on the other hand, when I think about it, this is actually really positive. I don’t know if people really took notice of the HIV/AIDS issue before I arrived, but simply my being here and having HIV/AIDS as my primary focus is good advertising in the community to start trying to take the subject seriously.
I’m also excited because today was an exhausting day of work, but a good exhaustion. After the preschool graduation ceremony, Magloire and I went to meet with the Secretary General at the mayor’s office. Apparently, the mayor is very much a politician – a lot of lip service with no action. We were given the tip that if we wanted a real response, it’d be better to talk to the Secretary General. We met with him yesterday, and had a really interesting conversation.
Primarily, we have been wondering how we’re going to fund the small party we’re throwing to celebrate the end of the peer educator training. We thought of approaching the mayor’s office to ask for a small aid, and when we spoke to the Secretary General, he was extremely helpful, said to write a formal demand and he’d do what he could. We also then got talking about Magloire’s recent nightmare trip helping a friend get on ARVs. Apparently, they were just given the runaround completely at the provincial hospitals; our friend was really weak and sick already, and if Magloire hadn’t been there, she surely would have given up because she just kept getting sent here, there, everywhere without result. I’ve already had in my head that it would be a huge benefit for the community if CD4+ counts could be done in village and people could receive the (government-paid free) ARVs in village. So, with the SG, we got to talking about this problem. It was really encouraging to encounter a VIP in village who is actually concerned about this issue and has thoughtful ideas about how to resolve it.
Having this in my mind – that we’ve identified already somebody in a position of power who could really support this project – afterward, Magloire and I started talking about if it’d be possible to bring the CD4+ tests to Ngambe Tikar. I was not surprised that he knew about all the different kinds of tests and the costs. We began to lay out the steps we’d need to take in order to make it happen – what kind of information we’d need to search for, who’s support we’d need to solicit, etc etc. But it’s exciting for me to start to see a project like this begin to take form, to see that it could be possible, especially when the end result could have really positive results for the region.
But all that was yesterday, also an exhausting-but-exciting-day. After meeting with the SG again today, we had “ratrappage” with some of the peer educators. Our peer educator training is nine weeks with one hour-long session each week. Not surprisingly, a number of our peer educators have missed several of the sessions. We’ve said from the beginning that in order to receive a “diploma,” peer educators need to have attended at least 7 of the 9 sessions. So, I’ve offered to our trainees the chance to make-up some of the sessions they’ve missed. Some of our peer educators really have a lot of demands on their time – school, running the family boutique, taking care of siblings, and it gets hard to make it to the training sessions amidst all this. I understand this. In my mind, if someone is motivated enough to schedule and come to a make-up session, that motivation alone merits the very opportunity itself to make-up the session. It has been a pain for me though; I’ve re-done one session three times already.
But anyway, we did some make-up sessions with four of our peer educators today, and it was some of our peer educators who are still in school and often quiet during the regular sessions. It was kind of neat to work with them in a smaller group today, because I saw them come out of the their shells a little bit. The education system here does not encourage creative thinking, but rather rote memorization. Corporal punishment is still widespread and accepted. So getting kids to feel okay with just saying, “I don’t get it, explain it again” or, furthermore, ask a question about a related topic is a real challenge. Today these kids were just bursting with questions. It was so excellent. We even started talking about some material that is really specific – first line, second line, and third-line ARVs, viral resistance, different kinds of tests for HIV serology, how ARVs work, etc. Teaching can be so rewarding when the students are motivated.