Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘clean up’

This is a guest post by Joe Pavey who, along with Rebecca Tapscott, interned with us in Cameroon on the Youth Empowerment through Technology, Arts and Media (YETAM) project during July and August. Reading Joe’s post I couldn’t help but think about how positive the contributions of youth can be, and about the attitudes that adults and elected officials need to have in order to encourage youth to engage in actions to make their communities better, and how important it is for communities to show young people that they are valued for the contributions that they make and respected for the role that they play.  

The original post appears on Joe’s blog Yakcast 2.0, titled Youth Led Action in Bamessing.

Following the conclusion of the refresher course at GBHS Bamessing, the YETAM youth began work on their first advocacy campaign of the summer. After much discussion the youth decided that the first topic they would take on would be the high prevalence of malaria in their community.

Malaria is one of the biggest killers of children under the age of six in Africa, but lack of health education means many people here still are not aware of how the disease is contracted, and how it can be avoided. Additionally, the direct relationship between cleanliness and the spread of this disease runs counter to many of the choices the environment here encourages. The long periods that often come between availability of running water, forces villagers to store water in containers, and collect it from the frequent rains. This water is frequently left sitting in open containers. Mosquitos will lay their eggs in this water, leading to an increase in the insect population. More mosquitos, means more carriers for the disease, which in turn leads to more people contracting the illness. Additionally, mosquitos tend to thrive in places with tall grass. Lack of funds to clean communal areas often means that shrubbery in public places such as the market square, aren’t cleared regularly. Ignorance of this cycle is what the youth intended to combat. Not an easy thing since explaining these correlations requires the understanding of multiple stages of cause and effect.

In order to get the attention of the village, the youth decided to hold a series of clean-up and sensitization campaigns, intended to illustrate the sort of changes they felt the village needed to make. The first stage was a clean-up at three of the local health centers. The youth divided themselves into three separate groups, and spent several hours clearing brush, dirt, and standing water, from outside these centers. They posted sensitization signs outlining the causes of malaria and what can be done to minimize it. Despite the fact that many of the youth had left town for holiday, there was excellent youth turnout at all three health centers. After the morning of the clean-up these centers were models of how the village should maintain their environment.

Next a major cleanup campaign was performed at the BamessingTown Square, the day before Market Day. Market day here is a huge event, so the time and location of this clean-up had been chosen for maximum exposure. Twenty-four youth and two facilitators (myself included) spent nearly seven hours cleaning brush, shoveling dirt, and picking up trash to make the campaign a success. The youth took turns documenting this work with both video and still cameras. When the clean-up was completed they hung signs in main areas of the market urging the community not to dump dirt and trash in the market square. Another sign was created instructing people to a landfill pit where waste could be properly disposed.

The next morning, when Market Day was in full swing, the youth headed down in their bright yellow YETAM t-shirts to explain to market sellers and patrons what they had done and why they had done it. Their message was well received. Community members were thankful for the hard work the youth had performed, and therefore open to hearing their advice. At the end of the day there was a marked increase in people disposing of their trash appropriately.

Finally, the youth invited members of the village community and high-ranking officials to a workshop to discuss the causes of malaria and what could be done about it. My colleague Rebecca had arranged for a Peace Corps volunteer working on health education to come to the event to give a brief presentation. Unfortunately, only one community member apart from YETAM youth and facilitators attended the workshop. Thankfully this attendee was a member of the Sanitary Committee, so all was not lost. She arrived to the workshop quite late (just as we were finishing), so a short recap was given for her benefit.

The woman from the Sanitary Committee requested that the youth express their concerns to the village council, which they did two days later. The council was happy to receive the youth’s concerns and invited them to sing the national anthem at a special ceremony celebrating the arrival of the District Officer later in the week.

This ceremony turned out to be the closest thing to a festival I experienced during my time in Bamessing. Well over 1000 villagers attended the event. There was dancing and singing. There were masked characters called Ndobo, who shook fistfuls of brush at passers-by. (Check out this link for a great post on Ndobo by Plan USA’s Linda Raftree.) There were Muslim men in full regalia riding bucking, wild horses. There were flute players, and drummers, and dignitaries. Everyone arrived dressed in their finest traditional outfits. The Fon of Bamessing (the village ruler), a proud mountain of a man, oversaw the ceremony from the perch of his throne. If his hulking stature weren’t enough to separate him from the massive crowd outside the palace, he was seated on top of an authentic (and I’m sure locally made) animal skin rug to emphasize his authority.

YETAM was represented at the event in two ways: First, several of the youth led the singing of the national anthem. Second, the President of YETAM Bamessing, Martin, gave a short speech informing the District Officer about the activities of YETAM. His was the only speech not given by a high-ranking dignitary. Martin presented the District Officer with a copy of a Small-Grant Project Proposal To Increase School Attendance in the Bamessing Community which the youth had written for an upcoming advocacy project.

It cannot be over-emphasized how big an event this was for the community, and how impressive it was that the Village Council chose to make the YETAM youth such an integral part of the proceedings. Whether the youth’s efforts will lead to lasting behavioral change in the community is unknown, but it was a fascinating thing to see this project escalate over the course of the month. I couldn’t have had an experience like this without investing the length of time I did here this summer. And for me at least, that made the experience worthwhile.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »