Training and Partnership: PCV Lilly and Counterpart Damien

Ryan: I hopped on a moto taxi at 7am on a somewhat chilly Thursday morning to travel to fellow PCV Lilly’s nearby village. The mission? To help Lilly and her counterpart Damien lead a Malaria prevention discussion and mosquito net repair demonstration at their health center. I particularly love working in trainings that are with just one or two counterparts or volunteers. Trust and friendship are integral to successful malaria prevention program. Lilly and Damien are a fantastic example of that resulting collaboration.

The activities went smoothly, and Damien facilitated lively and meaningful discussion among attendees, most of whom are mothers residing in the area. Using various learning strategies, we talked about how to repair mosquito nets, use them properly, and debunked some myths about net care and malaria eradication. Malaria is a significant public health threat in Rwanda. Though the disease in preventable, there are social, economic and cultural issues that complicate efforts to control and potentially eliminate the disease. Rwanda does a good job of distributing bed nets and educating the public about malaria. Prevention comes down to changing behavior. Mosquitoes may always exist in Rwanda, but malaria doesn’t have to.

Our malaria intervention left me inspired and uplifted by the perfectly shared sense of humor between Lilly and Damien. Damien has always impressed me with his resolve, initiative, and thoughtful analysis of cross cutting-issues in his community. So, after our prevention program, I sat with him and Lilly for a short interview.

"Damien, tell me about the first time you met Lilly."

D: When she first came to the community, I wasn’t exactly sure what to do, what to tell her. She was new, I was a little afraid to talk to her!

"Lilly, tell me about the first time you met Damien."

L: I remember when I came to site visit during pre-service training, he showed me around and introduced me to everyone. And when I came back to live here, he saw I was struggling to find something to do at the health center. So he asked me to write a schedule and plan to visit all of the services provided by the health center. From the very beginning, Damien has been a big help as I learn more about the community and the health center, and my role in each.

"Damien, why is this fight against malaria important to you?"

D: Malaria is an issue in this region. As you have seen, many people know how to protect themselves, but they let their guard down, so we have to keep teaching. Simple things like not repairing a bed net can lead to malaria, which then leads to missed school or work, and even death.

"Damien, have you ever felt like you saw someone learned something new from your trainings/interventions?"

D: Yes. I think the first change I saw began with myself. I didn’t used to use nets or wash them. I didn’t know there was anything I could do to prevent malaria. Now, I try to tell my friends and those we have trained. When you talk to them, you see there is change. They have started to wash and repair their bed nets. And if you do an intervention, after you see participants and discuss it again, there is change in what they say and do.

Lilly and I see you as a leader among Peace Corps counterparts. Who is someone who inspires you in this work?

D: First of all, my father. My father was very welcoming. Many people lived in our home. You learn a lot when there are many people together in your house.

Secondly, since we have begun these intervention activities, Lilly has helped me feel more comfortable working together. She accepts my opinions and how I think, but also tells me if something isn’t right. But she also says “don't worry, you can share your opinions with me.” So she helps me to feel free and comfortable with my ideas.

"What is your favorite food?"

Lilly and Damien: Potatoes!

"Lilly, what makes you passionate about this fight against malaria?"

L: Like Damien said, malaria is a problem in this area. And, it’s a visible problem. I live next to the health center lab so I see when people are there waiting to get tested for malaria. It’s a serious problem and there is an effective way to protect yourself against it. That’s the reason I like to teach about malaria.

I like to try and engage with students because they take the message home to their parents and their siblings. Sometimes the mothers who have been walking all day to get to the health center aren't as engaged as the students in making changes. They’re tired. But, I think you can work with both and it’s a double impact. You can tell the mothers and then the students will come home to pester them about malaria prevention.

"Damien, describe Lilly in one word."

One word?

D: It’s difficult, but I can say, she is someone that makes me feel free. I can tell her about my ideas, feelings, and problems, but also when I feel happy.

"Lilly, describe Damien in one word."

L: I would say caring. He has a very big heart and he wants everybody to be happy and healthy.

Damien, what is a message you would like to tell to others fighting malaria, maybe those who are discouraged by the severity of the problem.

D: I think I can tell them that it is possible to eradicate malaria. I think we can create regional malaria prevention clubs, and club members can then go into their villages to teach about malaria. We can show the village that it is possible to eradicate malaria. Peace Corps Volunteers can help. So? Let’s go and do it.

End of Interview

Ryan: Working as part of STOMP (Stomping out Malaria in Africa), I have the fortunate role of working alongside Rwandan doctors, nurses, health workers, and teachers who are fighting against malaria in my region. I have the unique chance to assist them, and the Peace Corps Volunteers they work with, in various malaria-related programs and interventions. Of all the Volunteers and amazing counterparts we get to work with, Damien and Lilly are two of my favorites.

To promote the sustainability of projects, Peace Corps Volunteers work with counterparts, a community partner who works with the Volunteer on projects and ultimately leads projects and programs while the PCV assists in a supporting role. Damien and Lilly are a great example of that powerful and effective partnership — a working relationship and friendship. A two way street, where cultural exchange meets professional development and behavior change, and one day eradicates malaria in villages throughout Rwanda.