Thursday, July 11, 2013

Looking Back:

2011 Peace Corps The Gambia HIV Bike Trek

I was introduced to Mariatou Jallow at the counterpart training for the HIV Bike trek. She shocked me when instead of giving me the traditional handshake she pulled me into a hug (the significance of this move can be fully appreciated when you realize that most Gambians never hug). Mariatou was at the training as a representative for the Bansang Upper Basic School’s Peer Health Club. Over the next two days while we learned the trek’s curriculum, I became more and more impressed with 8th grade Mariatou. She dedicated herself to learning the difficult material, asking many questions until she could explain how HIV spread and what its effect on the body’s immune system. I got to spend more time with Mariatou before the trek. I went to Bansang at her request to practice the lesson plans. Her commitment to learning the material was amazing.

Mariatou’s hard work paid off when we taught at her school. My fellow volunteers and I had been prepared to teach the two-day lesson ourselves, thinking Mariatou and the other students would participate by assisting with the dramas. She blew everyone away by teaching a significant part of the lesson about how HIV is transmitted. Eight grade Mariatou taught her ninth grade peers about the immune system by drawing diagrams and leading an educational game. She translated confusing material into local languages, including embarrassing material about transmission through sexual fluids. She even reminded her fellow students to stay quiet and give us respect when volunteers were teaching.

I was so proud of Mariatou that week. We stayed in touch over the next year. Mariatou ending up transferring to combo where she re-taught the HIV bike trek lesson to her new school. She became a resource for her new friends to turn to with questions. The HIV Bike trek is such an important Peace Corps tradition because it allows us to reach so many young people with important health messages, but it also gives us a great opportunity to inspire individual student to become health advocates themselves. Mariatou Jallow is the perfect example of this.