Malaria Bike Tour

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Group photo after teaching about malaria.

Reading this week:

  • The Autobiography of Malcom X as told to Alex Haley
  • Crossed Wires: Vol 1 by Iris Jay

This past week I participated in the Mbala Malaria Bike Tour. Bike tours are a pretty popular Peace Corps Zambia activity and the concept is pretty simple: a bunch of volunteers get together and bike to each other’s site, hosting programs at local schools or clinics. The advantages are that doing a program in a big group of volunteers is a lot more fun, spreads out the work, and creates excitement when a whole bunch of volunteers roll into town to teach about malaria. It was all organized by our fearless leader, Maggie.

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For our bike tour, we visited four volunteer’s sites, all centered around Mbala itself. At each site we visited the local school for the program. Most of our activities were based off the PC Skillz [sic] Malaria manual. These programs use soccer-based games to teach about malaria. Our target audience was pupils in grades 5-9 generally.

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This is “Bed Net Ball,” run by the other volunteers. The sheet is a mosquito net, and first they use the sheet to toss a soccer ball (the mosquito) up in the air. The pupils have to get under the “mosquito net” before the “mosquito” comes back down.

The general program was to bike to the next volunteer’s site in the morning, eat lunch, and then commence the program at around 1400. For me, I got to visit a side of Mbala district I haven’t been to and got to see more of the most beautiful district in Zambia. Plus, it’s always pretty fun to visit other volunteer’s sites, check out their houses, and play with their dogs.

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Most of the schools put a lot of prepwork in for our visit. Before our program began, we would be treated to a skit about malaria, or in one case a personalized welcome song from the school choir, which was impressive. They were universally educational and pretty funny as well.

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Personalized welcome song from the school choir.

For the activities, we worked in pairs to run stations. On each day we had a total of three stations, and the pupils rotated around learning about malaria. As we went along, my station wound up evolving. The first day we played a true/false game about various malaria myths. That wasn’t really interactive enough, so the next day we ditched that to play a risk factors game. In the risk factors game, the pupils dribble a soccer ball around cones (in our case, rocks) that represent risks for getting malaria: not sleeping under a mosquito net, not finishing your medication if you get malaria, not removing stagnant water, and not cutting your grass. On the first round, if they hit a rock with the ball, they have to do jumping jacks. On the second round, if they hit a rock with the ball, the whole team has to do jumping jacks. The students are more careful not to hit the rocks on the second round, and the lesson is that not taking malaria precautions increases risk for the entire community, not just themselves. When people think about the risk to the entire community, they are more careful.

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Busting some malaria myths via true/false.

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Risk factors game.

On the third and fourth days, I switched stations and helped teach “Health Ball.” In this game, the students try to pass to each other either a soccer ball or a much smaller rubber ball without the ball touching the ground. The soccer ball is easier, and that represents going to the clinic to get medicine to treat malaria. The small rubber ball represents going to a traditional healer or just staying home and hoping to get better, like it was just a cold. The message is to always go to the clinic!

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An extra game, “Mosquitoes & People” (aka Sharks & Minnows); the arch is the mosquito net that the pupils have to get under before the mosquito gets them.

All in all the bike tour was a lot of fun and we managed to reach over 400 students and teach them about malaria. Some of the stuff was things they had heard before, but repeating the message never hurts and we did do some mythbusting of common malaria myths. The real goal is to get the pupils to go home and tell their parents and family about what they learned to help reach the whole community. Hopefully we get to do more bike tours in the future and teach about even more topics.

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