International Women’s Day (March 8, 2012)

March 8, 2012 marked the annual recognition of International Women’s Day around the world, and Malians in my community celebrated together in a small village nearby.  I wasn’t able to attend the ceremony last year, because the high school girl’s soccer match was held on the same day (see March 8 post from last year), but this year, I was able to do both!

The celebration started around 10 am with speeches from some of the most prominent people in the area around my site, including the mayor several representatives of women’s associations in my town.  They certainly know how to talk the talk. 

Both men and women alike were touting the benefits of schooling girls and bringing more gender equality to the community.  In an election year in Mali, they were prompted to talk about the potential for female politicians to take seats in local government, parliament and to even serve as president (giving a nod to Liberian president and recent Nobel Prize winner, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf).

Certainly this was all music to my ears, but I struggled with the fact that although they talk the talk, I don’t see people in my community walking the walk.  Boys outnumber girls in the local high school 5-1; girls are obligated to marry, according to their parent’s wishes, at an early age; the opinions of men are valued more than those of women; and women are still expected to stay at home and take care of children and housework.  If you haven’t yet read it, you should check out my post “On Women in Mali”.  It discusses the status of women Mali, in depth, and proves that they certainly are fighting an uphill battle for equality.

Despite my reservations about superficiality of the celebration, I enjoy the festivities.  Malians love a reason to eat, listen to music and dance and that’s exactly what we did!  Following the speeches, several traditional musicians took to the dirt enclosed by a large crowd of Malian men, women and children.  They played and sang and the area around them became a dance floor for women decked out in Women’s Day fabric with babies tied to their backs.

After about an hour of music and dancing, the local women put on a couple of skits with a gender equality message. Then, the food was ready and the whole community gathered around communal bowls to eat zame, a fried rice dish that is always served at large celebrations.  It was delicious.

Spending the morning and early afternoon at the neighboring village made me really tired and I decided to spend the late afternoon relaxing and enjoying International Women’s Day with a good book.

Although the girls soccer game didn’t happen on March 8, it did take place on Saturday, the 10th.  The time change allowed people to enjoy both the women’s day celebration on Thursday and the game – which gave us a larger audience for the match!

Last year, I played with the 10th and 11th graders, but this year I played with the 12th graders.  So, half of my former teammates were on my team this year and half of them became the competition!  We practiced for a couple of weeks before the big day, and I thought that the girls on my team seemed to be really good – especially because they’ve never had formal training.

The day before the match, the coach of the 10th and 11th grade team suggested that we give them two of our players to even the playing field, but my team would not budge.  The rivalry between high school girls in different grades must translate – I remember equally competitive powder puff football games taking place at Bourbon County High School!

On the day of the big game, I met up with my team to make and package flavored drinks to be served after the game – essentially kool-aid, with TONS of extra sugar.  I forgot to bring my camera, which was a big disappointment for the girls, but we had a good time anyway.

In the afternoon, we met 45 minutes before the game to get warmed-up and hangout a bit before the game started.  Before the game, a representative from the local women’s association spoke to the girls and kicked the game ball (much like throwing the first pitch at a baseball game) to get things started under the hot afternoon sun.

Within the first 10 minutes my team scored the one and only goal of the match!  Afterwards, the play was back and forth down the field, but we weren’t able to put the icing on the cake with a second goal.  We had quite a crowd for the match, and everyone seemed to be enjoying the game.  This made me realize how great it would have been to have started, or tried to start, a girls soccer team during my service.  Perhaps the next volunteer that comes to my site will be able to do so… 

Overall, my last International Women’s Day celebration in Mali was really fun and allowed me to stand together, or dance together at least, in unity with my Malian sisters.  I’m sure that next March 8 I will be thinking about these celebrations and wishing that I could country-hop just for one day to share in the festivities.

Check out the photos that I took at the celebration and the soccer game here.

Festival Sur le Niger

I have always been a fan of Malian music – especially those Malian musicians who are internationally known, such as Ali Farka-Toure, Salif Keita and Amadou & Mariam.  For this reason, I had been counting down the days until the 8th annual Festival Sur le Niger for quite some time!

In mid-February, I, along with about 180 other volunteers, made my way to Segou for the festival.  I didn’t attend the festival last year, but had heard that it was incredibly well coordinated and featured some of the biggest names in Malian music, along with musicians from other parts of the world.

On the first day of the festival, it was clear to see that the reports I had heard were spot-on.  I have to admit that I’m no music festival expert, but it did seem that the event was very well organized, the grounds were kept clean and the concert venues were on par with what I would expect from a concert venue in the United States. 

The main stage literally floated on the Niger river and, each night during the evening performance, I could be found on the sandy beach right in front of the stage.  The “standing room” area of was the best place to see and the only place good for dancing.  And, what good is listening to fantastic Malian music if you can’t dance?

You can see more about the festival on its Web site, but it would take far too long for me to talk about all of the musicians that I saw play during the festival.  Instead, I’ll just write here about those who I enjoyed the most.

Heather Maxwell – This American musician (hence the less-than-Malian name) once served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mali, during which time she wrote many songs in Bambara.  During her performance she sang several songs in English and French, but the crowd really loved the songs that she sang in their native tongue.  The most interesting thing about the songs that she sang, were the themes – healthy drinking water and vaccines (can’t you tell that she was a Peace Corps volunteer)! 

The Malians loved her music, which incorporated their local language, several traditional musical instruments and the voice of a Malian woman – she has mastered the Malian style of singing.  We all loved the fact that one of our own was representing Peace Corps Mali and the United States on the main stage.

I’ve heard that Heather is in Bamako working on a PhD and will likely be playing at some venues here in the coming months.  I hope to be able to get out and support her a couple of times during my last few months in country.

Salif Keita – Salif Keita was the headliner of the festival and his performance, late on Saturday evening, was fantastic.  Salif Keita is not only one of the most popular Malian musicians of all time, he is also considered one of the most influential African musicians of all time.  There are several characteristics about Keita that set him apart.  First, he is an albino – a minority in Mali that is often ridiculed and cast aside in society.  Keita is also a descendent of the leader of the Malian empire and, therefore, of the “noble” Malian ethnicity.  Because he does not bear the last name of the griot ethnicity, his pursuing a musical career goes against his traditional role in society.

Despite all of these barriers, Salif Keita has risen to the top of his game and is a delight to see in concert.  Due to his international reputation, I have a feeling that I will have the opportunity to see him again during a future US tour, and I can’t wait! 

Rokia Traore – Despite having the worst last name (Traore’s are my joking cousins), Rokia is phenomenal.  Her performance was far more laid back and bluesy than most of the other performers at the festival, but she absolutely mesmerized the audience.  Both she and her music are beautiful. 

Rokia was born in Kolokani, a town that is about 40 km from my site.  She is also from the noble ethnic group, so her singing falls outside the norm for the Malian caste system.  Another unique characteristic of her music is that she plays the guitar.  I’ve only seen one other Malian woman play the guitar – a young women at the Segou music festival, likely hoping to follow in the footsteps of Rokia Traore.  She has won many awards for her music and her most recent project was writing the music for the 2011 Toni Morrison play, Desdemona.

I know that she tours in the States, so you should check her out.  I hope that I have an opportunity to see her again in a smaller venue.  I can only imagine how powerful her music would be in a crowd of say 100 rather than 2,000.

One thing is for sure – the Festival Sur le Niger proves that Malians know music.

Since the festival, I often find myself walking through market and hearing one of the artists I saw in Segou blasting from a radio or the speaker of a cell phone.  It automatically takes me back to those nights spent dancing on the riverbank and brings a smile to my face.  I have a feeling that when I listen to Malian music after I return to the States, it will have a similar effect – the power of music is fantastic.

Of all of the cultural experiences I have had during my time in Peace Corps, I think that the festival ranks among one of the most wonderful.  Good friends, good music, good street food.  In Mali, it doesn’t get much better than that.

For more on Malian music, check out this article that ran in the Washington Post in late 2011 about the Malian music scene.

I’ve also posted pictures from the festival here.

African Cup of Nations

From mid-January to mid-February, the eyes of most Malians were glued to the TV (the few that are around) each night as the bi-annual African Cup of Nations was being played in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.  

One of my good friends at site, a teacher at the local high school, has a TV that he runs using car battery power.  Each night that there was a game, I was at his house with a group of friends picking teams at random to root for (usually the underdog). 

On the nights when two countries were playing and we were picking “our team” at random, the conversation would usually stray from the TV and the game would merely serve as background noise…until a goal was scored.  After the goals, we would turn our attention to the screen and comment on the team’s post-goal celebratory dancing.  We would watch the replay of the goal and talk about how good, easy, difficult or poor the shot was.  After that, those of us who chose the team that was winning would throw a couple of jokes toward the losing team and then we would return to other conversation. 

Although these nights were fun, they were nothing compared to the nights that Mali was playing…a team we could all root for together.  And there was no talking during these games.  Each pass was critiqued, every fake fall followed by a whistle blow was celebrated, and all aggressions against Malian players deserved a yellow or red card.  When the Malians were playing well, everyone was excited and the opposing team was the brunt of every joke.  When they weren’t playing well, everyone in the group had an idea of why they were playing poorly and what they should be doing to improve their game.  There was as much to watch off the screen as on.

My favorite part of the tournament was when Mali would score a goal or win a game.  The explosion of celebration could only be matched by a group of Kentucky basketball fans celebrating a hard-fought victory (I felt at home in this situation, haha!)

As the ball would enter the goal, all ten of the grown men I was watching the game with would rise to their feet and shout “bi!” or “goal!”  This would be followed by an exchange of high fives and a rash of one-liners – “Did you see that?” “These guys can play!” “That’s how you win a game!”  After we had all settled back into our seats you could still hear the neighbors and people as far away as the small shops on the main road rejoicing.

I was in Bamako the night that Mali beat Guinea in the group stages – a victory they were not supposed to claim.  In the cab back to the Peace Corps house there were people in the streets waving Malian flags, chanting and relishing in the win.  It was great to see the support that was filling the streets, even for a game in the early stages of the tournament.

Because it is always the most fun to cheer for a team that is winning, I was very happy to see Mali make it to the quarterfinals of the tournament.  Although they lost to a traditional rival, Cote d’Ivoire, they went on to take third place by beating Ghana in the playoff game (an extra sweet victory for me, as Ghana booted the United States from the World Cup in 2010).  

It was exciting to feel like I was a part of the collective excitement that took over Mali in the early part of 2012, despite the fact that I had never watched, or for that matter even heard of, the African Cup of Nations.  Although usually a bi-annual tournament, the Cup will be played again next year in order to offset it from the World Cup, which will take place in 2014.  You better believe that I will be checking the CAF Web site for score updates and rooting for the team that hails from the country that has become my second home, Mali.

 

Si Teriw Update

I last wrote about the women’s association with which I work in late November and since then they have done quite a lot.  I’m really proud of the progress they are making and am excited to tell you about it here.

Shea Packaging Day – As mentioned in the last “Si Teriw Update,” the women made several different qualities of butter during the 2011 production season.  The third quality (mediocre) was set aside for making soap.  The women decided the second quality (good) would be packaged in non-descript black plastic bags and sold and that the first quality (superior) would be sold once packaged in small plastic tubs and stamped with the association logo.

On December 16, the women gathered together to weigh out the second quality of shea butter, kilo by kilo and package it in black plastic bags.  The work went really successfully and, at the day’s end, representatives of the six villages in the association split 33 kilos of shea butter amongst themselves to be sold in their villages’ local markets.  By selling this shea butter at 1,250 CFA (about $2.50) the women were able to make 41,250 (about $82.50).

Monthly meeting (January 27) – In late January, two representatives from each Si Teriw village came together for the monthly association meeting.  This meeting was particularly important, because January was the end of the loan period.  The village representatives were asked to pay back their 20,000 CFA loan, along with 20% interest – a total of 24,000 CFA (about $48).  I was really proud to see that each village had given out their credit money amongst their members and were returning it, plus interest, in-full and on-time!

After two successful loan periods, I think that this credit system is working really well to help reward the women for their work in the association (no dividends are being paid yet, as the business is making very little profit right now).  In addition, the interest provides the association with another form of income generation and enables them to be internally banked – instead of losing money by incurring the fees associated with a traditional bank account, each six months they set aside the money they will need for operational expenses and give the remaining money as small loans.

In addition to paying back their loans, each village turned in the money earned from shea butter sales – a total of 41,250 CFA. 

These two “pots” of money, combined with the small amount of money that was sitting in the association bank, totaled nearly 190,000 CFA (about $375).  I could tell that all of the women were excited to hear that figure and to realize that their hard work had paid off. They were able to see that, although slowly, they were making money and contributing to the pool that will be reinvested in the business or offered to association members via credit.

The next item on the meeting agenda was to determine how much of the money should be set aside for operational expenses and how much could be pushed back out to the villages in the form of loans.  This part of the meeting ended up being the most important from my point of view, as it contained an invaluable lesson in budgeting.

When asked, the women, without much thought, said that they thought about 50,000 CFA should be set aside for the expenses of the coming six months.  I was weary of the figure, knowing that they were grossly underestimating the operational costs for the months ahead, so I suggested that we go through each known expense and create a budget for the coming months.  This, I told them, was the only way they could really know how much they needed to set aside. With a few nods of the head, clicks of the tongue and an “a ye tine fo” (that’s the truth), we started a line-item budget for Si Teriw, February – July 2012. 

After taking into account all of the known expenses (soapmaking materials, food for soapmaking days, money for packaging and labeling, etc.) the figure totaled just over 100,000 CFA.  As a business volunteer, this aha budgeting moment was a victory to be celebrated.  They were able to clearly see that if they had only set aside 50,000 CFA, they would have been operating in the red around March or April.

After this discussion, the women decided to put this money aside for their operating expenses.  The remaining money – a total of 60,000 CFA – was given in credit to each village representative to be distributed amongst one or more of their members and returned, with interest, at the July Si Teriw meeting.

Making shea butter soap – The last item of discussion during the January meeting was soapmaking logistics.  After chatting for a while, it was decided that the women would gather together on February 9, March 1, and March 22 to make soap.  You might remember that they learned these skills during last year’s technical exchange.  A woman in my town offered her house as a place where they could make the soap and store the materials.

The February 9 production got off to a late start and, although not surprising, it caused a lot of frustration among the group (and me, of course).  Some people didn’t arrive until nearly 11 am and wanted to leave around 3 pm. 

Again, we had to emphasize that if you start really late, the work time doesn’t change, but you just finish really late.  As not everyone arrived on time, and some wanted to leave early, this put an unfair burden on the host, as she started working the afternoon before, to prepare the lye/water mixture, and ended up having to work until dark on the production day to ensure all the soap was dry and properly stored. 

Despite this one hiccup, the production generally went really well.  They made five batches of soap – cutting three batches into bars and molding two batches into large balls (a type often used in Mali for washing dishes and clothes).  The  167 bars and 54 balls of soap was stored until the next production day to ensure that the lye was very dry before selling it. 

On March 1, we got started early.  We didn’t wait for those who were going to come late, as to ensure that the work could be finished well before the sunset prayer.  The women made six batches of soap, all bars, and added palm oil to the mixture to help the soap make better suds.  Because the palm oil is softer than the shea oil, it took longer for the molds to set, but once they were ready the soap looked really nice. 

In all, they produced 318 bars of soap and 16 balls (from the mold scraps).

While the soap was drying, we reviewed all of the expenses for both production days and determined the break-even point.  The women then discussed different pricing options for the two types of soap.  During this discussion, it became clear that the profit margin for a batch of soap formed into balls was far less than the profit margin of a batch of soap made into bars.  This helped them decide that they would only make balls of soap with the bar scraps that would otherwise not be sold. 

Based on their knowledge of the market’s average soap price and the potential profit that could be made at different price points, the women settled on selling the bars of soap for 200 CFA and the balls of soap for 275 CFA.

At the end of the day, representatives from each village left with 27 bars and 9 balls of soap to sell in their village markets.  At the production day on March 22, the women will collect the first batch sales and will distribute another round of soaps to sell.

It seems like the established price structure is going to enable the women to make a fair amount of money of the production and sales of soap.  I’m really excited that they are putting their soapmaking skills to use and that they are expanding their product line.  Perhaps next will be lotion or lip balm!

You can see pictures from the soap making production days here.

Ne ni n ka blog famana! (It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged!)

Apologies for the incredible delay in posting here!  Since returning to my site post-January, I have been spending a lot more time in the land of no Internet access, and have not been able to post.

Although unable to post, I have still been writing, so I have a lot to share with you today.  I’m getting ready to post the following entries: 

  • Si Teriw Update – An update on the activities taking place in the women’s association with which I work
  • African Cup of Nations – A bit about the bi-annual all-Africa soccer tournament that kept Malians entertained for much of January and February
  • Festival Sur le Niger – Musing on the incredible experience that was the annual music festival in the Malian city of Segou
  • International Women’s Day – Reflecting on the celebration of the women of Mali

Feel free to read them all, skip to the ones that seem most interesting, or save some for a rainy day!

As the end of my Peace Corps service is drawing near, and I’m trying to spend as much time at site as possible, I will likely be doing similar mass postings in the coming months.  I have a packed schedule of things coming up that will likely provide some great material, so check back in during April for more! 

 

Christmas and New Year’s Eve 2011

Celebrating holidays in Mali always seems a bit weird.  The birthday parties, Christmas and Thanksgiving gatherings, New Year’s Eve festivities (etc.) of the past year and a half have been wonderful in their own way, but so different from what I’m used to doing Stateside. 

Instead of cutting the Christmas ham with my family in Kentucky last year, I spent Christmas Eve at a mud-structure church in Dogon Country.  For this year’s birthday, instead of throwing a party with friends in Washington, DC, I shared it with my Peace Corps friends in Bamako, sipping on Malian beers and dancing to music we’ve added to our playlists throughout our service. 

I have no doubt that these holidays will remain fresh in my memory for years to come.  Although not the norm, they have been special and have brought me closer to the people I now consider my Peace Corps family.

Christmas and New Year’s Eve, although both quite low key, were equally as wonderful as all of my holidays in Mali.  For both, I celebrated with the new group of trainees at the Peace Corps training center.  The Christmas festivities were led by one of the trainees – she planned a full menu of “American-style” holiday fare and helped organize a secret Santa among the volunteers. 

From start to finish the day was full of holiday cheer.  We listened to classic Christmas tunes while making and decorating sugar cookies under a sign that read “Merry Christmas”.  Trainees and volunteers were split into food teams and helped prepare the meal throughout the day – macaroni and cheese, green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy, salad and pork (although we are living in a Muslim country, there are a sprinkling of Christians around and many of them raise pigs)!

We setup the tables in the dining hall end to end to create one big “dining room table,” so that we were all able to eat together.  After stuffing ourselves with delicious food and exchanging secret Santa gifts, we topped off the night with a viewing of “Love Actually” and fell asleep with visions of sugarplums in our heads, haha!  It was a wonderful way to spend my last Christmas in Mali.

New Year’s Eve was also quite fun, but very different from any other NYE of my past.  There is a backyard bar a short walk from the training center.  This classy establishment, which we lovingly refer to as “The Trashpile” is literally someone’s backyard that happens to serve Malian beers, gin in plastic bags and boxes of wine.  After dinner, about 45 of us made our way there to toast to the ups and downs of 2011 and wish each other well in 2012. 

Around 11:30, we walked back to the training center and setup speakers in one of the outdoor training areas to dance away the rest of 2011.  Our countdown took place sometime between 11:55 and 12:05 (cell phones here are programmed manually, not by satellite, so we all different ideas about the exact moment when the clock struck midnight, haha) and we continued dancing our way into 2012.

Although much less glamorous than past New Year’s celebrations, it felt fitting to ring in 2012 – the last year of my service – at the place where my Peace Corps journey began. 

I am certain the year ahead will bring many challenges, but that it will also present many opportunities.  I plan to use the remainder of my time in-country to further connect with the Malian culture and build stronger relationships with its people.  I hope to see improvements in my partner organization, Si Teriw, and its members.  I look forward to holding more small trainings and planting seeds of change in my community.  I’m also prepared to use this time to further hone my ideas about international development, foreign aid, and social policy and determine what role I can play in continuing to make the world a better place for all people, “dooni, dooni.”

Albeit a bit late, I’d like to make this toast to 2012 – May your new year be filled with manageable challenges and plentiful opportunities; may you have success in all of your endeavors; may you be blessed with health and happiness; and may you recognize each day as a gift and make the most of it.  Cheers!

Bolo ci nafa ka bon!

I was recently asked to write a guest post for the blog of the UK-based advocacy organization, RESULTS UK.  You can see the original post (plus pictures!) here or scroll down to read the post in-full on my blog.  Enjoy!

—–

About four months into my service as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mali, West Africa, I started visiting the Centre de Santé Communautaire (CSCOM), or local health center.  Before joining the Peace Corps, my work in Washington, DC was primarily focused on health care issues – chronic disease prevention, domestic health care reform, HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment locally and abroad.  Although I had not been placed as a health care volunteer, I was curious about the Malian health care system and it seemed that the easiest place to get a read on it was at the ground level.

I met with the resident doctor at the center and he suggested that I come in on one of three days a week women bring their babies to the health center to get vaccines.  I agreed and anxiously awaited the visit.

When I arrived, I sat in the corner of the waiting area. My shaky Bambara skills prevented me from having very long conversations with people, so I took the opportunity to simply observe.

The CSCOM was packed with Malian women, dressed to impress, with babies tied to their backs.  Although there were many things about the health center that didn’t impress me – including, but not limited to, the chickens who seemed to call the health center home – I was impressed with the shear number of women who were taking advantage of the vaccination services.

It seemed as if they all knew what to do.  One by one they would walk into the center and greet everyone, give their baby’s vaccination card to the nurse, and sit, chat and wait until they heard their name called.

Fast forward to now, 17 months into my service, and I can still be found at the local health center each Wednesday and Friday (although not sitting in the corner, but chatting with the women, making jokes and playing with the babies). On each day I’ve gone to the center, there have certainly been no less than 30 women waiting to have their babies vaccinated against nine preventable diseases – Yellow Fever, Tuberculosis, Meningitis, Hepatitis B, Tetanus, Polio, Diphtheria, Rubella, and Measles.

Everyone in my community seems to know that vaccines are important.

This might appear a simplistic observation, but because many things that I would consider health no-brainers, like washing hands with soap and sleeping under a mosquito net to help prevent malaria, are certainly not common practice in my community, it surprises me that having children vaccinated is considered essential.

This fact begs an answer to the question, “How do people just know?”

For the answer I turned to my host mother, who is the birth mother to more than 10 children and, because she is the first of four wives, serves as a mother to more than 30 children.  I thought that she would be able to provide an answer with which many women in my community would agree, as she fits the profile of the average woman at my site – not formally educated, mother to many children and very busy with house work.  How would she know to prioritize vaccinations to keep her children healthy?

So I asked her, “Munna I be I ka denmisenw taa dokotorso la ka bolo ci?” or “Why do you take your children to the doctor to get vaccines?”  I thought that her answer might be short and sweet, but she had too much information to share for a short answer.

She began by saying, “Bolo ci nafa ka bon, de!” or “The importance of vaccinations is very big!”  After, she proceeded to tell me six of the nine diseases against which vaccines could protect children; she showed me a scar on her arm as proof that she too had been vaccinated as a child (against small pox, which, thanks to a mass vaccination program was eradicated in the late 1970s); she told me that each of her children has a vaccination card that details which vaccines they were given; and she said that if your children get the vaccines, they won’t get these very bad diseases, “a baana,” or “that’s all.”

I followed up by saying, “Mogow bee b’a don?” and she agreed, “Owo, mogow bee b’a don” – yes, everyone knows.

Although this confirmed my theory that everyone seems to know that vaccines are important, it didn’t point to a direct reason why.  I am convinced it is for the following reasons:

  • Vaccination campaigns have been taking place in developing countries for decades. Because these programs have been in existence for such a long time, most people making family health care decisions have had access to information about the importance of vaccines.  People know the benefits, and there is communal pressure to make vaccinations a priority.
  • Vaccines are a silver bullet, of sorts.  Although certainly not a silver bullet for attaining overall health or for preventing poverty, vaccines are simple – get a shot and prevent a disease.  Because people are able to see the efficacy of vaccines, they believe that they work as advertised.
  • In Mali, vaccinating your children is relatively inexpensive and the benefits far outweigh the cost. At the first vaccination, the mother is presented with a yellow card for recording vaccinations in exchange for 750 CFA (about $1.50).  After this initial payment the remainder of the vaccines are free, meaning that the cost of each vaccination comes out to about 15 cents.
  • Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings at the CSCOM provide an opportunity to rest and socialize with other women.  Vaccination days provide a social outlet for women, who dress themselves and their children in their best clothes to come together, chat and drink tea while waiting for their name to be called.  Malians will do anything for an opportunity to socialize…

Certainly my experience with vaccination programs has been at the micro level, but the story of vaccination adoption worldwide is similarly positive – my story could likely be told by Peace Corps volunteers serving throughout the developing world.

The most recently updated World Health Organization (WHO) statistics (http://www.who.int/immunization_monitoring/Global_Immunization_Data.pdf) for worldwide vaccinations, provide staggering proof to back up this claim.

For example, in 1988 the estimated number of global polio cases was 350,000.  The number of reported polio cases in 2010 was 1,410.  This significant decrease in polio cases is due to the 86 percent global coverage of infants vaccinated with three doses of polio vaccine.  I am optimistic that polio will be eradicated in my lifetime – and many believe it will be as early as 2020.

Although this, and many other statistics are encouraging, there is also an notable gap to fill. In 2008, 1.7 million children died from diseases preventable by vaccines currently recommended by WHO.  Too many lives are still being lost due to lack of access to vaccines.

As we enter year three of the “Decade of Vaccines” (http://www.gatesfoundation.org/vaccines/Pages/decade-of-vaccines.aspx) there is incredible momentum worldwide to increase access to currently available vaccines and to engage in research that can lead to the next generation of lifesaving vaccines.  It is important that we use this momentum to work together and dedicate sufficient funding to these programs.

Preventing, and eventually eradicating, the diseases that have plagued the developing world for generations is within our reach. By funding vaccine programs, we have the potential to help create healthier populations that can learn, work, create and aspire to a life of prosperity.  The people of Mali, and all other developing countries, deserve that opportunity.

For additional information on vaccine programs, research and dialogue, turn to the following resources:

 

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