Africa Madagascar Peace Corps The Nomadic Life

Teaching and Translating with Operation Smile [photos]

My mantra of late seems to be “Oh my god, so many children… somanychildren somanychildren somanychildren.” As I mentioned in previous posts, they’re everywhere. Not only do I live on the middle school compound, but Madagascar just seems to have more of these little people than I’m used to.

This past week has been different. It’s been a continuation of the “somanychildren” mantra, but more positive. Along with about 9 other Peace Corps Volunteers and some talented Malagasy English-speakers, I have been helping to translate for an internationally diverse team of Operation Smile doctors, nurses, and dentists in Antananarivo. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Operation Smile, it’s a charity organization that gives free surgery to people (mostly children under the age of 10) with cleft lips and cleft palates. All of it is funded by donation, and all of the doctors, nurses, dentists, and translators are generously volunteering their time. Though they have been coming back to Madagascar for several years, this year has been particularly exciting for Operation Smile Madagascar. They have officially decided to do two missions a year in Madagascar – one in Antananarivo and one on the east coast in Tamatave. Furthermore, they have a large group of Malagasy nurses and doctors observing so that in the future they’ll be able to independently perform the operations. Oh, and that’s not it. Patient turnout has been phenomenal. We screened nearly 550 patients last week to see if they qualified for surgery.

The Peace Corps volunteers involved in this mission are mostly assigned to one section of the process to translate between Malagasy patients and the English-speaking doctors. I of course, have to go off and do something teacherly. One other volunteer and I weren’t put in the O.R. or paired with a dentist, but assigned to the “student team”. Yeah, you’re probably thinking “I thought we were talking about hospitals, surgeries, and all that medical junk, what’s going on?”

Well, our position means we are working with two high school students from South Africa to and talk to schools in Antananarivo about nutrition. Each morning the South African students, the other PCV – my friend and stage-mate, Mariana — a student team coordinator, and I set out to the day’s school. We leave, arms full of colorfully drawn posters with song lyrics and pictures of the go, grow, and glow food groups (one of which has a vaguely blobish looking brown thing in the glow food group that the Malagasy students keep thinking is a potato. We’re terrible teachers misleading them like that, I know, but we have plans to replace the brown blobish thing with an orange blobish thing and call it tropical fruit.) Both schools we have visited so far were elementary schools and the kids were freaking adorable. I don’t usually get such a high concentration of cute, semi-well behaved kids and I can’t help but suppress an “awwww!” before I make our introductions.

When done, we zip back to the hospital as fast as the terrible Tana traffic will allow us to zip, to translate. For a few hours this afternoon, I sat in the post-op, where all the kids (and some adults) freshly arriving from surgery first came. My task involved fetching the patients’ guardians, explaining their children’s situation – they’re waking up, they may have blood on their mouth – then walking them to the recovery room. For the most part, the parents were stoic and didn’t show much excitement, but still it was amazing to see the transformations of the children from before to after their surgeries. For once I’m okay with all the children surrounding me. Operation Smile is a fantastic organization and makes clear and immediate differences in the lives of their patients and their families.

But it’s late here and Operation Smile isn’t over yet… meaning, I’m tired and I have to wake up at the crack of dawn (literally). So enjoy the photos from Monday.

Oh and P.S. Being in an African hospital at night with half-lit hallways is rather creepy.

Photos: (1) Kid learning how to use anesthetics by blowing bubbles (2) Our elementary school student audience (3) Antananarivo (4) Students filing in (5) Mother and baby waiting for pre-screening (6) Mother feeding her baby water in post-op (7) Nurse and mother in the post op room with a baby who received cleft lip surgery
Update [March 22, 2013]: Thank you to Operation Smile for reposting this on their website!
Africa Madagascar Peace Corps The Nomadic Life

Getting Books For Madagascar

It’s been awhile.

The introduction of any guilty blogger who has gone off and done something other than tinker with the internet for a too-long period of time. For the past month or so I’ve been teaching, biking, and taking the occasional day trip to Antsirabe for a decent cup of coffee or beer and getting into the groove of a more settled daily-weekly routine.

And then, the other day, something snapped. Maybe it’s the explosion of endorphins thanks to a huge file of workout videos a friend gave me, or maybe I’ve just hit that mythical point in a Peace Corps Volunteer’s service where we start to feel less confused and more confident in our places in our communities. A point where you ramble off a string of curses in your 2nd, 3rd, or 4th language at the local bus driver for trying to charge you 50 cents more than he should without batting an eye. A point where stuff is happening. A point where I find myself craving rice, beans, and tangerines… not bagels and coffee. Out of seemingly nowhere, I feel settled.

To add on to this confidence that “stuff is happening,” 17 fellow PCVs and I finally got approval from Peace Corps Washington about a project to bring in a whole shipping container (that’s literally, TONS) of books and 16 computers. The crate sits in the states waiting for us to raise enough funds (roughly $20,000, of which $4,000 has been raised in the past week) to cover the international and domestic shipping and customs fees. Some of us are building libraries and instating librarians for the occasion. The books that end up in my town will go to the already running English Center, which presently has one bookshelf full of the novels left behind by previous PCVs and an OK collection of textbooks. The hole I’m trying to fill is our lack of childrens books like Dr.Seuss, Where The Wild Things Are, or even an English version of the simple but captivating The Little Prince. What I hope is that once the donations arrive we can have story time or run a competition to see who can read the most books; essentially to create a love of literature so rarely cultivated and in existence in the developing world.

I adore books and if you do too, why don’t you throw a couple dollars our way, pass the word to friends, or take a few seconds to tweet about it? Donate Here.