Training Champions: Bringing POL to Africa

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I held my first training in Zambia on October 17th, 2015, training a total of 12 community leaders on Malaria and proper bednet checks in each of their catchment zones and villages.

Peace Corps Zambia is currently holding a challenge for the months of October and November, right as we enter rain season, called the “10,000 Bednet Check Challenge.” And it’s as simple as it sounds: check 10,000 bednets in October and November. The challenge itself is countrywide and is open to all current Peace Corps volunteers in Zambia. We have over 200 volunteers currently in country, so it sounds totally doable to me. Peace Corps volunteers are asked to work with community members and/or counterparts to go household to household and check bednets (or LLINs, long-lasting insecticidal nets, it you want to get technical), hang up any bednets that need to be hung, fix any bednets that need to be fixed, take an inventory of how many bednets are still needed in the household, and provide health education sessions on Malarial transmission, prevention, testing, and treatment.

As the challenge was announced, I was motivated and excited to participate; to check as many bednets as I could in my gigantic catchment area. I thought, “10,000 bednets + 200 volunteers = 50 bednets each. Easy.” And then I thought about good ol’ sustainability. If I were to just do the bednet checks myself with a community member or counterpart, sure, it would help in the immediate sense, but what about 6 months from now? 1 year later? How about when I’m finished with my service and no longer in Zambia? I thought, “How can I take this challenge and make it sustainable?” After a few minutes, it clicked. POL!

POL, Popular Opinion Leader, was a CDC intervention and strategy we adapted and used at my previous place of employment back in the states, A&PI Wellness Center, in many of our programs to reach hard-to-reach individuals and groups by identifying, training, and motivating POLs, or popular, influential people in these specific target groups to disseminate heath information, as well as model and teach healthy behaviors. By doing so, we were able to help those who would have otherwise continued to fall through the cracks. “I’m going to adapt POL for this bednet challenge,” I thought, “and identify, train, and motivate community leaders in each of my catchment area zones so that this not only becomes more sustainable, the total number of bednet checks from our catchment will be higher than if it was just me doing the bednet checks solo.”

I went to the drawing board and started planning the training from scratch. Let me just say, having a computer, printer, and/or copy machine is a true gift from God when planning something like a training. Unfortunately, I had none of these things in my fingertips before the day of the training. You know what that means? Writing everything by hand. EVERYTHING. This includes spreadsheets, surveys, and documents that each POL needed to have to be successful. My right hand was surely seconds from falling off the night before the training.

The training agenda (or timetable, as they like to call it here) was fairly simple and straightforward:

830-900: Opening Prayer, Group Agreements, Group Expectations, Timetable

900-910: Activity #1: Can I Get Your Autograph? (Transmission)

910-940: Malaria and Bednet Check Pre-Test

940-1000: Introduction of Malaria, Activity #2: That “Yarn” Mosquito! (Transmission)

1000-1035: Transmission, Human and Mosquito Malaria Cycles, Group Teach-backs

1035-1045: Break & Refreshments

1045-1115: Prevention, Community Effect, Activity #3: Malaria River (Prevention)

1115-1130: Testing and Treatment, Activity #4: Catch Me If You Can! (Treatment)

1130-1150: Bednet Checks, Spreadsheets and Surveys, Health Education Topics

1150-1200: Break & Refreshments

1200-1230: Bednet Check Role Plays

1230-1300: Malaria and Bednet Post Test, Questions, Closing Prayer

15 community leaders registered/signed up, 12 attended and finished the training. Not a bad turn-out at all! And by the looks of the Pre-Test and Post-Test results, all 12 participants learned and took away all the key points of the training that I wanted them to take away. The training went as smoothly as it could have, making me very happy and proud of how everything turned out, despite the lack of sleep and aching right hand. I now had 12 Malaria and Bednet Check Champions trained and ready to do good work and help fight against Malaria in our community. And because our province, Northwest Province, currently has the highest rates of Malaria incidence, this could not have come at a better time.

Future plans? See how everything goes this first round, and if all goes well, I’ll go ahead and train each of the six catchment zones’ NHCs (Neighborhood Health Committees) and create even more Champions to join our team. Wish me luck!

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