Leaving things behind

“What are you going to leave behind?” is a question I have been asked my entire service. I usually respond with a simple “we will see,” but now that my time is dwindling down people are looking for a better answer.

I like to think I will leave behind great memories, trained individuals, and an empowered community; but that is not what they are asking.


Togo's sign for "give me"
They want to know what concrete thing will commemorate my two years of service—a building, new wells, give-aways, etc. In an attempt to stroke my ego they will sometimes add “if you do this project the community will talk about you for years.” 

Despite that I focused on these ‘non-concrete’ parts of my job, this week I initiated something to leave behind. It is not a building, nor anything else made of concrete but it should last a few good years on a concrete wall—it is a malaria mural.

I prefer not. I want people to implement the things I taught them so well that they forget how they learned them. Then I want that person to teach someone else who teaches another until the idea becomes a community mainstay.

If you are unfamiliar with this parasitic infection, like I was before coming to Togo, here are the facts: malaria is the number one cause of death in Togo and the number one killer of children under the age of 5 in Africa. 

It is transmitted through mosquito bites and the best way these can be prevented is by sleeping under a mosquito net. Statistics have shown that when 80% of the people in a community sleep under their mosquito nets, almost 100% of the becomes covered.
Supervising the beginning stages of the mural

Therefore, malaria is a major target of Peace Corps work throughout the continent. A recent initiative to eradicate the disease by 2015 has also inspired PCVs to tackle the problem in creative, new ways like illustrating its transmission on the sides of buildings.

I was able to piggy back on the project of one such PCV, who gave me all the materials to paint a mural with my community.

Though I personally never handled the money, I was apprehensive about doing a funded project—even if it was less than $50. There is a mixed understanding of funding in Togo (many regard it as free money rather than a means to an end) and I didn’t want to cloud that.

Nevertheless, I went for it and only ended up doing a minimal amount of work. I simply contributed the materials and made sure the kids were in line (with both their paining and attitudes).

Now there is a beautiful malaria mural on the side of their middle school building. It might not last until the kids that painted it move on to high school, but for the record—I left something behind.
The finished mural

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