I swore in as an official Peace Corps Togo Volunteer on August 5th only to be rushed off to my post village early the next morning. The title of this blog post means “I am a volunteer” in Ewe, the local language in most parts of Togo, Ghana and Benin. My post village is the tiny town of Tsinigan in the southern Plateaux region of Togo. If you want to try to find it on a map, don't because its not there. Your best bet would be to try to find Notse, which is my prefectural capital. Notse is about 100 km north of Lome and about 60 km south of Atakpame (the regional capital of Plateaux) along the route national. So do your best to find it, but don't count on because its not even on any of the maps here.
I am based in Tsinigan to work with the local “dispensaire” which consists of a nurse, a midwife and about 20 community health workers from Tsinigan and the surrounding villages. All in all, the Tsinigan health zone has supposedly 9,500 people but that number is suspect as there hasn't been a census in Togo since 1981.
The major health problems in Togo relate mostly to reproductive health and malaria. Reproductive health encompasses HIV prevention and family planning, which also plays a part in nutrition and overall development as less children means more money for food and other expenses to properly raise a family. The Plateaux region, as well as the Maritime region (the southern-most region which includes the capital and the Atlantic shoreline) are the rainiest regions and therefore are more susceptible to mosquitoes and malaria.
Nerd Sidenotes: Malaria is such a large problem in West Africa and Togo for several reasons:
1. There are four species of malaria parasites that infect humans and by far the most deadly is Plasmodium falciparum which is also most common in Togo.
2. Female mosquitoes transmit malaria by injecting saliva as an anticoagulant while taking a blood-meal, and the saliva contains the malaria parasites. The species of mosquito that is present in Togo (Anopheles gambiae) is also the species that is most efficient at transmitting malaria parasites.
3. There are many rumors about the way that malaria is transmitted such as: spending too much time in the sun, working in the fields, and eating too many mangoes. As a result, malaria is over-diagnosed and a lot of my work here will be concerned with proper diagnosis and treatment of malaria.
A final note about Togo:
Togo, like many developing countries is very patriarchal which is understandable as the men are usually the ones that do the manual labor and thus earn all the money. However, the women care for the children which can sometimes be 6-9 people yet they do not have the funds to pay for proper nutrition/health care/family planing/education for all the kids.
So, Peace Corps has come up with a new program called Men As Partners which comes on the heels of several women's empowerment programs that all had shortcomings because they did not include men. So Men As Partners hopes to introduce men to the benefits of seeing things from the woman's point of view.
Because of the general disparity between men and women in the Peace Corps, especially in the health sector, it is encouraged that male volunteers take a very proactive approach especially when it comes to involving local men in women's rights and health issues.
Luckily for me, my Peace Corps volunteer neighbors are ahead of the punch and are already planning a Men As Partners formation (training) in my prefectoral capital so I can hit the ground running and tag along with them.