Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Let There Be Light!

When my predecessor first moved to Adourekoman in 2014, she dreamed of bringing solar powered light to the the village health center.  Two years later, this dream has finally come true.

After many village wide meetings, getting buy-in from all of the village elders and their respective families, I submitted a funding request to the Peace Corps to purchase solar panels, a refrigerator and delivery bed for the health center.  The solar panels would allow for light fixtures throughout the center, including in the delivery and consultation rooms, where staff often used cell phone flashlights to illuminate the area.  We churned through batteries that then got tossed in a growing trash pile behind the center; it was not a sustainable solution.  With the panels, we could also purchase a fridge to provide vaccinations in village.  Now, villagers won't have to travel to vaccinate their children and we will be able to vaccinate newborns right after their delivery.  It's been a long process, but it's been wonderful to see this dream come to fruition and watch my community come together and work towards improving health care in Adourekoman.  

Once the grant request was submitted, it was posted online for fundraising.  With the help of friends, family and countless RPCVs from Benin, we met our funding goal.  With the funds, we were able to begin construction of a raised platform for the panels and order caging units for the batteries to protect them from theft, hungry goats and rock pelting children.  One morning, Fortune and I left village at 4 am to travel with our solar panel technician to Cotonou, where we purchased the panels, regulators, converters, batteries, lightbulbs and dozens of meters of cable.  

Back in village, the technician called in his team and immediately got to work setting up the panels and wiring the lights.  The villagers contributed to constructing the platform and spoke to the metalsmith to order the frame.  Within a couple hours, the first lightbulb was installed and illuminating the consultation room, where the staff was already busy conducting prenatal consultations.  Later that day, lights were placed in the delivery room and waiting area, where patients often rest or visitors wait for their loved ones at night.  I was so impressed by how well the community was driving this project and loved watching Fortune take on the role of Project Manager in the field.  

Now that the panels and lights are installed, we are starting with the next phase of the project.  We are waiting on the fridge to arrive, but I am working to train the health center staff on hand washing in the clinical, the importance of vaccinations and the diseases that they prevent here in Benin. I also found a great educational video that discusses vaccinations in the context of Voodoo, a religion that is practiced throughout my community.  By pairing traditional and modern medicine, we can address women's concerns and assure them that vaccinations are truly critical to their child's health. 

While watching the lights switch on for the first time has been one of my highlights while here in Benin (it was accompanied by shrieks from children as they watched the room go from darkness to illumination), nothing beats welcoming the first child born at night in the newly lit maternity ward. Having sat with her mother for the last several months and given her advice on maternal nutrition and her birthing plan, it was an absolute joy to welcome Marrlyn to my Adourekoman family.  I can't wait for more babies to enter this world and receive quality health services from the start.

One of the most important lessons I've learned as a Peace Corps Volunteer is that our role here is to support and motivate our communities.  Despite the grand visions that we may have to improve the lives of those around us, it simply doesn't work that way.  We strive to build local capacity and provide our partners with the skills that they need to grow.  This project has taught me that, when working as a community, anything, even bringing light to a community living in total darkness, is possible.