When I first got to my village a little less than two years ago, one of the first thing they told me is: “Drew, we need help on family planning.” And it was true, roughly 12% of eligible individuals used some type of family planning tool. There were a couple of reasons for this: 1) there are a lot of misconceptions about family planning in my village such as, if you start family planning you can’t stop. If you use family planning you won’t have enough people to work in the fields come rainy season. It’s too expensive. It’s dumb, etc.
Since this was clearly a problem we started trying to tackle it- by informing people about the misconceptions of family planning, of the dangers of having a family that’s too big, and of the changing stereotype that yes, a big family is good but a smaller more well nourished and educated family is better.
Some people took the message to heart and our numbers climbed a bit. Other people didn’t hear the message and some just ignored it- such is life. Along the way though, I was luckily enough to meet someone (Adolphe) who works for Marie Stopes International- a non-governmental organization (NGO) that works exclusively with family planning. Their plan is pretty simple- they give family planning methods for a reduced fee and they go to different villages to teach people about them, and then do the procedure.
I started calling Marie Stopes (about once every 10 days) to see if they could get a team to my village and just look around to see if we qualify. Even though they kept saying, “We’ll call you back” and I never heard anything I kept calling because my nurses were getting kind of excited about it.
My new buddy, Adolphe and I started talking and I kept impressing the fact that family planning isn’t something my village does well. While we were at a training called Men As Partners together we decided that we would do a project together and that he would come to my village to talk about family planning to students- because we had done it with another volunteer a few times and it had turned out to be pretty successful.
The day finally came and I had scheduled to do everything at the school- they had actually said that they wanted me to come to the school for a while and that, even though I asked every other week when I could come and help, they still had not been able to find a date. Despite the fact that I had confirmed the date and time 24 hours before at 8AM the director called me to tell me we had to cancel. Apparently there were tensions regarding a family planning talk among the teachers so we could not go. Adolphe and I were super bummed out over this new development especially since he had come all the way from to village to make it work.
Never fear though, everything is useful in some way and I used this failed class as an opportunity to show how much help my village needs in family planning. Adolphe toured our facilities (not so shabby by village standards) and saw our numbers (very shabby) and talked to the nurses. As he was leaving he said he would make sure a family planning team came to my village because we really needed the help.
A few weeks later Adolphe came back with awesome news. It was great to see him even though we were in the middle of a mosquito net census. Even with the unfortunate timing, this project was important to my village and to me so I was able to do both projectsThe Marie Stopes team would be coming in a week. We informed all the important people including a lot of religious leaders who all were incredibly supportive of our endeavor and agreed to round up some women (and men) so we could talk to them about family planning 24 hours later.
The next day we spoke to roughly 75 women about family planning and Marie Stopes, we spoke to some in the chief’s courtyard (thus helping to convince him that I actually do things) and some at the Imam’s courtyard. The pastor promised to mention us during his sermon too- all in all- some very good press.
When the team finally did come we didn’t get the numbers that Marie Stopes. Only 30ish women showed up. But now Marie Stopes comes and does this every month and they keep pushing our numbers higher. And, any improvement is a good thing.
While I had very little to do with the implementation of the actual family planning aspect of this- I was very excited to have laid the groundwork through my work with Marie Stopes. It allowed an NGO that already operates in Burkina Faso to do more sustainable work in my village. There may be a volunteer after me, and they may be really interested in family planning. Or, they might not. If they were not, any positive behavior changes might not continue if a volunteer created project fails. But, with Marie Stopes; they are an organization that has proven their competency and is unlikely to go anywhere.
It also serves as a lesson that staying at site all the time might not be the most beneficial way to go about a Peace Corps service. This is a common debate among people actually. Some people say that on order to be trusted by the community you need to be there and you need to be integrated. I agree with this statement. However, I also think that getting out of site from time to time is extremely helpful because it allows you to make connections that you wouldn’t have made otherwise. Peace Corps is partly about making connections. Group 1 has problem x. Group 2 has the skills and resources to solve problem x. PCV knows both groups and can put them in contact so they can solve the problem together- and create sustainable change.
Hopefully through continued collaboration, Marie Stopes and my village will be continue to create long term, sustainable change in my village long after I am gone.