A $5,200 diocesan SDG grant awarded to Ascension and Holy Trinity, Wyoming, last winter is equipping an impoverished community near Madagascar’s major port to prevent water-born infections – a major killer of children – and to reduce its burden of lung disease. At the time the grant was awarded, no one expected the global pandemic that would roar across the island in the spring of 2020. But a key element of the project – teaching hand-washing – is already saving lives.
The diocesan grant supports the newest Model Healthy Village of the Cincinnati-based Caring Response Madagascar Foundation, of which Dr. Huxley Miller, an infectious disease specialist and parishioner at A&HT, is a founding board member.
ONG St. Gabriel health educator Mme. Nirina showing the community how to use masks. Her assistant and model is her toddler daughter Armaelle, born in 2018.
Carried out by Mme. Nirina’s team, who are working with the Catholic non-profit ONG St. Gabriel, the project is providing hygiene education, water filters, hand-washing kits, and latrines for every household in Analamalotra, a wide-flung forest community with no running water or sanitation system. As part of the project, St. Gabriel also aims to provide every family with a locally-designed “ecological stove,” which prevents lung disease by venting cooking smoke above the house.
When Madagascar documented its first case of COVID-19 in early spring, the national government imposed a lockdown, crippling the day labor market on which the vast majority of people on the island depend for their livelihood. Risking their own safety, the project’s Malagasy health educators, led by Mme. Jeannette Nirina, went door to door throughout the community, handing out masks, soap, hand-washing kits, cooking oil, and rice, and explained how to wash hands effectively, since washing with soap destroys the virus.
The diocesan grant was earmarked for the ecological stoves. At $45 per stove, that will cover the cost for 115 of the 800 families of Analamalotra. These stoves were introduced in St. Gabriel’s previous Model Healthy Village. Within two years, asthma cases had dropped from 50.9% of the local clinic visits to 9.43%. Underlying lung disease is a major risk factor for becoming severely ill with COVID-19.
I got to interview some women in that community about their new stoves: they were extremely enthusiastic about how well they work for the cooking they do (two pots at a time, one large for rice and the smaller one for toppings), and the fact that the stoves burn efficiently with small branches easily collected from the forest floor, instead of requiring charcoal, which is expensive.
The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates how essential prevention is for Madagascar, which has one of the smallest per capita health care budgets of any country in the world. The Ministry of Health’s clinics and hospitals have virtually no capacity to treat gravely ill patients.
As the pandemic spread, Malagasy people were bombarded with misleading and contradictory information from their government, the radio, and other sources. They know and trust Mme. Nirina and her team, who were able to teach effective hand-washing techniques and the importance of wearing masks. The villagers of Analamalotra were thus equipped with the knowledge and supplies to take the most effective steps possible to prevent the spread of this deadly disease.
Founded by Brother Edwin Joseph, a Catholic friar from South India, ONG St. Gabriel’s team of Malagasy literacy teachers and health educators – most of them women – have won national renown for their success in teaching vital skills through which impoverished communities in and around Tamatave are gaining the ability to prevent water-borne diseases, improve their nutrition, achieve basic literacy and numeracy, and start their own small businesses.
The diocese’s SDG grants support projects that advance the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and involve members of Episcopal congregations in our diocese. The Madagascar project supports SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-Being), SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities), as well as SDG 13 (Climate Action), by allowing families to use forest scrap wood instead of charcoal for combustion. This removes an incentive for deforestation: cutting down trees to make charcoal.
Ariel Miller is a member of Ascension & Holy Trinity, Wyoming. Connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.