Sunday, July 6, 2014

Flash Forward

The sun was just rising in Mambu as I climbed into Father Cosmas’ small Suzukui jeep.  After three house of dodging pot holes and leaving behind a large cloud of red dust, we arrived at our destination, Saint Peter and Paul’s Parish in Ndop.  I met Father Cosmas a few months prior to our excursion when I was working in Mambu  as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  As one of the few people who lived in Mambu, but not from Mambu, he helped me understand the mindset of the people.  We bonded as I complained to him the difficulties in mobilizing the community to repair their water system.  In the process we became friends and one day he invited me to speak at a youth retreat in Ndop about servant leadership.  After we spoke, we walked around the grounds and I was immediately struck by the cleanliness and peacefulness of the retreat center.  I thought to myself that someday it would be nice to return and stay longer than just a day.  Flash forward seven years and there I was, staying at the same retreat center, co-facilitating a training session with Peer Educators on promotion of exclusive breastfeeding.

Peer Educators teaching women in the market about breastfeeding

It was a cold, rainy afternoon in Melim when we finished a discussion with women about their beliefs and practices about breastfeeding.  Many interesting themes came from that discussion, including women emphasizing that they rely heavily of the nurse or midwife for information about how to feed their child.  When asked what information the nurse will provide, one participant said the nurse may tell them to drink palm wine to stimulate breastmilk flow.  Two important conclusions came from that discussion: first, a great song about breastfeeding that was used as the theme song in our audio program; second, that nurses in the area need further training in how to encourage and support women in breastfeeding.  Flash forward three years and there I was, co-facilitating a training with health workers on infant and young child feeding and learning a new song about the importance of breastfeeding.

Health workers singing a song about breastfeeding in Pidgin at the end of their training.  English Translation:  What is breastmilk?  Breastmilk is the best food for the child!  You wash your hands, you sit down, you give your child breastmilk.  You wash your hands, you sit down, you give your child breastmilk. 

“The possible answers are like a ladder.  If you very much agree with the answer, you will circle 5.  If you somewhat agree with the answer, you will circle 4, if you agree you will circle 3, if you somewhat disagree you will circle 2, if you really disagree, you will circle 1.”  That is how my assistant Gilbert tried to explain to a room full of mothers with small babies about how to answer a post-test with Likert scale questions.  No matter how he and I tried to explain the concept of a gradient of possible answers, I don’t think they ever quite understood. Instead, they just circled 3 or looked at whatever their neighbor was circling.  Flash forward three years and there I was working on a new survey about breastfeeding practices in preparation for training with data collectors.  This time all of the possible answers are either yes or no and the surveys will be completed in private. 

Data Collectors practicing interviewing caregivers for the Infant Feeding Survey

Data Collectors practicing taking a child's height

At the end of my trip to Cameroon I was reminded of all the mistakes I’ve made, the lessons learned, and the relationships built during the past eight years.  There is still so much about Cameroon that I don’t know or understand, but it is gratifying to be able to use what I have learned in the design and implementation of new projects.  I see now how some of those struggles and misunderstandings help me do my current job better.  I still am amazed at how I became involved in this country in the first place and how God continues to keep me involved through new grants and projects.  A few months ago I was trying to explain to a friend my involvement in Cameroon and said, “I didn’t choose Cameroon.  I didn’t grow up longing to go to Africa.  In fact, when I was a child and traveled to Canada with my family I was so relieved when we crossed the border back to the States.  It hasn’t always been easy and there are many days that I wish I wasn’t involved.  But as I look back and see how things have come together I know that it is my calling and task.” 

A calling is a deep sense that your very being is implicated in what you do.  You feel that you fit into the scheme of things when you do this particular work.  You have a sense of purpose and completion in the work. It defines you and gives you an essential tranquility.

Life at Work, Thomas Moore