Pepperdine Voice Magazine
A New Voice in the Village
Improving HIV/AIDS Prevention in a Zambian Community
by Sarah Fisher
Visualize yourself surrounded by a protective circle of soldiers. An armed, angry attacker charges, and the soldiers fight to defend you. Now imagine that every soldier guarding you falls to the ground and you are left standing alone, exposed and weaponless. This is how HIV/AIDS cripples the body's immunity, and what Ginny Tedrow ('05) and her students play-acted during her time with the Peace Corps in Zambia.
After graduating from Pepperdine with a B.A. in psychology, Tedrow joined the Peace Corps for hands-on work in preventative health care. Nine weeks of training in the village of Mulilima prepared her to teach community members about HIV prevention, proper nutrition, how to live with HIV/AIDS, and how a mother can avoid spreading the infection to her children.
Tedrow spent two years working in a rural health clinic, serving 1,200 people in 14 nearby villages. Early in the mornings, she would leave the mud hut she shared with a host family to take a long bicycle ride to a village meeting. Word of mouth drew a crowd of attendees along the way. During the meetings Tedrow used dramatic examples like the soldier battle to train community educators in health basics; they in turn envisioned creative ways to teach others.
The goal was to train the community to keep the preventative programs going on their own. The training is a long-term process with few immediately visible results. "In preventative health care you don't see tangible results, which can be very frustrating. I'd teach skills to hundreds of children, and then see girls drop out and get pregnant," she recalls.
Unfortunately HIV/AIDS remains a stigmatized subject despite education and fundraising on a global level. "When I first went to Mulilima, no one would admit they were HIV positive," remembers Tedrow, who plans to earn a master's degree in public health. "But once one woman spoke up, about 300 other people did too. So we were able to start support groups with at least 40 people per group."
The key, Tedrow found, was tapping into the strong sense of community she encountered in Mulilima. On her first day in the village, Tedrow's new neighbor Dainess knocked on her door armed with potatoes, fish, and a plan to introduce her to everyone in the village. She shared with her local food, traditional ceremonies, and even the birth of village children. Dainess demonstrated the communication that Tedrow hopes will keep the HIV prevention lessons going long after her departure.
"When I left I gave her my Zambian cell phone, so we keep in contact," Tedrow says. "Dainess calls me at 1 a.m., not quite understanding the time difference. But I'll be in touch with her for the rest of my life."