This month 445 elementary school students are excited to be returning to school or starting school in Buhumba Village on Idjwi Island. There will be 252 boys and 193 girls in the six grades at the primary school.
It has been an exciting summer. In early August, our medical team returned to the school to examine and treat students. There is little medical infrastructure on the island, and many of the children only see doctors when they come to school. Our team consisted of a global health pediatrician and research specialist who were supported by a local nutritionist and other local representatives. The families lined up at the school to see the doctor. Our team spent a week at the school examining children -- more than 100 in total -- and treated students for intestinal parasites, malaria, and other conditions. Although much more is needed, our team was pleased to learn that our repeat visits and treatments have resulted in a noticeable improvement in the health among the students.
Clean water is also critical for the students' health and hygiene, and clean water is a scarce resource on Idjwi Island. The school has obtained access to water at a new well in a nearby village. We are researching methods for bringing water and installing plumbing at the school. In the meantime, the school is setting up temporary water stations outside of each classroom every day.
The students, teachers and community are thrilled about this third year in their new school building. We continue to have big plans, and appreciate the support of everyone who is helping to improve education for the growing student body.
I am sure you know that it's awfully hard to learn when you don't feel well. Kids in developing countries often carry illnesses in their bodies that don't make them outwardly sick, but can zap a kid's energy and upset their momentum. Many of these illnesses come from parasites in the soil, which are especially challenging to prevent because the kids don't have shoes. The illnesses can be treated by medicines - when available - but bare feet are easily re-infected. Part of our effort to keep our kids healthy is to provide the medicine when we can, and to cover kids' feet with shoes.
An important part of our effort with the kids on Idjwi Island is help them to learn by providing a secure environment, which was the construction of the new school building. The other piece is to keep them learning, and to achieve that goal, we must keep them as healthy as we can.
There is a saying in Swahili that goes "HABA NA HABA HUJAZA KIBABA" which translated literally means: little by little fills up the measure, but its' real meaning is that a great journey is begun by a single mile.
Our shoes are just a part.
In August 2017, the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai teamed with members of the Idjwi Island Education Fund community to initiate a pilot child health assessment in IIEF’s newly renovated Buhumba primary school. The new facility, equipped with wooden desks and chalkboards, presented an environment to screen, treat, and deworm school children. Our partnership with the school’s head master and teachers was essential to every aspect of this project; from identifying most in-need children, documenting their names, to assuring every child received each screening. Dr. Annie Sparrow, a Global Health physician, and myself, an Anthropologist, worked with a local nutritionist, Jacques, and medical student, Sammy. The IIEF provided critical logistical and translation support through its representatives on Idjwi, Jandah and Rodrigue.
Over the course of 4 days, a total of 87 students were assessed; 54 students from the Buhumba primary school and 33 students from Iko, a tiny island just south of Idjwi. The team stayed on Iko island, where we also spent the first day training and preparing. Sammy and Jacques learned to use the hemoglobinometer (to look for anemia, a sign of iron deficiency) and glucose tester, as well as the rapid malaria diagnostic test (RDT). The next days were spent at the Buhumba school, where we measured height, weight, arm circumference, glucose and hemoglobin counts, screened for malaria, conducted urine analysis to detect bladder infection and schistosomiasis (a parasitic infection children and adults catch from swimming in Lake Kivu), and concluded with a clinical examination. Distended stomachs, reflecting malnutrition, were visible in nearly every child.
The team treated all 49 girls and 37 boys, with an average age of 6-years-old, for intestinal worms, a highly common cause of the widespread malnutrition. The number of children with fever, clinical signs of malaria, or other infection, exceeded our expectations- we ran out RDTs. 44 children out of 72 tested positive for malaria falciparum, the most-deadly type, 19 boys and 25 girls. This was just over half of all children, and more than 60% of those tested. All 44 children were subsequently treated with AS-AQ treatment. Several children were also treated for schistosomiasis. A majority of the children’s soles of the feet were in poor condition. Cuts and sores on the soles of feet are a risk factor for developing podoconiosis, a disease appearing similar to elephantiasis, but which is caused by chronic exposure to tiny irritants in soil.
Malaria is a serious public health threat in this community. The teachers and head master confirmed that no one in the Buhumba village sleeps under a bed net, which we know is the single most useful item in preventing death and disease in children from malaria, as well as from other infectious diseases. Conical long-lasting insecticide treated bed-nets, which can protect several children at a time by easily hanging from the ceiling, along with proper education on why to use them, could be incredibly effective. While the IIEF has provided shoes for many students, it would be a valuable intervention to provide even more.
Our aim is to continue child health strategies in partnership with IIEF and the Buhumba primary school. In just four days, our team tightly bonded. Fostering cross-cultural connections is such a special and meaningful aspect of global health work. The warmth and kindness we endlessly experienced on the Island makes this difficult work so incredibly worth-while.
-Natalie Garland, MSc Social Anthropology
We have just completed a thrilling year at the Buhumba Village primary school on Idjwi Island. Nearly 500 kids finished the school year in the brand new classroom building, and we expect an even larger enrollment in the fall.
This spring, our leadership visited the school for a formal dedication ceremony with the school director, teachers, community and school leaders, and our local representatives. We saw how thrilled and proud the students are to have this new classroom building. We saw the ongoing construction of the new latrines that will be open in this fall. We learned that the enrollment in the early grades is growing so fast that we will need to build even more new desks. And we talked to the school community about its responsibility to continue to sustain the school and its programs.
This visit also helped us to focus our future efforts to provide the school with resources that will allow the children to thrive. We agree with the school leaders' recommendations that essential future programs will include the expansion and implementation of a public health/nutrition program, the construction of the administrative building. potable water, and teacher enrichment and training.
We are busy at work on these programs. We are currently planning a lengthy visit by our public health team to conduct thorough health assessments for the children, starting with the youngest kids. We will have more details to share soon.
We are excited that these kids have a worthy classroom building. We have lots more work to do. Thank you for joining us on this journey.
The families in Buhumba Village are preparing for a major event at l'Ecole Buhumba!
Early next month, the Education Minister from South Kivu and the King of Idjwi Sud Roger Ntambuka will be in Buhumba Village for a formal dedication of the new classroom building. They will be welcomed by the 500 primary school students, teachers, and community leaders. This important dedication will be followed by an education summit with directors of dozens of schools from across Idjwi Island.
A group of our leaders and representatives will attend this very important event. We will take this opportunity to meet with school and community leaders to review our current programs and additional construction that is underway (new latrines) and planned (completion of the administrative building).
We are thrilled that the children have a new classroom building that provides a better environment for learning and will make them proud - but we are not finished! We are continuing to work on facilities, programs, health care and nutrition at the school in order to provide the kids with real opportunity. We appreciate your interest and support.
The Idjwi Island Education Fund
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