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Spotsylvania man leads effort to protect sister city from malaria
A villager carries malaria-fighting mosquito nets in Prince's Town. The World Health Organization estimates the disease kills 200,000 African infants each year.
Frank Delano/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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Date published: 8/28/2007
"Local leadership is the key," he said. "The head committee is always the chief and his council. But when we come to a community, we ask them to choose among themselves their leaders for committees on health or the environment."
Women must play a vital role in the effort, he said.
"We train women to become health agents, who, in turn, will educate the rest of the villagers by visiting them at their houses for one-on-one health sessions.
"Women are the ones who spend the majority of the day with the children. Therefore, it is vital that they possess basic hygiene and medical knowledge on the predominant diseases in their villages.
"It's very important for knowledge to stay within the poor communities because it empowers them. It reduces the prevalence of disease, which ultimately saves lives, and fosters leadership and peace. Less poverty means less war.
"The most important thing is you don't come in and impose something. In doing that, you disenfranchise the poor."celebrating a gift
Late in the afternoon of July 10, hundreds of people turned out to greet him and his helpers at the raffia-walled grounds of the old Chief's Palace by the sea.
Splendid in their togas of bright African cloth, Chief Nana Kundumuah IV and his council of 14 family elders took their seats. Christian prayers were said. Libations were poured to honor the spirits of ancestors.
The town's awolebendo (ah-wo-lay-BEN-doh) group performed. The group's men pounded lengths of bamboo to create complex, tonal rhythms. The women, their dark shoulders decorated with white stripes of kaolin, circled in dance.
Coulibaly held a baby girl as he lectured the crowd on the causes of malaria and its prevention. The rapt crowd watched his helpers set up a mosquito net on sticks in the sand. A few eager children crawled in it.
"I would like to have one bed net," said a woman spectator in the crowd.
The sun had set when the chief presented Coulibaly and his sister Ernestine with sets of new African clothes. They went into a room to change into them.
The crowd cheered when they emerged in their new clothes. They cheered again when Coulibaly joined the circle of dancers. Cameras flashed. The children cheered each one.
It was a great occasion, Coulibaly said afterward.
"The people of Prince's Town changed it into a celebration. We see that across the continent. People appreciate the things they celebrate."
He said there was much work left for him to do in Prince's Town, but he had to return to his projects in Ivory Coast and, eventually, back home to Fredericksburg.
"Last summer, when I came to Africa, I went back to Fredericksburg with zero money. This year, I will go back with zero again," he said.For more information on Coulibaly and his work, empoweringthepoor.org. Frank Delano: 804/333-3834