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International Women's Day March 8th

The Way of the Woman

Is All Ways

The U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) VectorLink Project promotes gender equity at every level of indoor residual spray (IRS) operations. IRS treats the inside walls of homes with long-lasting insecticides; it kills mosquitoes and disrupts the transmission of malaria. To celebrate International Women’s Day the PMI VectorLink Project is highlighting just a few of the women working hard to protect those most vulnerable from malaria. From supervisors to spray operators to truck drivers, women are doing it all.

Veronica Chembezi, an IRS operations site manager in Malawi, says thanks to her position people now see her as a leader.

For Veronica Chembezi, the opportunity PMI VectorLink has given her is translating into real change. In Malawi’s Nkhotakota District, where PMI sprays, Veronica supervises the Ngala operational site.

With the income she is earning, Veronica plans to finish school and invest in businesses. She wants to buy agricultural products, such as rice and maize, to grow and sell; become an agent for a mobile telephone company; and invest in a bicycle that she can rent out as a taxi.

“A bicycle taxi will employ other people. I wouldn’t be able to do any of this without this job.” Veronica says. “As a woman, I’m proud to show other women that as females we can do this. There’s nothing that can stop us. Thanks to this project, people do not think of me as just a lady, but as a leader.”
Sony Yean is leading the way for women in entomology in Cambodia as an entomological technician.

The number of men working in entomology far outweighs the number of women. Sony Yean hopes to change that. In 2020, Sony joined the PMI VectorLink Project as an entomological technician in Cambodia, where she coordinates and supervises field activities at the sentinel site in the remote Stung Treng Province. Sony helped to select and establish the field site. When the project started its field activities in October 2020, she coordinated with implementing counterparts and the local community mosquito collectors. As a field supervisor, she works late at night to make sure mosquito traps and collections at the sentinel site are properly set up

Recently, Sony took over the responsibilities in Mondulkiri Province as well. Sony, whose family supports her work and commitment to the project, encourages other young women to aspire for positions that go beyond the traditional roles of women in her community.

Argentina Carlos Muringo defies traditional gender roles, driving trucks for the PMI VectorLink Project since 2017.

Since 2017, Argentina Carlos Muringo has transported PMI VectorLink spray operators to their operational sites in Mozambique. Argentina also helps to mobilize communities in Maganja da Costa District since she speaks the local language. The PMI VectorLink Project often assigns her to communities that tend to refuse IRS because she’s so good at convincing community members to open their homes for IRS.

Argentina is often assigned to hard-to-reach areas where the team camps overnight because she helps oversee SOPs after the workday ends. Indeed, the Maganja spray team refers to her as “mama” (mother of the team) and the other drivers call her their team leader. Argentina, a mother of three, uses part of her earnings to pay for her two daughters’ college fees, ensuring even better income-earning opportunities for a new generation of young women.

An IRS District Coordinator in Ghana, Grace Ayijunu demonstrated compassion and leadership when she cared for and supported Latifa (right) who suffered serious burns in an accident.

A District Operations Coordinator in Ghana, Grace Ayijunu oversees IRS in Mamprugu Moaduri District. Since starting this managerial position in 2018, Grace has coordinated the district’s IRS campaign, spraying more than 24,000 structures across 47 communities.

Recently, Grace went beyond the call of duty to care for and support a young girl who needed medical help. During IRS supervision in the 2020 campaign, young Latifa was found in an unsprayed room suffering from second degree burns after falling backwards into a pot of boiling water six days earlier. The VL team called in health personnel from the local health center to examine her, and she was referred to a major hospital, nearly three hours away. Grace followed Latifa to the hospital and stayed in touch with the doctors during Latifa’s one-month stay. Latifa’s medical condition came at a cost her family could not afford. With support from colleagues, Grace settled the bill and provided money for relatives who took turns to provide care during Latifa’s admission.

Today, Latifa is healthy and strong, and Grace has been given the name ‘Mma’ (“mother” in the Mampruli language) by Latifa’s grandmother. Grace’s compassion to respond to the plight of her community shows true leadership.

Beatrice Ahou Koukou showed her male colleagues on the PMI VectorLink Project that women are leaders in roles traditionally given to men.

In Cote d’Ivoire’s Nguessan Pokoukro District, Beatrice Ahou Kouakou shows everyone that spray operator is as much a woman’s job as a man’s. As a community health worker, Beatrice was the only woman among the 19 people selected to participate in PMI VectorLink’s five-day spray operator training.

At the beginning of the training and after introducing herself, the male participants laughed at Beatrice and asked her to withdraw from the training because they believed that women should not be involved in spray operations. At first intimidated, Beatrice hardly participated in answering theoretical questions and practical exercises. Thanks to the two SOP trainers’ encouragement, Beatrice gained the confidence and motivation needed to be among the 13 selected spray operators. During IRS operations, Beatrice proved herself quickly when numerous households refused to have their homes sprayed. She successfully negotiated with those homeowners to accept IRS and demonstrated her leadership qualities.

As a result, in one community the team's performance improved with the average number of structures sprayed increasing from 8 and 10 homes in one day. She was so well-received that in some villages heads of households demanded that she spray their homes. While a curiosity for some in the community, many women took pride in seeing that IRS is not an activity reserved exclusively for men. At the end of the campaign, Beatrice was given the title of “best applicator.” Her leadership was so admired by the rest of the team that the supervisors, site manager, and team leaders all unanimously wished her luck in being promoted to team leader in the next IRS campaign.

PMI VectorLink Project District Storekeeper Bernadette Mwika Kalumbi (left) with PMI VectorLink Gender Advisor Abigail Donner. Bernadette has risen in the ranks since joining the project team in Rwanda in 2015, showing other women the potential of career advancement.

In Rwanda’s Ngoma District, Bernadette Mwika Kalumbi’s days are long and start early during IRS campaigns. From 4:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Bernadette serves as PMI VectorLink’s District Storekeeper, receiving, inspecting, counting, dispatching, reconciling and reporting supplies, equipment and insecticide. Bernadette is no stranger to the long days of IRS campaigns as she started working as a sector supervisor in 2015. Thanks to her high performance, since that time, the project has promoted her twice. In this seasonal role, Bernadette was one of four storekeepers who assisted PMI VectorLink in its effort to pilot insecticide serialization and barcode digital scanning in Ngoma District. The feedback she provided on the pilot led to system improvements.

As a result, the system was rolled out to 48 operational sites in Rwanda’s August – September 2020 spray campaign. Bernadette has seen the rewards of her work with reduction of paperwork previously used to manage insecticide inventory and more efficiency in the daily tracking of chemicals at the operational site level. Bernadette demonstrates to other women the potential of career advancement.

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