not as gross as it looks
iIn my interviews the last couple of days I have seen some really neat things in Goma. On a visit yesterday to a school that trains high school students for health careers (you don't have to go to college to be a nurse here), the director showed me their garden. The school runs a pilot project for the use of medicinal plants, so they have aloe and all kinds of other plants and trees growing out behind their classrooms. This is a type of algae that helps combat malnutrition, and that helps HIV/AIDS patients to gain weight. After the algae grows, they dry it and reduce it to a powder, then use the powder to make pills. The problem is that it's pretty expensive, but it was so intriguing to meet someone who is trying to come up with a sustainable project that works according to local norms. Also, the director is super-nice and even sent me home with lemongrass to make tea.
This morning I talked to someone from a Congolese NGO that is supported by the American NGO Population Services International. They are engaged in something called "social marketing" of health-related products. If I understand it correctly, the idea is that they try to normalize the use of things like mosquito nets, water purification systems, and condoms. The organization does give away goods to those in need, but they focus on marketing these products to a general audience with a goal of changing behavioral norms.
One of the things I love about Africa is the fusion of old ideas with new, and the incredibly creative attempts of different groups to make life better. PSI's idea is that you can use the tools that businesses use to get people to change their behavior. The nursing school's idea is that it might be easier and better to treat some patients plants that can be locally grown rather than relying entirely on imports from Europe and India. I'm willing to bet that their efforts will have a much longer-lasting impact than many of the projects carried out by other NGO's here.