Synergy For A Cause
Guinea worm disease is as unsightly as it is unpleasant to those afflicted by it. Essentially, it’s a parasitic infection caused by the ingestion of Guinea worm larvae from contaminated, typically stagnant sources of water. As these larvae mature and grow, they physically emerge from the body leaving behind painful lesions on the skin that incapacitate sufferers for months on end.
Although the disease itself isn’t particularly deadly or fatal in its own right, the lesions it leaves behind open up opportunities for outside infection. To stave off the chances for Guinea worm disease, all one needs to do is filter their drinking water through some type of fabric or cloth.
The Peace Corps partnered with The Carter Center and their Guinea Worm Eradication Program to promote education around the disease and its prevention. Education is just one part of the battle, though, as efforts to fight off Guinea worm disease require an all-out change in behavior.
“It’s the easiest thing in the world to prevent and avoid, and it’s also the hardest,” Alice explained. “The insect will be filtered out just through a piece of cloth. You don’t need high-tech, you don’t need anything; you just have to change your habits.”
Her task was simple. On yet-to-be forged paths in the bush, Alice biked and macheted her way through dense forest areas to villages where she’d speak with the people about the dangers of Guinea worm disease and how to prevent it. Over and over, she set off in hopes of making a change as best she could, but the task at hand seemed impossibly daunting.
“Sleeping on the dirt, under the stars, surrounded by corn, then get up and do it again,” she said. “And you’re thinking, ‘I am not making a difference, like, at all.’”
Yet, her efforts wouldn’t go unnoticed, nor would those of her fellow volunteers.
In 1986, around 3.5 million people around the world were afflicted by Guinea Worm Disease. In 2018, there were only 28 reported cases worldwide, pushing it one step closer to complete eradication – a near impossible feat completed without the aid of a vaccine.
“It’s easy to get caught up in [the thought that] I’m not making a difference,” Alice explained, “but when everybody’s doing something in the name of a collective cause, it does make a difference.” One of Alice’s mantras is a famous quote by anthropologist, Margaret Meade, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful people can make a difference. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.”