When I stepped onto the grounds of Burure Primary school in Zimbabwe, the first sound that I heard was a room full of first graders singing “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.” It was fun to hear this familiar tune in a place so far from home. Indeed, singing is a great way for children to learn. In addition to songs about barnyard animals or the alphabet, school children in Burure also learn songs to help teach about malaria.
On a visit to the Burure Primary school, we had the opportunity to see children sing, dance and offer poems – all on the topic of malaria. There are about 1000 school-aged children in Burure. A group of courageous kids bravely performed in front of a crowd of several hundred people, a group which included fellow-students, school staff members and international guests.
Some songs described symptoms that people should beware of. Others talked about different prevention techniques. One class came together and sang beautiful songs as a choir.
A memorable poem was given by a girl that was lamenting how malaria was making many of her family members sick. “Malaria, malaria,” she cried, “First my father, and now my brother.” Another poet proclaimed, “Fever, aching, chills – when will it end?” It was clear that these students had experienced malaria in a personal, impactful way.
One dance group was particularly memorable, thanks to their energetic and rousing routine. The children chanted, shouted and cheered as they danced, ran and pounded percussive dumbbells together. Their songs were all in the local language, but the content was clear. Every now and then a strong, “Malaria!” would ring out – a word that is in the same in English as it is in many other languages.
At the same gathering, there was a question and answer session related to malaria, which was led by Yeukai Muzuzewa, Malaria Project Coordinator for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe. She would ask questions related to malaria and the students would raise their hands quickly, eager to give an answer. She asked for examples of symptoms, she asked about vulnerable populations and she asked about bed nets. With each question, she couldn’t stump the students. It was clear that this is a well-educated community in the area of malaria.
Visiting the school makes me hopeful for the future. With so many young advocates already learning how to identify, treat and prevent malaria, I’m confident that the deaths from malaria will continue to decline as the months and years go on. Perhaps there wasn’t such a clear public health message when their parents were growing up, but certainly the next generation has the tools to make malaria history.