Posted By Dinesh Pethiyagoda, Richard T. Clark Fellow, Merck & Co. on March 25, 2014

Labels: Namibia , Women’s and Children’s Health, Alumni, Infectious Disease, Volunteers

Dinesh Pethiyagoda and Gary Zelko meet with beneficiaries of Project HOPE programs in the Zambezi region of Namibia

Dinesh Pethiyagoda is an employee of Merck & Co. in Upper Gwynedd, PA in its Global Marketing Communications for diabetes franchise.  As a Richard T. Clark Fellow for World Health, he and Gary Zelko, Merck’s Director and Publisher of the Merck Publishing Group spent three months in the fall of 2013 visiting Project HOPE’s program sites in Africa.  The purpose of their fellowships was to develop new promotional materials for Project HOPE’s work in Africa to aid in attracting new sources of funding for our work in this region.

After traveling to the north of Namibia and visiting remote Impalila Island, close to the border of Botswana, we then spent the next three days visiting more villages in the Zambezi region to observe and document Project HOPE programs.  Throughout our time in the Zambezi region, I was struck by how little most of the people had, yet they were always cheerful and seemed to be genuinely looking out for others in their community.

orphans are fed with food paid for by savings from Project HOPE's village savings and loan program

Education from Project HOPE representatives on hygiene, nutrition, TB, HIV, savings and loans and how to bring up vulnerable children had really helped them improve their lives.  It was now starting to make sense.  Although we had read all of the reports, seeing the work done by this organization in person was extremely impactful.  Project HOPE has the boots on the ground and the infrastructure to reach some of the most needy places in Namibia - some of which may have never before seen a vehicle or foreigners.

Group of beneficiaries of Project HOPE programs in Zambezi region of Namibia

We were included in the village meetings, which almost always took place under a big tree.  Although it was still extremely hot, the shade made for pretty neat conference rooms - so different from Upper Gwynedd, PA.  We captured imagery and conducted interviews from the standardized survey we had developed. It was awesome to be able to use my experience in market research at Merck in the villages to measure the beneficiaries' views.   After having a rather long explanation translated, they grasped the concept of rating.  However, most were so happy with Project HOPE that they would feel bad giving a 10 as the highest score and would instead say “100%.”

One village group had a phenomenal story.  They had used the village savings loan community program to save, and, as they gained interest on their money, they used the funds to open up a soup kitchen to feed orphans in the community. Seeing these children eating lunch and having proper nourishment was extremely touching, which again reinforced to me how lucky most of us are not to have to worry about basic necessities for our families.  Some of the kids had clothes on that had probably not been washed in weeks; the level of poverty was extremely sad.

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