At 12 and 14 years old, Marlena Lourdes and Jose Manuel are proud to be champions for change. Appointed leaders to their school’s sixth grade council in the small village of La Majada in Chiquimula, Guatemala, the two children are organizing parades and community events to encourage communities to prevent the spread of mosquito-borne diseases, particularly the Zika virus. They learned all about mosquitoes and the diseases they carry at their school through a program run by Abt Associates’ Zika AIRS Project (ZAP).
In 2016, when the Zika virus was spreading across Latin America and the Caribbean, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) tasked Abt Associates with helping governments to respond. Part of the response includes environmental management, which requires the efforts of everyone in the community to clean up trash and debris from their surroundings and to turn over standing water to eliminate mosquito breeding grounds.
But changing behavior and helping communities understand the need for mosquito control isn’t easy. So in working in collaboration with municipalities, community leaders, schools and parents’ associations, ZAP Guatemala developed a school curriculum that helps children become agents of change within their families and communities.
To make the learning fun, ZAP created puppets that represent the different life stages of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which can carry the Zika virus, chikungunya and dengue fever. ZAP taught the children how the mosquito develops, where it breeds, and how to eliminate breeding grounds to reduce the number of mosquitoes and thus the spread of diseases. The children’s enthusiasm for the program also helped to increase acceptance of mosquito control interventions, such as the application of Bti, a larvicide that kills the mosquito larvae before they can mature into adults.
ZAP conducts household visits to apply larvicide to standing water sources in homes. In the past, not all homeowners accepted such interventions.
Katalina Santiago Molena, director of the school Lourdes and Manuel attend, said the way ZAP motivates the children is exciting. “Parents have told us that their children are turning over the containers in their yards and cleaning up trash. Three years ago, more children were sick with mosquito-borne diseases than they are now. The frequent visits from ZAP – technicians visit the household every two weeks to apply the larvicide – also built trust in the community. People now readily accept the technicians into their homes, and it’s become a part of the daily conversation.”
Community leader Maria Selfa Martinez said, “The project’s benefits don’t have to end if we get involved. It’s up to the community leadership to keep people aware through groups, meetings and activities.”