One of the projects that GlobeMed at Colorado College funded last year was a jiggers campaign. The Ambassadors of Hope bought 90 pairs of shoes and 90 blankets to distribute to people who have been infested with jiggers. Jiggers, also known as chigoe fleas, are parasites that burrow into feet, and lay their eggs inside the foot. The result is loss of toenails, toe deformation, swelling, and intense pain. Before I came to Kenya I read a definition similar to this, but it wasn’t until I saw 90 children file into a classroom for jiggers treatment that the immensity of this problem hit me. Jiggers live in soil and sand, which makes them a prevalent issue in the dusty rural areas around Mumias. Most houses have mud walls and floors made with dirt and cow dung. Children very rarely wear shoes because they are either deemed unnecessary or their parents can’t afford to buy any. Jiggers make walking incredibly painful, so children with severe cases often can’t go to school.
The treatment is rather simple. All you need is Omo washing detergent, jiggers powder (we are not yet exactly sure what this is), and water. Sometimes Edwin uses hydrogen peroxide as an alternative treatment. At Musanda Primary School, we treated 90 children in about 2 hours, fitting 4 or 5 kids’ feet in one bucket at a time. They soaked for 15 minutes, then the next kids would hop in the bucket. That afternoon we visited several homes of families who had received shoes from WOPLAH in January. We asked one young man to show us the shoes he got since he wasn’t wearing any, and he dug them out from under his bed. They looked like they were still new, so out of curiosity I asked him if he wears them. He said no, because he doesn’t know when he’ll get another pair so he doesn’t want to wear them out. We proceeded to visit a few more houses, all with children who had received shoes. We asked the parents if the children wear the shoes, and most answered that they wear the shoes every day, but they’re very worn out. Since the parents can’t afford to buy a new pair of shoes, the children wear them into the ground. Both ends of the spectrum were troubling to me. Why give someone a pair of shoes that will never be worn for fear of wearing them out? On the other end, what’s the point of giving people shoes if they’ll only last six months? What happens then, won’t they be right where they were six months before?
Today we did another outreach in a nearby community and treated about 25 people of all ages. This time, we did the Omo treatment, but also scrubbed the feet with a pumice stone. The looks of searing pain and the tears running down the faces of the children broke our hearts. In the moment we were all thinking a large chunk of our fundraising next year should go to buying shoes. It’s such a simple fix. But that isn’t the GlobeMed way, where is the sustainability in that? So I came back to the questions that I had been pondering over all week and did the most sensible thing, I asked Edwin all of them. I challenged him by saying that it seems like nothing about the jiggers campaign is preventative. A few days ago Edwin said in order to succeed in this work you have to act, not react. All of this seemed like reacting. Edwin agreed with me, but then explained that the jiggers campaign is very new, and he has big plans. His hope is that giving people shoes is almost like a trial period. He believes that if children are given shoes and their jiggers go away, their parents will deem shoes a worthwhile investment. He said that many more families can afford shoes than we think, they just don’t want to spend the money. He also said, “we need to start somewhere, right?” The jiggers campaign may not be the perfect solution, but it is a start. With dedication, resources, and time, the campaign can continue to improve and spread hope in the surrounding communities.
|Edwin teaching the children at Musanda Primary School the importance of hygiene|
|All the necessary ingredients for jiggers treatment|
|Gladys (community health worker) administering jiggers treatment|
|An example of a jiggers infection|
|Alexis and Sarah spreading vaseline on the treated feet|