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Faces of Conservation

Uniting Conservation and Human Health in Tanzania

"I can envision the real people behind the numbers because I always think of Amadou.... His memory helps inspire my work." —Kristen P. Patterson

By Kristen P. Patterson

I recently returned from a trip to western Tanzania, where the Conservancy is launching a project with partners called Tuungane (Let's Unite). Tuungane integrates family planning, primary healthcare and conservation.

Although my background is in conservation, my interest in public health dates back to my Peace Corps service in Niger. I lived in a rural village, learned to speak Hausa and grew particularly close to one family who welcomed me into their lives. They had three young daughters (two sons had died as infants). During my second year in the village, my friend Haoua became pregnant again.

Women in Niger typically give birth to seven children, and I was determined that Haoua’s sixth pregnancy would be a healthy one. So I encouraged her to go to prenatal check-ups and walked with her to the nearest clinic — a 1.5-hour trek each way across sandy paths under a blazing sun.

I also bought meat from the local butcher so that Haoua could get enough protein. We secretly cooked it together at my house.

One night during a terrible rainstorm, Haoua gave birth at home to a son. He was perfect. We nicknamed him Hadari (meaning storm) until his formal naming ceremony seven days after his birth, according to Islamic tradition. When Haoua and Gado, her husband, asked me to name their son, I was thrilled and honored, and I chose the name Amadou.

Amadou and his family made my last six months in Niger extra special. I enjoyed carrying him on my back — always a bit risky in a country with no diapers! Haoua and I walked together to the clinic so that Amadou could get his vaccinations. The clinic was closed once, but Haoua promised that she’d go again.

Several months after I left Niger, I received a letter from the village. All was well, wrote the chief — he was the only person there who could read and write — except that a whooping cough epidemic had swept through the village. They had lost many children. Reading on, I was devastated to learn that Amadou had died soon after his first birthday.

The sad reality is that 10 percent of children in western Tanzania die before age five. When I read statistics like that, I can envision the real people behind the numbers because I always think of Amadou. Amadou would have been 13 this past August.

His memory helps inspire my work with the Conservancy’s Africa team, collaborating with people to conserve the natural resources upon which they depend. I’m proud that our partnerships in Tanzania focus on the big picture, including human health.

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