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SCIENCE IN THE NEWS - Using a Story to Teach Children How They Can Help Prevent Bird Flu

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ANNOUNCER:

This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS, in VOA Special English. I'm Bob Doughty.

Today we present the last part of our series on the disease bird flu. It is a story for young people called "Zandi's Song." It was shortened and taken from a book written by Nuzhat Shahzadi.

Zandi's Song
Zandi's Song

The book was developed by the Academy for Educational Development. The goal of the book and related materials is to increase understanding of bird flu among children in developing countries. It is also meant to involve children in spreading messages about effective prevention of bird flu in their communities.

Now, here is Barbara Klein with our story.

(MUSIC)

STORYTELLER:

Zandi is fifteen years old. She lives in a village in Africa with her mother and eleven-year-old brother, Nicholas. Her father died two years ago. Since then, her uncle has been their guardian. He pays the costs for Nicholas to go to school.

Zandi's family has a small piece of land where her mother grows corn and vegetables. Nicholas and Zandi help her as much as they can. Their Mama also works part time in a store. Zandi and Nicholas attend a nearby school.

Mama has to pay the costs for Zandi's education. It is not easy. Mama has some chickens. She sells the eggs and sometimes chickens. Zandi helps her take care of the birds. Once in a while the family has egg and rice for dinner. But most of the eggs have to be sold for Zandi's school costs.

Zandi often hears a radio playing music before she goes to school. One day, she hears a news report on the radio. The announcer tells about a new disease that is killing birds in some parts of the world, including Africa.

"I hope this disease does not come to our village," Zandi says to herself. Her family needs the chickens. At school, Zandi is still thinking about the news report. The teacher, Missus Muchunu, observes her lack of interest in class work. At the class ends, Zandi tells her teacher about the morning news.

"Zandi, I read about this disease in the newspaper two days ago," Missus Muchunu says. "It is called bird flu."

A boy holds a chicken in Jaji, northern Nigeria, in February 2006 after the town had Africa's first reported find of H5N1 virus
A boy holds a chicken in Jaji, northern Nigeria, in February 2006 after the town had Africa's first reported find of H5N1 virus

"Teacher, can this disease kill all our chickens, too?" Zandi asks. "If they die, how are we going to pay for my education? I would have to leave school. What can we do?" Zandi is very worried.

"Do not worry, Zandi," her teacher says. "Now go home and we will talk about this tomorrow in class. Let me try to find out more about this disease."

The next day in class, Missus Muchunu keeps her promise. "Children, today I am going to discuss something very serious," she says. "A new disease is killing birds in some parts of the world. It is called 'bird flu.'"

"How does it spread?" one child asks.

"The virus that causes the disease is first spread by wild birds like ducks, geese and swans that live in and around water," the teacher explains. "The virus is carried in the birds' digestive organs. It is passed on through the droppings of infected birds. Sometimes these birds do not become sick, although they are infected."

Missus Muchunu continues: "Healthy birds can become sick by drinking water from sources where infected wild birds have been cleaning themselves. They can also become sick from soil or feed that has been infected by wild bird droppings. Bird flu also spreads through direct contact -- on clothing, hands, or shoes -- with objects that have been infected with bird droppings."

"Do we have bird flu in Africa?" Zandi asks.

"The bird flu is arriving in Africa now," her teacher answers. "Wild birds are coming from Asia where the disease has killed millions of birds. These migratory birds may pass the virus to our farm birds. Farm birds should not be permitted to mix with wild birds. If we are not careful now, all our chickens may die."

The students want to know if bird flu can infect people. "In Asia, a small number of people did get infected by coming in contact with sick birds," the teacher says. "Some became sick and died."

"What can we do to stay safe from this disease?" Zandi's friend Jackson wants to know.

Missus Muchunu shows her students a sign that explains how people can protect themselves from the disease:

An Indonesian boy walks next to duck cage at a market in Jakarta
An Indonesian boy walks next to duck cage at a market in Jakarta

Do not touch a sick or dead bird. If you find sick or dead birds, tell the local agriculture officer or animal health worker about it. Always wash your hands by rubbing with soap and water after coming in contact with birds or places birds have been. Avoid markets where farm birds are sold if you hear of bird flu cases nearby. Cook chicken meat and eggs completely. Avoid all surfaces that may have been infected until they have been cleaned and harmful bacteria destroyed.

The sign also has information about what people can do to protect their birds from bird flu:

Do not let birds living on your property have any contact with wild birds. Keep any new birds separate from your birds for at least two weeks. Vaccinate your birds against the disease if your local officials tell you to do this. Ask the local agriculture officer if a vaccine is available.

"Share this information with others," Missus Muchunu urges. "We must do everything to be safe from this virus. As we all know, farm birds are the main source of protein in many families. Protein keeps us healthy and strong. We must not let our chickens die."

(MUSIC)

STORYTELLER:

After school, Zandi, Nicholas and their friends meet to talk about bird flu.

"How can we make our families understand that we all need to act before the disease attacks our village?" Jackson asks.

"Why don't we talk to our families and neighbors?" Zandi suggests. "Each one of us can talk to three families every week. Let us invite the others from our class to join us. We can also ask our teachers to talk about it during the next parent-teacher meeting at the end of the month. Unless everyone knows about the disease, we will not be able to stop it from spreading." The children now feel happier as they agree to these plans.

Zandi thinks hard as she walks back home. She must find a way to keep her family's chickens safe from bird flu.

"Why don't we make a new place for our chickens that is surrounded with a fence made of sticks from trees?" she suggests to her brother. "We can use long grass to cover the area. It is best to keep the chickens separated from other birds. Will you help me do this?" Nicholas says he will.

The next morning Zandi has another thought. She is sure that her Uncle knows the head of the village very well. The headman's wife also respects Uncle's wife. What if she begins by giving bird flu information to them? Uncle can pass it on to the headman. People come to the headman for advice, and he can urge them to be prepared for the disease. Zandi is very pleased with herself. She goes to see her Uncle.

"Uncle, our teacher told us to share some very important information with our families," Zandi says. "It is about a disease that can kill all our farm birds. Everyone should know about it. I know how much the headman trusts you. Maybe you would like to discuss this with the headman?"

Zandi explains. "We need to carefully wash our hands with soap and water if we come in contact with a sick or dead bird. We need to cook the chicken meat and eggs completely. We should not eat sick or dead farm birds. Children should not be permitted to play with sick or dead birds. We should report any sick or dead birds to the animal health worker or agriculture officer. It is not easy to identify bird flu from other diseases harmful to birds." Zandi finishes speaking as Uncle listens closely.

"Well, my niece, I think you have become quite intelligent by studying in school," Uncle says. "I will share this with the headman and others. And I have decided that you should continue with your studies. I want you to keep up the good family name."

As she walks back home, Zandi smiles to herself. Now she is the happiest girl in the whole village.

(MUSIC)

ANNOUNCER:

This program was broadcast under the terms of a license agreement with the Academy for Educational Development. AED produced and copyrighted the story. It cannot be further reproduced without agreement from AED at www.aed.org/avianflu.

Your storyteller was Barbara Klein. The story was adapted by Shelley Gollust and produced by Brianna Blake. I'm Bob Doughty. Join us again next week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.

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