More than Mosquitoes

ZAP Empowers Youth through Employment Opportunities

ZAP Vector Control Supervisor Odeki Turner (center) in the field with fellow ZAP supervisors. Photo: Jhevaughn Murphy

On the tropical island of Jamaica, mosquitoes are more than a nuisance. They carry diseases that can affect the health and economic well-being of the entire population. In October 2017, the USAID-funded Zika AIRS Project (ZAP) launched its Jamaica program in partnership with the Ministry of Health and the University of the West Indies to monitor and reduce mosquito populations across the island. Specifically, ZAP aims to build the country’s capacity to prevent, detect and respond to the spread of the Zika virus, which is spread by the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito. This mosquito species can also carry other mosquito-borne diseases such as Chikungunya, dengue and yellow fever.

A large part of the project includes household visits, which requires hiring local community members who can serve as vector control technicians. To offer employment opportunities to some of the most vulnerable populations, ZAP Jamaica looks to hire youth, especially those living in more volatile areas of the island where job opportunities are the scarcest. The youth unemployment rate in Jamaica is 25.4%, nearly three times higher than that of the United States. In partnership with the USAID Transitional Living Programme for Children in State Care Project (TLP-CSC), a USAID sponsored program which supports youth who are aging out of state care to make the transition from vulnerable youth to productive adulthood, ZAP is training and hiring TLP-CSC youth as Vector Control and Entomology Technicians.

ZAP Jamaica Vector Control Supervisor Odeki Turner, 25, was born and raised in volatile communities of Kingston. He joined the project as a technician in January 2018, and after two months, was promoted to a supervisor. He said that being a team-player and team-leader simultaneously has helped to groom him as an individual and bring changes in his personal life.

“Most jobs, you go in and work forever and it’s like you’re stuck… but here, hard work actually pays off,” Odeki said. Although Odeki was aware of the importance of mosquito control and the spread of viruses, he now credits ZAP for his increased involvement in environmental initiatives as well as the wealth of information he can share with family members and his community. Odeki says he feels empowered to pursue other ventures in his personal life such as relocating to a safer community of residence, pursuing further education and getting married to his fiancée of two years.  “I now have a level of confidence that I wish other young people could experience.”