"Every day, Americans carry forward the tradition of service embedded in our character as a people."- President Barack Obama
Images from the central highlands of Madagascar, shot during production of a film about traditional silk weavers and how access to international markets is radically changing lives for the better, especially for women.
See how Peace Corps Volunteers are helping women like these silk-weaving artisans expand their business internationally to boost income-generation opportunities and provide steady income for their families
AND THE WINNER IS…
Congratulations to David Malana, a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kyrgyzstan, whose “Kyrgyzstan is Me” video was selected as the winner of our 2014 Peace Corps Week Video Contest!
His was selected based on its ability to increase cross-cultural understanding, the cultural richness of the video, and the quality of the video production. As winner of the competition, he will receive an iPad to help him as he continues to share his country of service with the world.
If you can watch this video from a Peace Corps Volunteer and her community in Indonesia without smiling, you are stronger than us!
Well this weekend I had another déjà vu moment in the campo, when my life felt exactly like an episode of The Simple Life. Another day, another 5:00 am wake up call. This time, my host dad and brother took me to learn how to herd and milk cows. Now, on my resume under special skills I can put expert at killing chickens and milking cows. Basically, post Peace Corps I am going to be ready to start my career as a farm hand, maybe assistant farm hand. I was, as usual, in for a few surprises on this little outing. First I discovered that milking cows is not as easy as it looks on tv. It took me three times, and three different cows, to finally get it. I also assumed that the family had one maybe two cows and that this little outing would last no more than a half hour and then I could go back to bed. Wrong. 15 cows and two and a half hours later we were done. I really should never assume anything here, since I am always wrong. My favorite part of these early morning outings is getting the chance to watch the sun rise over the rolling hills of San Nicolas- something you miss out on when you wake up at 8:30am. I don’t know if this scenery will ever get old. It is also really nice to spend time bonding with my host family outside of the house. They always get a kick out of teaching me how to do something new, and it is nice to interact with my host dad out side of the ADESCO/ Peace Corps realm. Everyday I am starting to feel more at home here and more so apart of the family. It truly is the people that make a place, and I feel fortunate to have such welcoming and warm people to work and live with for the next two years.
For my entire career at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency I have focused on storm water management needs, ostensibly for municipalities and local communities: how to harvest rainwater and how to use technology to protect water resources. But instead of working on this smaller scale, I found myself working primarily on a national scale.
Finally, I decided it was time for a big change that focused on small communities.
As I pursued opportunities at EPA to work more directly with local communities, I found I loved that type of work whenever I got a chance to do it. I learned of the Peace Corps Response program and its projects on water resources management and engineering a couple summers ago. The EPA and Peace Corps had an agreement that supported EPA employees working as Peace Corps Response Volunteers so I applied for a rainwater harvesting engineering position in Puebla Mexico. It was exactly what I was looking for and the length of the project was similar to temporary reassignments at EPA. Plus, I could bring my Response Volunteer ground implementation experiences back to EPA.
One afternoon, I walked into a restaurant near my school to grab some lunch by myself, but instead, I got invited to eat with three police officers!
Total strangers, but in 15 minutes I knew everyone’s background story (where they worked before Leku, how many siblings they have, which towns they are originally from, etc.) and favorite foods. Not surprisingly, most of them said siga (meat – Ethiopians LOVE meat) and bursame, a Sidama Zone dish, made from the roots of the false banana tree.
They also found out where I am from, what I’m doing here in Ethiopia, which compound I live in - turns out one of them knows who my landlord is, and why I cannot have more than 2 cups of coffee a day. (Sleep would be extremely difficult to achieve, and for me saying ‘I love sleep’ is a huge understatement. Inkilf almat’am!)
This is after we ate a meat+soup dish called k’ilk’il and injera. And of course, we must finish lunch with a cup (or 2) of buna.
I don’t record these things on here enough, but almost every day something unexpected happens, and usually it turns out to be a pleasant twist. You meet someone at a buna bet who becomes your new good friend, or you get invited to eat at a teacher’s home because you saw her while walking on a different route than normal, etc. These moments and people truly humble you, and make you remember to take each day as it comes. Be present, wherever you are.
We are community health empowerment facilitators implementing goals laid out in the Community Health Empowerment Project strategic framework.
We are not clinicians, but we are here to do capacity building and behavior change among the clinicians, the local health volunteers, and the villagers. (A communications plan to complement the strategic plan would go far in aiding this mission, and I’ve already expressed the value of having one. We’ll see if this develops during the next two years.)
So now that I got those buzzwords in (strategic framework, capacity building, behavior change), let me break it down for you. Fiji’s Ministry of Health is doing what it can to reverse what is essentially a non-communicable disease (NCD) “crisis” in this country of nearly 900,000. With one of the highest rates of diabetes in the world:
- One in three Fijians has diabetes
- An amputation occurs every 12.6 hours in Fiji
- Only 16 percent of Fijians live past 55 years old
Of course treating the NCDs is critical, but the ministry recognizes that educating the public about their behaviors will go along way in improving these deadly statistics.
That’s where we come in. We are working with the ministry to educate Fijians about what they can do to avoid NCDs: physical activity, healthy food choices, go to the doctor early instead of ignoring symptoms. We are working to build their capacity so that they have the knowledge to live healthy lives, and to teach their children about living healthy, long after we leave Fiji.
Will and I are in a unique situation with an open field of development opportunities because we’re in a remote region that hasn’t had Peace Corps volunteers since the 70s, and those were education volunteers. We’re at the subdivisional level, which operates a hospital, a health center, a health inspector’s office, a dentist’s office, a maternal child health clinic, and multiple nursing stations throughout six islands. We have the opportunity to educate Fijians about:
- NCD prevention
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- Sanitation and hygiene
- Women’s empowerment
- Maternal-child health
So far we’ve given health talks to villagers and trained health workers about practices for women’s self-care and diabetes and hypertension prevention. Our subdivision is in the process of developing its business plan for the upcoming year, so things are a bit slow now. This gives us an opportunity to get to know our community and establish a relationship with the villagers, so they feel comfortable with us and trust us as we move forward together during these next two years.