Year of Graduation: 2014
Major(s): Peace Studies
Current Position: Health Extension Agent, US Peace Corps
Please give a brief description of your current position: I am a health extension agent, officially, working under the Community Health Improvement Project in rural Zambia with the Peace Corps. It basically means I focus on preventive health in three areas: HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, malaria, and child and maternal health. I work on a grassroots, community focused level, with all my projects making sure they are sustainable and community owned.
A large part of being a volunteer is being integrated into the community. This really makes a project and a volunteer's service productive and worth it. It goes beyond learning the language but understanding the culture. I live across from my host family who have helped me integrate and belong in Iwakela. They check in with me regarding any housing and cultural issues. Often they feed me as well. Each volunteer's interaction with their house family is different. My host family is an extension of my family. They're my mom and dad and brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews. Our bond is not blood, but just as deep.
What path did you follow to get to your current position? I started by speaking to a recruiter. I decided to apply for the position as a senior at St. Ben's, and after that waited for a response and followed the steps they provided. But the application process has changed since I applied.
What advice/suggestions would you have for students who might be interested in your career? For those interested in joining Peace Corps, I would recommend speaking with and getting to know your local recruiter, checking out Peace Corps volunteers' blogs in areas you're interested in serving, and looking at the Peace Corps' website. If you're able, find people who've volunteered and ask them questions.
What skills are important in your field? Self-motivation, patience and being open to new experiences. I must be able to motivate myself to do things or they will not get done. I create my own schedule, and I am really the only one who forces myself to do it. I have to focus on positive experiences and even if I think a program isn't working, I have to go. If I look lazy, it only reflects poorly on me and takes away my legitimacy.
Living in another country that is not as developed as the US really requires me to have patience. Patience must be added into every step and activity that I do, whether work related or not. It could be waiting for people to come to a meeting or waiting for a minibus to fill up with people and leave.
Being open to new experiences is a necessity of travel and living in new places. And it makes life more fun. I've tried more bugs and strange looking things than I care to think about sometimes. But I have a line; I don't compromise my values and I try to find balance in keeping my identity and being open.
What is the most satisfying/rewarding part of your position? Having a successful program is very rewarding and difficult to come by. In my village I am working with a large youth group about HIV prevention; the program is called Grassroots Soccer. My counterpart, a community health volunteer, and I teach a group of 12-17 year old boys and girls through high-energy lessons that are more like games or a drill you might see in a soccer practice. After each lesson my counterpart and I quiz the students about the lessons we just taught, and I find it very rewarding when the lesson clicks and a vast majority that the students understand what we just did together. But when my counterpart is able to do parts on his own as well, and he doesn't need me, I also find that satisfying. I will not be here forever, so if I am passing along information and helping my counterpart become a teacher and role model to the students as well, I'm so happy.
Most challenging? Getting programs to actually start is very stressful and challenging. During rainy season, it is difficult to rely on adults to come to programming because most villagers are subsistence farmers and they need to take care of the cultivation of their fields. Because time keeping is hard to work around, my community is rarely on time to programs. Getting meetings to actually start and then making sure the goals we make at meetings about programming are realistic from what I have experienced, are some of the most challenging things I have done so far.
What activities/experiences were helpful at CSB/SJU (and elsewhere) in preparation for this career? Working in the Career Resource Center for St. Ben's gave me a taste of making and implementing programs. This has helped me understand what I need to do to plan a program or intervention in my community to teach about malaria or HIV prevention or maternal and child health. I am able to evaluate if I find it successful and move on from there.
I also interned and worked at two domestic violence shelters while at CSB and after graduation. It gave me a notion of what it was to work with an at-risk population.