The toughest job I’ve ever loved
I spent my first two years in Zambia as a Community Health Educator in a catchment area of over 4,000 people from 35 different villages. My job basically consisted of working with counterparts at the area clinic and with seven Neighborhood Health Committees, each made up of about 15 people from different zones in the catchment area. I assisted in forming the committees and then trained three of them in basic health care (malaria, HIV/AIDS, water and sanitation, child health and nutrition, family planning, TB, and maternal health). These committees were then responsible for teaching the rest of the villagers the skills I had passed onto them. I also helped conduct needs assessments in several villages and found that access to clean water and latrines was a major problem, especially in the more remote villages. Together with the committees, we wrote a proposal to the Zambian government which funded the building of a bore hole and the construction of over 30 latrines and bathing shelters. We also held seminars on fixing and maintaining the borehole and the importance of clean water, latrines and bathing shelters (no point in building them if people don’t understand why they should use them or know how to fix them when they break!). After my 27 month contract was up, I decided to extend for another year. I moved into the closest town and focused more on working with local NGOs and the Ministry of Health. Over the course of a year, I saw an HIV/AIDS organization grow from 10 members to over 300. I saw people who refused to believe they were sick, get tested for HIV, start ARVS and begin giving testimonies to others who used to be in their position. I saw a women’s group begin a new Income Generating Project and help send orphans back to school. I also saw the Ministry of Health form a strong relationship with and gain a better understanding of Peace Corps and how we could work together to improve the area communities. As the first volunteer in the area, my work with the clinics, the health committees and the NGOs was only a small part of my job. Most of my time was actually spent introducing the community to Peace Corps and getting the community used to living with a muzungu (foreigner/white person). I did this by holding meetings in all of the surrounding areas, going to churches, schools, football games, and most importantly just being around to talk to, and listen to, people. This was not easy. Ahhh…. Integration.