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  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    In 2019, Peace Corps Response launched Advancing Health Professionals. Then the pandemic hit. see more

    In 2019, Peace Corps Response launched the Advancing Health Professionals program. Then the pandemic hit.

    By Sarah Steindl

     

    Advancing Health Professionals (AHP) is designed to strengthen health systems in five countries. Photo courtesy Peace Corps

     

    Bolstering public health in communities where Volunteers serve has been part of Peace Corps since the beginning. In 2019, under the aegis of Peace Corps Response, the agency launched Advancing Health Professionals (AHP), a refocused effort to train healthcare professionals and improve healthcare systems in the African nations of Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, Liberia, and Eswatini. The program came online just months before COVID-19 swept the globe. Healthcare disparities were exacerbated, scarce resources further stretched.

    The value of AHP — to improve healthcare education and strengthen health systems at a societal level — became even more pronounced, notes program manager Dawn Childs. “The pandemic highlighted the need to help the countries grow their programs,” she says, “so that they can educate more nurses, pharmacists, and more physicians.” Yet the pandemic also interrupted the AHP Volunteers’ in-person work, as they had to be evacuated from their sites around the globe.

     

    Medical students study a chart in Malawi

    A training session with Advancing Health Professionals, Malawi — a program Towela Nyika has managed since 2018. Courtesy Peace Corps Malawi

     

    For Volunteers with AHP, there is no age limit, nor is prior Peace Corps experience required. AHP staffs non-clinical assignments with individuals who have backgrounds in medicine, nursing, pharmacy, mental health, pre-clinical education, healthcare administration, healthcare services delivery, and midwifery.

     

    “There’s going to be another pandemic in our lifetime. We’re one connected world. So we’re going to have to be a global program, strengthening health systems.”
      — Anna Vecchi

     

    Childs has worked with the Peace Corps agency for a short time, but she brings extensive experience in Africa with the CDC and the U.S. military. One member of the AHP team who brings experience as a Volunteer is Anna Vecchi, an outreach specialist who served in Malawi 2015–17. After that, she served as national malaria coordinator for Peace Corps Response in Malawi 2017–18.

    “It’s the transfer of knowledge that the AHP program highlights,” Vecchi says. Along with bringing technical skills, Volunteers lean hard on their abilities as communicators, teachers, and students — learning about communities where they’re serving and how local healthcare systems work.

    More broadly, Vecchi says, “It’s not enough to think in terms of public health. From now on we need to think in terms of global health. There’s going to be another pandemic in our lifetime. We’re one connected world. So we’re going to have to be a global program, strengthening health systems.”

     

    This is part of a series of stories on and by Crisis Corps and Peace Corps Response Volunteers and staff who have served in the past 25 years.

     September 01, 2021
  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    Insights from the program manager for Advancing Health Professionals in Malawi see more

    Towela Nyika

    Peace Corps Staff in Malawi (2013–present)

     

    As told to Emi Krishnamurthy

     

    I began with the Peace Corps in 2013 with the Global Health Service Partnership, a public-private partnership to place healthcare professionals as adjunct faculty in medical and nursing schools. When that program ended in 2018, I helped start Advancing Health Professionals, which combines volunteer work with strengthening health systems. In Malawi, we bring in highly skilled health professionals from the U.S. who work with institutions of higher learning, training the next generation of health workers. We focus on bridging health theory into practice, and promoting skills and quality health services. 

    Healthcare is a huge need in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa. In Malawi, our few healthcare workers are always overworked and overwhelmed. Now we have COVID-19 in the mix. AHP enables us to work with institutions training healthcare workers — nurses, pharmacists, medical doctors, lab technicians — and to develop skill sets to offer better services to the population.

     

    Staff and volunteers for Advancing Health Professionals program in Peace Corps Malawi

    Towela Nyika, center front — program manager for the Advancing Health Professionals program in Malawi. Photo courtesy Peace Corps Malawi

     

    In colleges, COVID-19 has presented a challenge to how classes operate. Volunteers have helped students find research portals and download videos. Internet access is slow, so pre-downloaded material is like gold. Institutions are embracing technology, but students may not be able to afford laptops or don’t have enough data to join a class online. We’re discussing creation of a digital library. If a student has a smartphone, they might be able to tap into hundreds of thousands of videos, PDFs, research papers, and other resources without needing internet access. 

    When Volunteers leave, they often say, “I have learned much more than I taught.” There’s a lot to learn professionally, culturally, and socially. Volunteers work in an environment with limited resources; they have to get creative to deliver quality lessons. They make lifelong friendships. I can’t wait for the Volunteers to come back. I would love to see AHP grow. Ultimately, we are trying to achieve health for all.

     

    Students work with an advancing health professionals volunteer

    Students work with a Peace Corps Response Volunteer in the Advancing Health Professionals program. The goal: health for all. Photo courtesy Peace Corps Malawi


    This is part of a series of stories from Crisis Corps and Peace Corps Response Volunteers and staff who have served in the past 25 years.

     September 02, 2021
  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    Learning and teaching through the Advancing Health Professionals program see more

    Dallas Smith

    Peace Corps Volunteer in Cambodia (2017–19) | Peace Corps Response Volunteer in Malawi (2019–20)

     

    As told to Emi Krishnamurthy

     

    Photo: Baobab tree — used for food and medicine. Photo by Dallas Smith

     

    While earning my Doctor of Pharmacy in the States, I spent a month in India learning about what’s known as traditional and complementary medicine. Then, in Cambodia, I saw it utilized to heal people, using local culture and expertise. I brought that perspective into Malawi, but I took it one step further: I know it works, but why? How do we make it better? What are the side effects? How do we make it more clinically relevant so that we can employ it in a better way?

     

    In Malawi I learned from experts knowledge that has been passed along generations. My advice for Response Volunteers is to be a humble and open learner.

     

    In Malawi I learned from experts knowledge that has been passed along generations. My advice for Response Volunteers is to be a humble and open learner. With that in mind, the Advancing Health Professionals program provides a venue for pharmacists to pass along their knowledge, skills, resources, and connections to countries that are developing the pharmacy profession — especially the clinical aspect. 

     

    Students in a medicinal garden in MalawiStudents in a medicinal garden in Malawi. Photo by Dallas Smith

     

    At the beginning of the pandemic, the University of Malawi College of Medicine had a big hand-sanitizer production project to prepare for when COVID might hit Malawi. When we got evacuated, the College of Medicine transitioned to online learning, and I’ve been teaching virtually since then.

    This was hard for a lot of health professionals; it felt like we were abandoning our colleagues. That feeling drove me to serve where I could; June to December 2020, we were in Arlington, Virginia, and I started volunteering with the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps at COVID-19 testing sites. When the vaccine came out, I helped with rollout as a senior point of dispensing (POD) director.

    The coolest part was working with such a diverse crew of community members to tackle both the testing and the vaccination with limited resources. We set up sites at gymnasiums, community centers, park benches, and homeless shelters. We had retired schoolteachers, retired nurses; we had actors, pharmacists, physicians, a dental hygienist. We were all working our butts off to end the pandemic. I can’t tell you how many amazing 65-year-old retired nurses volunteered their time to vaccinate for 12 hours a day, even when they were at risk. They wanted to end this pandemic. They weren’t going to let the possibility of contracting this disease stop them from their duty to health equity.

    I also got to work with half a dozen other RPCVs. We used some of the languages we picked up from our Peace Corps services. Now I am working in Atlanta with the Epidemic Intelligence Service, which is a CDC disease detective program. 

     

    This is part of a series of stories from Crisis Corps and Peace Corps Response Volunteers and staff who have served in the past 25 years.

     September 02, 2021
  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    Short-term, high-impact. Now marking 25 years since its founding. see more

    Short-term, high-impact. Now marking 25 years since its founding.

     

    By Steven Boyd Saum

    Photo by Christian Farnsworth

     

    A quarter century ago, at a midsummer White House Rose Garden ceremony attended by President Bill Clinton and Sargent Shriver, first director of the Peace Corps, a new type of Peace Corps service was announced to the world: Crisis Corps. Short-term, high-impact, it was, as then-Peace Corps Director Mark Gearan explained, “an effort to harness the enormous experience, skills, motivation, and talents that the Peace Corps, including its returned Volunteer ranks, possesses, and bring them to bear in an organized fashion during such crisis situations.”

    At the outset, all Crisis Corps Volunteers were required to have already served in the Peace Corps. In fact, the program traces much of its origins to grassroots work by returned Volunteers. The National Peace Corps Association Emergency Response Network, activated to help in the aftermath of the Rwanda genocide in 1994, provided powerful inspiration.

     

    IN ITS FIRST YEARS, Crisis Corps enlisted hundreds of Volunteers to serve in places from Bosnia to Guinea to El Salvador. Volunteers worked with communities recovering from conflicts, hurricanes, earthquakes, and more. Following the devastating tsunami that hit Thailand and Sri Lanka, among other countries, in 2004, the largest cohort ever of Crisis Corps Volunteers deployed there. Months later, hundreds more began serving Gulf Coast communities battered by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita — the first time Volunteers served in the United States.

     

    Flooding in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina

    Flooding in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Photo courtesy Wikimedia

     

    By 2007 the broadening nature of assignments led the agency to rename the program Peace Corps Response. Assignments last three months to one year, shorter than a standard 27-month term of Peace Corps service. That makes them more feasible for working professionals, who have to take a leave of absence. And, since 2012, Response Volunteers have included individuals who haven’t previously served in the Peace Corps.

     

    Two women in Guinea at World Food Programme distribution of food

    Mothers and daughters pick up gifts of cooking oil as an incentive for school attendance, part of a World Food Programme effort in Guinea documented by Christian Farnsworth, who served as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer.

     

    It’s interesting to note that in 2020 the Commission on Military, National, and Public Service issued a report that called for exploring virtual service assignments for Peace Corps Response, to further open up opportunities for people able and willing to serve but not, perhaps, able to travel to other countries. Indeed, after the evacuation of all Peace Corps Volunteers in March 2020, the Peace Corps agency launched the Virtual Service Pilot — which connected evacuated Volunteers and Response Volunteers with organizations and communities in countries where they had been serving. 

    In May 2021, more than 150 Peace Corps Response Volunteers deployed domestically, as part of a partnership with FEMA. “By sending specialized volunteers to targeted assignments, we are helping to advance Peace Corps’ mission of world peace and friendship,” Peace Corps Response Director Sarah Dietch noted. Response Volunteers began serving with community vaccination centers to reach underserved communities — an effort that seems more important with each passing day, as another wave of COVID-19 takes a terrible toll.

     

     

    Ukrainian grandmother in village, photographed in profile

    Grandmother in a Ukrainian village, photographed by Michael Andrews as part of the Baba Yelka project.

     

    In the 25 years since Peace Corps Response began, more than 3,800 Volunteers have served in over 80 countries — and twice in the United States. As we go to press, Response is recruiting for 136 openings, with Volunteers departing “no earlier than late 2021” for Belize and Guyana, undertaking assignments that include literacy specialist, adolescent health specialist, and epidemiology specialist. They’re recruiting for positions departing “no earlier than early 2022” for more than 20 countries, from Mexico to Malawi, Uganda to Ukraine, Georgia to Guatemala, Jamaica to South Africa.

     

     

    Kudu being released into a wild animal park in Guinea

    Kudu released into Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve in Malawi, where Betsy Holtz worked as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer

     

    Response Volunteers were at the vanguard as Peace Corps returned to countries such as Liberia. Civil war forced the program there to close in 1990. In 2007, when Response Volunteers arrived to serve, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, president of Liberia, personally attended the swearing-in ceremony.

    In the pages that follow, we bring you a brief history of the program. Along with milestones, take note of the stories of lives and communities that have been shaped by the experience. It’s no coincidence that there’s a recurring theme of building together, whether that’s infrastructure or shared knowledge, and undergirding it all, that commitment to nurturing peace and friendship. 

     

    Three girls in a village in Panama

    Three girls in Comarca Emberá-Wounaan, eastern Panamá; Eli Wittum documented environmental work in the country, and when he visited this region these three were delighted to pose for a photo.

     


    Steven Boyd Saum is the editor of WorldView.

     September 12, 2021
  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    She was serving as a health advisor in Malawi. Evacuated to the U.S., she has helped fight COVID-19. see more

    Vishakha Wavde

    Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi (2018–20) | Peace Corps Response Volunteer with FEMA in United States (2021)

     

    As told to Emi Krishnamurthy

     

    Photo: Vishakha Wavde has worked in community outreach efforts with FEMA in the U.S. Photo by Eli Wittum

     

    I have been in the health sector my whole life. I’ve been a physical therapist in Chicago since emigrating to the U.S. from India 27 years ago. In 2020, after being evacuated from Malawi, where I served as a community health advisor, I continued as a physical therapist until I found the opportunity to work with FEMA and the Peace Corps for the COVID vaccination rollout.

    Before my service, I didn’t know where Malawi was on a map. My first friend in Malawi was Jean Kaponda. When I arrived, she took me under her wing — she showed me the marketplace and schools, introduced me to people. We started going to church together and I joined the choir, where every Sunday we would sing in the local language, Chichewa. The pastor lived next door to me; his kids and I would sit outside to play Scrabble. I love to cook. I would make fudge, cookies, cornbread, zucchini bread, mango bread, pumpkin bread, and I’d share those with people in the village. These little things made me feel like I was part of the community. 

     

    Vishakha Wavde holding maize sack in village in Malawi

    Story on a maize sack: In Malawi, Vishakha Wavde teaches malaria prevention to kids. Photo courtesy Vishakha Wavde

     

    In Malawi I set up bed nets and built hand-washing stations for local households. Those projects brought me close to a lot of community members — I was literally stepping in and out of every house in the village. I also did a lot of Grassroot Soccer, which helped educate high school kids about HIV causes and prevention through soccer drills. I worked with a group of women through the SOLID program, which helps teach how to run a business and be financially independent. As I was about to start an agriculture, environment, and health initiative, COVID hit and I was called back.

    To be honest, I really didn’t think COVID was that serious; we were untouched by what was happening. When on March 14 the news arrived that we needed to pack our bags and head to the capital, I was under the impression that I would be there a few days and then things would get better. I packed one suitcase, left the rest of my belongings. When our flight took off from Malawi, a part of me just broke away. I didn’t get to say goodbye — to my neighbors, the woman who would draw water for me, the pastor who lived next door, the grandmother whom I always chatted with, even my counterparts. It was so abrupt. I was numb for a long time.

     

    Even though I still love being a physical therapist, I never believed that I could apply my skills toward some other path outside of my educational background. This journey has brought me to consider what more I can do.

     

    We’ve gotten back into our lives here, but it was a hard breakup. So when I saw a position to help with vaccination rollout, I didn’t hesitate. In Virginia, where our team is working now, we are trying to get the word out about the vaccination clinics we have set up in grocery stores, churches, community halls, and fire departments. The program is a collaboration between FEMA and the Peace Corps, which has thus far been very successful. FEMA’s background is disaster-geared, so they know how to work with the systems and authorities in an area. The Peace Corps knows how to engage in a community and reach out to people, share stories, and connect. The continents, countries, culture, and languages differed, but the biggest thing was that I was serving humankind.

    At the start of my service, I had been in physical therapy for 25 years. One of my biggest lessons from the Peace Corps is that I am capable of doing much more than I think. Even though I still love being a physical therapist, I never believed that I could apply my skills toward some other path outside of my educational background. This journey has brought me to consider what more I can do.

     

    Vishakha Wavde is featured on the cover of the Summer 2021 edition of WorldView. This is part of a series of stories from Crisis Corps and Peace Corps Response Volunteers and staff who have served in the past 25 years.

     September 13, 2021
  • Communications Intern posted an article
    Thanks to the groups and individuals who have supported evacuated Volunteers and their projects see more

    Thank you to the groups and individuals who have supported evacuated Volunteers and their communities around the world during this time of crisis.

    By Bethany Leech
    International Programs Coordinator, National Peace Corps Association

     

    In the months since the unprecedented global evacuation of Peace Corps Volunteers, National Peace Corps Association Affiliate Groups across the country have been generous with time and support they have shown evacuated Volunteers. They have provided service and assistance here in the United States during the COVID pandemic.

    A number of affiliate groups have also made generous donations to enable NPCA to provide vital transition support and services to the 7,300 recently evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers. This crucial support amplifies our community’s global social impact by providing small grants for the projects of evacuated Volunteers. And it sustains important connections with communities around the world during a time of crisis. Find out more and make a gift here.

    To all who have given support to NPCA’s Community Fund, the RPCV Benevolent Fund, and to to the Global Reentry Program: Thank you! We give special thanks to these NPCA Affiliate Groups for their generous donations: 

     

    • Atlanta Area Returned Peace Corps Volunteers

    • Friends of Colombia

    • Friends of Jordan

    • Friends of Nepal

    • Heart of Texas Peace Corps Association 

    • Peace Corps Iran Association

    • North Carolina Peace Corps Association

    • Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of New Jersey

    • RPCVs of Northeastern New York

    • RPCVs of North Florida

    • Southeast Michigan Returned Peace Corps Volunteers

    • Tennessee Returned Peace Corps Volunteers

     

     

    A place to stay: Schoolgirls at Enukweni Community Day Secondary School in Malawi. A safe place means access to education. Volunteer Lydia Babcock was working with community members to obtain grant funds to renovate the hostel where they live during school terms. Then Babcock was evacuated. NPCA groups and members stepped up and funded this project and others. Photo by Lydia Babcock.

     


    This story was first published in WorldView magazine’s Fall 2020 issue. Read the entire magazine for free now in the WorldView app. Here’s how:

    STEP 1 - Create an account: Click here and create a login name and password. Use the code DIGITAL2020 to get it free.

    STEP 2 - Get the app: For viewing the magazine on a phone or tablet, go to the App Store/Google Play and search for “WorldView magazine” and download the app. Or view the magazine on a laptop/desktop here.

  • Steven Saum posted an article
    And new appointments to other leadership posts at the agency by the Biden Administration see more

    Updated March 4: The Biden Administration continues to fill out political appointments for staff at the agency.

    By NPCA Staff

     

    On January 20, Carol Spahn was named Acting Director of the Peace Corps by President Biden. Spahn had been serving as the Peace Corps chief of operations for Africa. She succeeds Jody Olsen, who stepped down as director on January 20.

    Spahn has over 25 years of experience in international development, business, health, and women’s empowerment. She served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Romania (1994–96) and country director in Malawi (2014–19). Her work with the nonprofit sector includes experience with Women for Women International — which supports female survivors of war — and Accordia Global Health Foundation — which helps fight infectious disease in Africa.

    “It is an honor to serve the Peace Corps and our country,” Spahn said in a release from the agency. “From my time as a volunteer in Romania to my years as a country director in Malawi, I have loved my work for the Peace Corps, the American people, and the people of the countries where I have served. I am grateful the Biden-Harris transition team has accorded me the privilege of serving in this new role.”

     

    A welcome: Acting Director of the Peace Corps Carol Spahn, right. Photo courtesy Peace Corps 

     

    Spahn holds a master’s in international development from George Washington University’s Elliot School of International Affairs, and she earned her bachelor’s in accounting and philosophy from the Catholic University of America.

    With the scale of tasks before the new administration, it will likely be some months before a new director is appointed and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

     

    Someone committed to transformational change

    Peace Corps’ first general counsel, Bill Josephson, is co-author with Warren Wiggins of the 1961 report that laid out the scope of what founding the Peace Corps entailed. They called the report A Towering Task. 

    In March 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic spread around the world, all 7,300 Peace Corps Volunteers were evacuated from the countries where they were serving. Currently Volunteers are not projected to return to the field until the second half of 2021. Assessing the challenges of the months ahead, Josephson surmises that relaunching Peace Corps will be an even greater towering task, with the agency requiring extraordinary leadership to return it successfully to the field.

    In late 2020, a special advisory council to National Peace Corps Association issued a community-driven report, “Peace Corps Connect to the Future,” on how to reimagine, reshape, and retool Peace Corps for a changed world. One of the key points made at the conclusion of the report is this: “The next Peace Corps director should be appointed quickly. They should be an individual of national stature, preferably a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, who is committed to transformational change at the agency by advancing the recommendations included in this report. They must have the gravitas to advance the Peace Corps’ interests with both Congress and the White House while also making the case to the American people about the value of a renewed Peace Corps for the United States.”

     

    Additional appointments to date: Updated February 17

    As of January 28, there were several public announcements, via the press and social media, of new staff at the Peace Corps agency. 

    Dave Noble has been named chief of staff for Peace Corps. He had been serving as executive director of the ACLU of Michigan. Under the Obama administration, he served as a deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Presidential Personnel Office, and prior to that as deputy chief of staff and White House liaison for NASA. 

    Scott Beale has been appointed Associate Director of Global Operations for Peace Corps. In 2006 Beale founded Atlas Corps, a volunteer program to connect and empower global leaders through service in the United States. Over the past 15 years, Atlas Corps has brought more than 1,000 individuals from 103 countries to the United States on 12- to 18-month fellowships, earning the organization recognition by some as a “reverse Peace Corps.” Beale has been twice named one of the top nonprofit CEOs in the United States by the Nonprofit Times. President Obama recognized him at the Clinton Global Initiative as part of his administration’s Stand With Civil Society Initiative. And Beale wrote this piece about Atlas Corps for the Summer 2013 edition of WorldView magazine, published by National Peace Corps Association.

    Sarah Dietch has been appointed to serve as director of Peace Corps Response, a program that sends U.S. Volunteers with more experience on short-term, high-impact assignments around the world. All Peace Corps Response Volunteers were also evacuated in March 2020 and have yet to return to the field. This year the programs marks its 25th anniversary. Dietch served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Republic of Georgia 2017–19, and her professional experience includes work with several government agencies: as a senior advisor for USDA, an assistant administrator for legislative affairs at Transportation Security Administration, and chief of staff for the office of legislative affairs at the Department of Homeland Security.

     

    New announcements as of February 17:

    Mary Bruce has been named Associate Director for Volunteer Recruitment and Selection. As she notes in her LinkedIn profile, that work includes “rebuilding the pipeline of 7,000 Volunteers in 60+ countries annually, as Peace Corps relaunches its work after evacuating all Volunteers in 2020 due to COVID.” For more than seven years she directed AmeriCorps Alums, a national organization focused on social impact to leverage the experience of those who had served in AmeriCorps. She served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco 2004–06 and, prior to that, served as a teacher’s aide and tutor with AmeriCorps in Washington, D.C. 

    Jacklyn Dao Dinneen has been named deputy chief of staff for Peace Corps. Under the Obama administration, she directed gifts and grants management for the Peace Corps and served as White House liaison; she also served within the White House as assistant policy director, and with the Department of Homeland Security. Previous roles include work with Sen. Lincoln Chaffee and Teach for America. For the past four years she served in senior roles with The Partnership, Inc., an organization that was established to focus on the advancement of African Americans in corporate Boston and over the past three decades has grown into an organization that supports multicultural professionals at all levels in an increasingly diverse and global workforce.

     

    News from March 1:

    Faith Oltman has been named Director of Communications for Peace Corps. She comes to the agency with experience helming communications for the Columbus City Attorney and with the Ohio State Senate and House of Representatives.

     

    News from May 21:

    Victor Sloan has been named Associate Director, Health Services, as reported in  Politico. He had been serving as CEO of Sheng Consulting, and he holds a faculty appointment at the Robert Wood Johnson School of Medicine at Rutgers University. He served as a Volunteer in Cameroon 1981–83 and notes, “After more than 20+ years in the pharmaceutical industry, I am humbled and honored to have been appointed to serve as Associate Director, Health Services at the Peace Corps. Forty years after I served as a Volunteer in Cameroon, I am thrilled to be returning to the agency to work to ensure the health of Trainees and Volunteers.”


    Story last updated June 1 at 10:00 a.m.

  • Communications Intern posted an article
    PC counterparts: one person in the community tasked with helping make this endeavor possible see more

    Every Volunteer has a counterpart. That’s Peace Corps lingo for one person in the community tasked with helping make this endeavor possible.

     

    Interviews Edited by Steven Boyd Saum and Cynthia Arata

    Photo: Sharmae Stringfield (left) Chippie Ngwali. Courtesy Sharmae Stringfield.

     

     

    Malawi | Sharmae Stringfield, Volunteer
    Home: Virginia, United States

     

    The day I had to leave my village in the district of Blantyre was the day the painter I hired finished our mural at the health center: a dedication to sanitation and critical times to wash hands. Seeing as the evacuation was due to a virus that spreads rapidly through a lack of both those things, it was a fitting project to have left behind.

    I left my neighbor and best friend, Vincent Zitha. I had less than 24 hours to say goodbyes. My co-workers were health care workers, teachers, community leaders. One of my favorite responsibilities was supervising the local youth club that I helped re-establish. We were able to have two community service projects, and we invited health workers to give talks. The youth absorbed these health messages and turned them into song and plays. After I left, they created a play about coronavirus and performed it at the health center.

    We were going to tackle tough issues troubling girls in the community — including dropping out of school due to early pregnancies and young marriages.

    I co-facilitated an after-school girls’ club with the chair of their mothers’ group, using the Go Girls curriculum. The day I got the email to evacuate would have been my last day to facilitate. Schools then closed to take precautions against COVID-19. The work I was doing came to a halt; the program was only half complete. The head teacher and I have remained in contact to ensure its completion. Shortly before evacuation, I began a partnership with a local NGO, FACT Malawi. We were going to tackle tough issues troubling girls in the community — including dropping out of school due to early pregnancies and young marriages. Youth of Malawi need programs that cater to teaching young boys how to be gentlemen and teaching young girls how to assert and protect themselves. Communities can benefit from the Peace Corps approach to both community health and environment issues. Our fellow Malawians valued our presence in their country, and they welcomed us with both hands.

     

    Sharmae Stringfield and Mdeka Youth Club. Photo courtesy Sharmae Stringfield.

     


    Malawi | Chipiliro Ngwali, Counterpart
    Home: Phalula village in Balaka district

     

    I am married and I have a son, and I am now working under the Ministry of Health as a health surveillance assistant at Mdeka Health Center. We do field work in hard to reach areas: monitoring health of community members, engaging in health talks, and providing immunizations and other preventative medication. Malawi has few health workers in rural centers, so people have limited access. We work in collaboration with Peace Corps; they help fill the gap — and bring volunteers like Sharmae. This made me excited.

    In the last few months, there have been so many changes due to coronavirus. Health workers’ efforts have diminished; they are afraid of contracting the virus, since there’s little personal protective equipment. Society discriminates against health workers because of that risk. Many health centers close early to avoid overcrowding. Projects initiated by Sharmae have been affected. Groups she brought together have stopped receiving education she used to provide. Safety measures have prevented the other programs from continuing.

    Americans need to understand that the work we did was important … The work that was started doesn’t have to end.

    People are still eager to know more and acquire skills Sharmae was teaching. As for the mural Sharmae was working on at the health center: With people being afraid of getting coronavirus, we have been avoiding large gatherings. Instead, we let people view the mural to self-educate. People see the times when it’s critical to wash hands. They see how waterborne illnesses happen. Americans need to understand that the work we did was important. There are skills that were taught and prevention techniques that can be practiced.

    The work that was started doesn’t have to end. Peace Corps Volunteers should continue to pass along information on COVID-19 to counterparts who can reach remote areas. They can teach ways of ensuring food security in this time of pandemic. And PCVs can stay in communication with counterparts to try to preserve any work that can continue after the coronavirus is less of a threat. 

     

    Malawi: Health mural, Mdeka Health Center. Photo by Sharmae Stringfield.

     


     

    Panama | Bill Lariviere, Volunteer and José María Barrios, Counterpart
     

    Panama: Volunteer Bill Lariviere (left) and counterpart José María Barrios, admiring the work they organized for a reforestation event in Nuario, Los Santos. Photo by Eli Wittum. 

     


    Morocco | Omar Lhamyani, Counterpart
    Home: Zagora Province

     

    I was born and raised in a village called Tazarine in southeast Morocco. It was once a green oasis with an economy centered on agriculture; years of drought and desertification have changed the region into more of a commercial area.

    I was introduced to Peace Corps in 2010. I have worked with three cohorts of Volunteers as a language and cross-cultural facilitator, counterpart, and language tutor, and as member of the multimedia committee creating and translating content that showcases the amazing work Volunteers and community youth are doing.

    This work is life-changing for the youth in my community, just as it was for me.

    We focus on youth in development. This work is life-changing for the youth in my community, just as it was for me. As a young high school student I participated in a linguistics camp in my town where I felt the influence of PCVs. They were role models for me.

    Most recently I worked with Gio Giraldo. She worked with community members and focused on girls’ empowerment with the Dar Chabab Youth Club. She is an accomplished soccer player and trained withcollegiate and professional athletes in the U.S. That was new and fascinating, especially for the girls in Tazarine. It is rare to see boys and girls playing sports together in rural villages. Gio wanted to create a space for girls to feel welcome to play soccer. Now I see boys and girls playing competitive soccer games together.

    We are lucky in Tazarine to have had PCVs for more than 10 years. They help students improve their English skills and connect us to resources, such as scholarships. Ideas and perspectives that Volunteers have brought have influenced and inspired us.

    When I first heard of the evacuation, I couldn’t believe it. But I knew the situation could become more difficult. The community understands why Gio had to leave; her family must want her near in this time. We hope the sadness we feel seeing Gio go will be temporary — but her impact on our community will continue to thrive.

    Community members ask about Gio all the time—and if she will come back. Mostly the girls from the community ask me if they will continue their soccer project with Gio. Her kindness, and the way she carried out her service, made the community trust and respect her.

     

    Omar Lhamyani. Photo by Giovana Giraldo.


    Morocco | Giovana Giraldo, Volunteer
    Home: Miami metropolitan area, United States

    They called the region the gateway—the entrance to big cities from Sahara country. Doors open up to the desert. There are beautiful canyons and a blend of cultures. I arrived last year. We were excited about a grant proposal from the U.S. Embassy to organize a summer leadership program for youth. I was coaching a girls soccer team that started off as pick-up soccer; the dream was to develop it into an organized association. Soccer can be great for integration. I’ve played all my life. Opportunities I’ve had are due to people coming together to make things happen. That was my goal in Morocco. There was amazing talent. Traveling has shown me that talent is equally distributed but not necessarily opportunity.

    Omar is a selfless and motivated person. He is incredible. Peace Corps influenced him when he was younger; he has repaid that tenfold.

    Omar is a selfless and motivated person. He is incredible. Peace Corps influenced him when he was younger; he has repaid that tenfold. Anyone who reached out — he would connect and help.

    Other counterparts I worked with were also focused on providing opportunities. I like to think the work will go on without me being there. Though evacuation has thrown all my emotions into a washing machine. I’m disappointed because of the timing. Sad because of what it all meant to me. For Moroccan staff, Peace Corps means livelihoods, careers. They were nothing but supportive and positive. I feel like I’ve lost a little family.

     

    Girls hiking expedition. Photo by Giovana Giraldo.

     
     


    This story was first published in WorldView magazine’s Summer 2020 issue. Read the entire magazine for free now in the WorldView app. Here’s how:

    STEP 1 - Create an account: Click here and create a login name and password. Use the code DIGITAL2020 to get it free.

    STEP 2 - Get the app: For viewing the magazine on a phone or tablet, go to the App Store/Google Play and search for “WorldView magazine” and download the app. Or view the magazine on a laptop/desktop here.

  • Steven Saum posted an article
    Daniel Herres was the first foreigner to come in and live as a member of the community. see more

    Malawi | Danny Herres

    Home: Tryon, North Carolina


    Danny Herres found out about the evacuation at 4:30 a.m., via group chat on WhatsApp. Malawi is a landlocked nation split by the Great Rift Valley and the massive Lake Malawi, which nearly runs the length of the entire country. Herres had been serving as a community health specialist in a village of about 1,000 people near Lilongwe since June 2019. He was the first Volunteer in the area.

    “No one had ever come in as a foreigner, built relationships, been a community member,” he says, “and then found other motivated individuals and help them grow.”

    He had three hours to prepare before a car arrived to take him to the capital.

     

    “No one had ever come in as a foreigner, built relationships, been a community member,” he says, “and then found other motivated individuals and help them grow.”

    He had graduated from college a decade before and had already earned a master’s, had taught in Japan and Hong Kong. He was still stunned when, attending his first funeral in Malawi, he was invited into a separate hut to sit with local chiefs — an incredible honor. Much of his work involved HIV/AIDS education and prevention.

     

     

    There was the Grassroot Soccer program with dozens of youth, using soccer drills as metaphors to teach about safe sex; his counterpart, Mekelani Nkhoma, graduated 53 students from the program after Herres left. There was a project in the works with a local secondary school regarding HIV stigma and bullying. An HIV support group focused on nutrition and gardening vegetables.

    Of countries grappling with HIV/AIDS on a massive scale, Malawi has made remarkable strides in reducing infections — from an estimated 30 percent of the population with HIV in the mid-1980s to under 9 percent today. “It’s one of the first countries poised to meet the 90-90-90 UNAIDS goal,” Herres says. That would mean 90 percent of the population have been tested and know their HIV status; 90 percent of people with HIV are on antiretroviral therapy; and 90 percent of those on retroviral therapy are virally suppressed. 

     

     

    Herres was working on a project involving malaria prevention strategies as well. “And the day before the evacuation, I ran a training with 65 female students on how to make reusable sanitary pads,” he says. “It was just heartbreaking to leave.”

    He’s now volunteering at a refugee camp on the island of Lesvos, Greece.

    —Steven Boyd Saum

     


    This story was first published in WorldView magazine’s Summer 2020 issue. Read the entire magazine for free now in the WorldView app. Here’s how:

    STEP 1 - Create an account: Click here and create a login name and password. Use the code DIGITAL2020 to get it free.

    STEP 2 - Get the app: For viewing the magazine on a phone or tablet, go to the App Store/Google Play and search for “WorldView magazine” and download the app. Or view the magazine on a laptop/desktop here.

    Thanks for reading. And here’s how you can support the work we’re doing to help evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers.