I know the Peace Corps and its work sounds abstract, being hard to explain is one of the many challenges of international development. Before leaving for Paraguay, many people asked what I would be doing and I couldn’t tell them. Here is my post-training attempt to define my work as a volunteer.
The Peace Corps Goals
- To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women
- To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served
- To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans
The first job (and inevitable outcome of a job well done) of Peace Corps volunteer (PCV) is cultural exchange. Cultural exchange means learning about your host country’s culture and sharing about the culture of the US.
As a PCV, I’ve lived with a host family almost 3 months now and will live with one for almost 5 months when all is said and done. Living with a host family gives me the chance to learn what Paraguayan family life is like, eat tons of Paraguayan food, and ask endless questions about social events, pastimes, and beliefs. On the flip side, it also allows my host family to ask billions of questions and allows me to combat myths about the US, share my music, share American food, and offer a new perspective.
Of course, this exchange isn’t limited to my host family or the time I will live with them. Through all my interactions with community members, including people just seeing me do what I do, we are exchanging culture. Also, this blog, conversations with friends in the US, and all the stories I will tell when I get back to the States work toward the cultural exchange goals.
Health Education and Public Health
As a community health volunteer my work toward helping Paraguay develop skilled men and women involves raising awareness about health issues and working to improve health environments. The community health sector goals in Paraguay are:
Goal 1: Improve hygiene and environmental health practices
- Dental health: I could teach why brushing your teen is important and how to brush properly. It is normal in Paraguay to see children with visible rotten teeth and for people to be missing some or many of their teeth.
- Hand washing and parasite prevention: I may teach kids how to wash their hands correctly and parents how to recognize if their children have parasites. The main types of parasites found in Paraguay are giardia, roundworm, and hookworm.
- Sanitation Practices (trash management and potable water): There isn’t trash collection in most places in Paraguay so most families burn or burry their trash. Water pollution can be a problem in some areas of Paraguay because of sewage management and livestock, among other things. Many people don’t think twice before throwing trash on ground.
- Cook Stoves: Many families in Paraguay use open fires to cook. The Peace Corps has developed several wood cook stoves that when built can improve cooking efficiency, reduce the risk of burns, and reduce respiratory problems aggravated by breathing smoke.
Goal 2: Reduce the risk of non-communicable diseases (NCD)
- Non-communicable diseases education: NCDs are diseases that can’t be passed from one person to another. Some of the most common NCDs in Paraguay are diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. I could provide general information about these diseases and teach about nutrition and exercise as a way to control and prevent NCDs.
- Gardens: I’m planning to have my own veggie garden, help my school have a school garden, and work with anyone who wants help making their own veggie garden. Gardens are a great opportunity to promote healthy eating and diversify the veggies available to families.
Goal 3: Reproductive Health:
- Life Skills: I will work with youth to help them expand their decision-making and problem solving skills, critical and creative thinking abilities, communication and interpersonal relationship strategies, self-awareness and sense of empathy, and stress and emotional strain coping strategies.
- Sexual and Reproductive Health: I may talk to youth about what sex is, STDs, and family planning strategies.
- HIV/AIDS: As part of reproductive health, I could work to educate youth about what HIV is and how it is transmitted. Also, through this work I can hopefully help reduce discrimination against people who are living with HIV.