Time travel happening here! Posted on March 25, 2015

Since I haven’t been keeping up with this (but I have been writing in a journal and maintaining a calendar full of notes and happenings and memories), I thought I’d post what I’ve been sending out in my TinyLetter.

This was sent out on March 25, 2015.

In my first two months in site, I identified three possible projects that would benefit my health center and community (the health district diagnostic I completed helped immensely).

  1. Training of Trainers (ToT)

Peace Corps is all about ToT because the trainers are community members who will be around a lot longer than two years and can therefore continue any projects or activities (in short, it’s more sustainable). I’d want to co-facilitate sessions on adult learning principles, the experiential learning cycle, SMART objectives, dynamic lesson planning and more. That is a bunch of PC-jargon, I know, but what it comes down to is that adults learn differently than kids. If you try to lecture adults about health behaviors, everything said will go in one ear and out the other. Taking that into account, health education should be more fun, engaging and consider the experiences and skills adults already have. Currently, whenever the health educators have a “club de embarazadas” (pregnant women’s club), the women take naps (not literally) while someone talks at them for about an hour. Minimal visuals are used and there isn’t much interaction between educator and participants. While this project is logical, much needed and sustainable, I’m still struggling with how to approach it. As the first volunteer in my town, I want to make sure I don’t just push something down their throats.

  1. “Club de Comadronas” (Midwives’ Club)

After interviewing some of the health center doctors, it’s pretty evident that there is tension between them and traditional midwives. Generations of Mayan women have given birth with midwives, so it seems only natural to continue the tradition. While I’m a full proponent of home birth and personal birth plans, I think that the women will most benefit when health professionals and midwives can cooperate on how to best provide women with high quality care. Face it, a midwife can spend more time with her patients/clients and can get to know them better, but they are not trained or prepared to provide care in certain situations. Ideally, I’d want this “club de comadronas” to (1) train midwives on basic prevention (healthy eating, exercise), (2) how to detect possible risks during pregnancy and (3) open the door and welcome them to the health center for the birth. I know the Guatemalan Ministry of Health strongly recommends institutional births, but sometimes that’s not the best option. In my local health center, the delivery room also doubles as the health educators’ room. When a woman in labor comes in, the health educators leave and gossip outside. I’m sure it’s uncomfortable to have people walking in and out to retrieve materials, but the health center is safer in terms of hygiene for a birth. My personal hope is to make the delivery room more comfortable and more welcoming for local women and promote midwives coming with women. This sounds ambitious, but I have two years, right?

  1. “Espacios Amigables” (literally, Friendly Spaces, but more like a teens’ support group)

The majority of my project framework involves working with mothers, but I feel that my town would benefit from a reproductive/sexual health program just for teenagers. There are health center staff members who probably don’t know how to correctly use condoms, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the same applies to youth. The way the system is currently structured, unless a young woman already has a child or is somehow incredibly informed, she doesn’t really have a reason to come to the health center and learn about family planning or even the basics of puberty. In the future, I’d like to have classes for youth on reproductive health topics (basic anatomy and physiology, biology of puberty and sex, transmission and prevention of sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy prevention and more) but since I’m the first volunteer and don’t personally know any youth (yet), I think I want to start with self-esteem, leadership and other more accessible topics. Slowly, I’d work my way up to the health topics.

These are all ideas so far and after speaking with the health district coordinator, I think that the ToT program will be really beneficial. He was really supportive and understanding of the great potential of effective health education. This Friday, we’re going to have a meeting with all the health educators and nursing staff to plan for these monthly trainings and to brainstorm more topics to cover. Then, the coordinator wants to use the already in-effect midwives’ club (apparently the health center already has one and no one told me/they haven’t had a meeting since October of last year…) to evaluate the health educators, to see if they’re applying what they learned from the trainings.

Overall, this week is going incredibly well and I’m excited to start “real” Peace Corps work!

On a completely different note, I had my first In-Service Training (IST) in early March. The first part was a three-day nutrition workshop to which I invited two work partners (the rural health technician and one of the health educators). We learned about malnutrition and how it becomes cyclical in a family, different initiatives to prevent malnutrition and how to best provide health education to the community. Although the workshop was informative and entertaining, my favorite aspect was having my two work partners meet PC staff and other PCVs. I felt like my worlds had meshed and now both sides understand the other better. The rural health technician is now more cognizant of my technical project and better understands the life of PCV (she actually repeatedly mentioned how incredible it was that we were so close after only knowing each other for five months – I still can’t believe that). At the same time, my project manager and fellow PCVs now get what I mean when I say my rural health technician is incredibly motivated but also easily distracted. After the workshop, the PCVs continued to a two-week technical training in the Peace Corps offices. I came back to site in San Pablo feeling refreshed and motivated to work, albeit a little lonely (after spending two jam-packed weeks with other PCVs, it was hard to come back to my little town where I’m by myself).

Sorry this post/letter was so verbose, but I want to add some quick highlights:

During the three-day nutrition workshop, some PCVs, my work partners and I did an Insanity video. It was hard, but so much fun to do together. Although most of the Guatemalans present were laughing at the funny movements.

I absolutely loved going back to see my training host family near the PC office. They are so welcoming and it felt just like going home. I’m excited to see them again for “Semana Santa” or “Holy Week!”

One of my favorite Guatemalan products is a “chocobanano,” or a frozen banana that is dipped into melted chocolate. It costs about 50 cents to 1 quetzal, so it’s not only cheap, but also somewhat nutritious and always hits the spot.

Second Lady of the United States Jill Biden and First Lady of Guatemala Rosa Leal de Pérez came to visit the PC office during my IST. Unfortunately, their schedules were packed so there was no time for conversation, just a quick photo opp.

Some members of my health center staff are big fans of a new pancake recipe that only includes eggs, bananas and raw oatmeal. It’s cheap, nutritious and easy to make. Hopefully this catches on in San Pablo.

I now have a lunch group – I eat with the secretary and some nurses at the health center. We joke around, tell stories and share food. They have singlehandedly made me feel included and more a part of the community. Although I struggle waking up early in the morning to pack my lunch, it’s so worth it.

I think that’s it. If any of you are interested in reading my health district diagnostic, I’d be happy to send it to you – although I should warn you it’s entirely in Spanish. As usual, I’d love to respond to any questions you may have, and am always accepting advice/suggestions/recommendations and easy recipes.

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