June 2, 2015

As of June 19th, I will have been in site for six months! It’s hard to believe that I’m a quarter way done with my service. I know that work in site isn’t gradual, but follows more of an exponential curve and that as I become more integrated into my health center and community, I’ll be able to do more, but I still don’t know what I have to show for six months.

I can say that I have officially started a Training of Trainers program with the San Pablo health educators. We had one session so far and plan to have one every month until the end of the year. The goal of these trainings is to provide the health educators with techniques, strategies or knowledge that they can implement or apply in their own work activities with local community members. I gave them a spiel about how regardless of how hard I try, I will never truly be able to communicate in the local Mayan language, but I can share what I know with them and they can, in turn, share with the community.

Our first session was on the biology and physiology of pregnancy and how family planning methods work in the body. I was lucky enough to have some cool ideas from awesome people to draw on and put together a training that was overall successful and fun (in other words, I borrowed the idea to tape a female reproductive system to the floor and have the participants act out what happens during menstruation, pregnancy and with different family planning methods). I knew that some of the finer points would be hard to comprehend, but even basic anatomy was difficult for some of the health educators to visualize. They are so accustomed to rote memorization that critical thinking is sometimes lacking.

As anyone who frequents an Internet café in town can tell you, the way Guatemalan youth do research for school is to write down the topic on a small piece of paper and then leave it with the person running the café. Between printing and counting change, said person will Google the topic and copy-paste information from Wikipedia and other sites into a Word document. And there ‘ya have it, reputable research. This is why I want to focus on skills training rather than simply going over knowledge and facts. It’s not that the facts aren’t important. It’s that anyone, including myself, can easily forget facts. But it’s not as easy to forget concepts and skills and techniques. Or so I hope.

I’m also a little preoccupied about the elections later this year. Traditionally, people who hold government jobs (including positions at the health center) are hired based on the political party in power. So if/when a new party is in power, a large chunk of the health center staff will be fired and new people hired in their places. It’d be great if I didn’t have a brand new group of health educators next year, but there’s a chance I will. If that does happen, I’d like to be idealistic and hope that any skills learned with me will be applicable and useful in their next job, regardless of whether or not they work in health. Although, I really hope they continue working in the health field.

This may seem very odd – changing careers based on the political party in power, but it’s normal for Guatemala – at least for my little town. I’ve talked to other people about this and what it comes down to is that for a Paulinera (someone from San Pablo), identity s defined by family members, which church you belong to and more. In the States, we ask what we consider normal questions – Where are you from? What do you do? Where did you study? And for recent college grads, what did you major in? In San Pablo, those are all completely not normal. It’s more like this: What’s your name? Are you Evangelical or Catholic? What church do you attend? How many siblings do you have? Are you married? If so, how many kids do you have? If you’re not married, do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend? At first, it seems hard to adapt to, but now it’s just normal. Understanding identity here has helped me become less frustrated at work because to them, work is just that, work. It’s less of a livelihood for the average person and more of a temporary means of employment. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not the case for everyone. Teachers, pastors, nurses and doctors possess more permanent positions, so they identify more with their jobs. This is why when I work with health educators, I try to share information with them that makes sense to not only them as health educators, but them as adults in their community. They don’t really need to know the difference between progesterone and estrogen, but they do need to know which family planning methods introduce artificial hormones into the body.

On a completely different note, I had the opportunity to travel back to the US for a couple days – my sister graduated with an MD! It was great to see her and my parents, albeit for a short time, but being back felt like a dream. I mean who really needs to shower everyday (without shower shoes!), control the temperature during said shower, a refrigerator with cold beverages (I still miss milk so much) and more? Although I am incredibly appreciative of such amenities and thoroughly enjoyed them during my time back.

Looking ahead, the month of June is incredibly full (more Training of Trainers, Spanish classes at the Peace Corps office, a three-day leadership/sexual health camp for teens, and more things I can’t remember) and I’m looking forward to being busy!

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