I’m officially a Peace Corps Volunteer! I swore in with 45 other health, education, and environmental volunteers last Friday! We spent a few days in Lome where we were able to do some shopping, which for me was stocking up on enough chocolate and tea to last the next three months. I also bought wine and cheese for the celebration we had after swear in. This wine came in an actual bottle and not a cardboard box, the only benefit left over from French colonialism. Also, CHEESE, do you guys know how freaking delicious that stuff is? Despite being lactose intolerant, I ate the entire block and no regrets.
The left side are environmental volunteers, center is health, and right side is education.
I arrived in village last Saturday after a very sad goodbye to my fellow volunteers for the next three months. We are not allowed to leave our region for the first three months after we arrive at site to help with integration, but it definitely plays a part in the depression a lot of volunteers feel in the first few months at post. I am very lucky that I have two wonderful volunteers that live within 30 minutes of me, but they went back to training for an extra week of French so I have been had plenty of time to get to know my neighbors. We did start on the family plan yesterday so I plan on taking full advantage of that!
This week has mostly involved getting my house the way I want it. I scrubbed all the floors, the latrine, and the kitchen. I unpacked everything and organized the mountains of paperwork we got during PST. I also started work at the CMS. I try to go for a few hours every morning even when nothing is going on just so people get used to seeing me. Tuesday’s are maternal health days where women can come in for free check ups while pregnant. It is recommended women come at least 3 times before giving birth to take malarial prophylaxis and get tested for HIV. However, I was there for 4 hours on Tuesday and only saw one patient. I think my first job is going to be better understanding why women are not coming to the CMS and how to improve it. Wednesday is baby weighing and vaccination day. This had a great turn out of about 30 kids and afterwards I went up into the mountains with my homologue to give vaccines to the kids who live too far away to come to the CMS for them. It was a great experience and I am truly amazed by the families that will go the extra mile, or 10, to get their kids vaccinated. All the vaccines are free, the only thing the family pays for is the vaccination card, which is very cheap and every mother that comes always has all the cards for her kids and always remembers to come back for the next immunization. It’s a pretty remarkable system and the CMS I work at has a really effective program. I want to start writing presentations that I can give to the mothers while they are waiting for vaccinations. I can emphasis the importance of prenatal exams, family planning, breast feeding, nutrition, hygiene, and talk to them about barriers to health to better understand what I can work on.
The Peace Corps has a really great approach to development using a tool called Participatory Analysis for Community Action (PACA, because the U.S. Government loves acronyms). It is an approach that involves the community in development, which makes projects more culturally appropriate and sustainable. There are 4 PACA tools that I will be using in my community: community mapping to determine resources in the community, daily activity schedules to understand daily schedules for men, women, girls, and boys, seasonal calendar to determine yearly patterns of work, and needs assessment to determine the priorities for the community. Essentially it will be using all the things that I studied in every community health class I ever took. I’m looking forward to using these tools at community meetings, meeting with the village elders, the church and mosque, women’s groups, at the schools, and at the CMS to determine the projects I will be doing over the next two years.
I’m also working on mastering the art of sitting. This is probably the most challenging part of Peace Corps for me. I got pretty good at wasting time when I was an AmeriCorps, but I lived with 3 other AmeriCorps who became some of my closest friends that I could hang out with all the time. After AmeriCorps I went back to school full time and often worked full time as well so free time became this mythical unicorn that rarely came around. In Togo this is not the case, during training I was busy 10-12 hours a day, but now that I’m here I have about 4 hours a day at the CMS before everyone takes their afternoon nap. Then I come home and read, exercise, or clean and talk to my neighbors. This is probably why I have just finished my 15th book since I got to Togo three months ago, but my computer breaking has had a lot to do with it. It’s going to be interesting after PC when I go to grad school and no longer get at least three hours in the middle of the day to nap and read, but until then it’s time to learn the art of doing nothing.