Getting Some Experience...and putting Peace Corps in perspective
So, as many of you know, I had no experience working with people affected by HIV/AIDS before I received my invitation to work in Namibia. I wasn't too worried about the lack of experience for two reasons: (1) I assumed the Peace Corps invited me to the program to focus on capacity building and program development (areas I do have experience in) and (2) I was excited to have the opportunity to learn something new, particularly given the importance of possessing knowledge regarding HIV. But do not let me convince you that I was in a state of total calm about this lack of experience. Indeed, I could hardly fathom having the USG pick up the tab on my airfare and housing to work in a field in which I didn't have at least a little experience. So, I spent the last few months trying to get just that: a little experience.
Among the endeavors I embarked upon:
- Attended an "HIV 101" course at the Phoenix office of Body Positive
- Observed HIV Counseling & Testing at the Maricopa County Department of Public Health throughout the month of September
Among those I will be completing before departure:
- Completing a 3 day HIV Counselor Training through the Maricopa County Department of Public Health
It may have served me well to keep a more detailed journal of these experiences as they unfolded. However, planning and discovering the opportunities seemed work enough at the time and the whole process moved so quickly that I hardly had time to reflect in writing. Nevertheless, the overall experience thus far has been refreshing—a welcome reprieve from a daily routine in which I was becoming all too familiar with a Dell monitor.
Before the barrage of cultural immersion, bumbling over tribal dialect and Peace Corps hoopla that Nov-Dec will bring, I’ll be shoving all that my best judgment deems necessary into 80 lbs of luggage and jumping on a plane to Washington D.C. At said time I’ll have to tighten my belt and hope that my crash course in working with PLWHA (a fancy acronym used by those in the field to refer to People Living With HIV/AIDS) will be sufficient preparation for field work in Namibia—where the adult HIV prevalence rate hovers around 20%.
What am I doing for the next 2 years?
Well...I'm still in the dark about that one myself, but I can provide an excerpt from the invitation packet I received from the Peace Corps. Time will reveal how accurately (if at all) the pre-departure hype matches reality. Nevertheless, here's what I've been told:
"As a volunteer with the Community Health and HIV/AIDS Project (CHHAP), you will be assigned to one of the two following programmatic areas listed below based on your background, skills, and experience. Please note that you may be the first Peace Corps Volunteer assigned to work with a particular organization and as such you may be challenged to develop the specifics of the project as you go along. On the other hand, Volunteers that are following in the footsteps of one or two Volunteers may discover more shape and structure to their assignment. But in either case, the initiative and commitment of the Volunteer will be the determinant factor in defining the effectiveness of the Volunteer's work and contribution...
A. Volunteers Working with Gov't Ministries
- Assist in the establishment of HIV/AIDS awareness clubs at schools or in communities
- Plan and implement creative activities that raise awareness among youth
- Help to establish youth friendly health and counseling services
- Provide information and materials to local institutions and community members
- Assist school and community groups to use artistic, cultural, social, and traditional practices to disseminate information
- Conduct short-term trainings for staff and community members
- Liaise with national level officials to coordinate, plan and operate Youth Multipurpose Resource Centers and Youth Offices around the country
B. Volunteers Working with Health Extension and Faith-Based or Community Based Organizations
- Help conduct needs assessments at the community level
- Bolster the organizational and institutional capacity of local NGOs or FBOs to respond to needs of people affected by HIV/AIDS
- Contribute to program development
- Provide information, education, and training on optimal nutrition, first aid and health care, support and treatment
- Identify and conduct training for community volunteers and outreach workers on home-based care and support for those enrolled in ARV treatment programs
- Plan and implement creative activities to develop life skills and raise awareness among children and young adults
- Assist youth and community leaders to develop and disseminate information about HIV/AIDS through creative, artistic, or cultural methods
- Liaise with local and international, non-government and faith-based organizations
If you're curious about why the Peace Corps is doing this work in Namibia, the following link provides some illuminating background info:HIV/AIDS Epidemiology (and more) in Namibia