Drum roll, please … Community Entry completed! 3 months have passed since we were sworn in as Peace Corps Volunteers, after our intense 3 month Pre-Service Training, and the final month of Community Entry proved to be just as busy and jam-packed as the first two for me.
The month started off with a bang with the Malaria Bike Tour, a program comprised of all 5 Peace Corps Volunteers in our district here in Mufumbwe. (Read all about it here). And smack dab in the middle of the program itself was my individual site visit from Peace Corps program staff. The purpose of site visits is check up on volunteers out in the bush to see if we’re still alive and doing well. If we are, then they proceed to see how everything is going with work, day to day life, safety and security issues, medical problems, and anything else we want staff to know about. The Peace Corps program staff also take these opportunities to visit provincial and/or district offices, checking in with updates and further strengthening their relationships with one another. My site visit went well; we started off meeting with the District Health Office (DHO) and proceeded to my little hut to finish the rest of the check-in. As soon as we finished, a huge storm came out of nowhere, which was lucky for me because I ended up getting a cruiser ride back into town to meet up with the others for the rest of the bike tour.
The middle of the month was routine work: health centre three days a week, my women’s club, three youth clubs, and computer literacy lessons each once a week, and a bunch of meetings littered throughout. My Malaria & Bednet Check Champions submitted their work for Peace Corps Zambia’s “10,000 Bednet Check Challenge,” and I’m super happy to say that all that hard work planning and implementing that training truly paid off. Altogether, the 12 trained community leaders visited a total of 823 households, checked and verified 1,018 LLINs (long-lasting insecticidal nets) were being used properly, and helped hang 224 unused LLINs. In addition, a total of 1,740 villagers were given health education talks on Malarial transmission, prevention, testing, and treatment. 1,018/10,000 (10%!) bednet checks in just one little catchment area in all of Zambia. I’m super proud of everyone because of their hard work and dedication in helping our catchment area fight Malaria by increasing bednet usage and cultivating a culture of malaria education and awareness, and therefore, decreasing the number of Malaria cases in our district and province.
The last week of Community Entry was a different and new experience for all of us newbies because we got to attend our first Provincial Meeting. Provs, as the cool kids call them, happen twice per calendar year, once in June and again in November. In a nutshell, every volunteer in each respective province gets together and meets with Peace Corps administrative staff, Peace Corps Volunteer Leaders (PCVLs), and Volunteer Advisory Committee (VAC) representatives for updates and announcements. There are VAC elections for new representatives every year, and yours truly was elected and will be representing Northwestern province in 2016. VAC representatives serve as liaisons between Peace Corps Volunteers and Peace Corps administrative staff on issues, concerns, and/or questions that may come up during their service. Peace Corps Volunteers submit Volunteer Concern Forms (VCFs) regarding these issues, concerns, and/or questions, and VAC representatives throughout the country meet twice every year with staff to address VCFs. This advocacy role will allow me to serve in an different capacity during the next two years, working with peers and staff and improving Peace Corps service in Zambia for current and future volunteers while simultaneously completing my current responsibilities as a Health Extension Agent. Besides updates, announcements, and the VAC election, we also plan provincial wide programs like Camp GLOW (girls empowerment program) and Camp ELITE (boys leadership program), clean the provincial house, and for our November meeting, cook and enjoy Thanksgiving dinner together. Reuniting with friends from my intake and swapping Community Entry stories with each other was very enjoyable, and although it was a bit overwhelming with so many people in one place at one time, it was really nice to meet everyone in the province finally. Oh, and I chipped my tooth, and I’m sexy now.
All in all, I think Community Entry was a good experience for me. I met a lot of people and learned and accomplished a lot of things. As in any new job back home in the states, learning how to adjust and adapt was a bit difficult in the beginning, and to be honest, there were even days where I felt like throwing in the towel and heading back home to the Bay Area. But, when I challenged myself to go out there and utilize what I’d learn during training, specifically language, and meet as many people as I possibly could, all with a good, positive attitude, I noticed that things started to change, and I started feeling more comfortable and welcomed. Once that was taken care of, everything else just fell into place, one at a time. Presentations, groups, and projects and programs came and went as these three months went by. In retrospect, I think the thing that truly helped change my view on everything, especially on frustrating days, was waking up and making the decision to have a good, positive attitude and outlook for the day (after taking my Malaria prophylaxis, of course). It may sound cheesy or simple-minded, but out here, in the middle of nowhere in a different continent, country, culture, lifestyle, etc., etc., a cheesy or simple-minded concept can be a game changer. Of course there were still days where I wanted punch my hut to the ground, but I’ve learned that on those days, cooking a nice dinner calms me down (I think chopping veggies gets the frustration out of me) and chocolate a good book afterwards definitely come in real handy.
Now that Community Entry is over, we move on to more training in the capital, Lusaka, for two weeks in December, called In-Service Training (IST). IST allows us to send two counterparts from our catchment area to come and learn alongside us on topics like Project Design and Management, HIV/AIDS, and Perma Gardening, in hopes of implementing projects and programs together in the new year. This is also a great way to provide our counterparts the opportunity to travel and get trained on topics that can help their specific communities, with or without a Peace Corps Volunteer present. Enter sustainability! Once IST is over, we can choose to head back to our villages or take our first vacation for the holidays. Since this is the first time we’re allowed to take a break (vacation is prohibited during both Pre-Service Training and Community Entry), a group of us have chosen the latter; we’ll be spending Christmas in Malawi, and work will resume when we get back to our villages in the new year.