December was an eventful month with a lot of traveling. I was away from my village for the first time in three months, spending the first half of the month in Lusaka, Zambia’s capital, for In-Service Training (IST), and the last half of the month on vacation in Malawi with a handful of other Peace Corps Volunteers from my cohort.
IST was held in Lusaka from December 6-19, two weeks of training on two separate topics. The first week of training was devoted to Project Design and Management (PDM), and the second week was training from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a $30 billion United States organization, who funds organizations like Peace Corps Zambia to implement projects and interventions designed to reduce HIV and AIDS, with the end goal of eliminating the disease. For each of these trainings, we were able to bring counterparts from our individual communities, allowing them the opportunity to learn alongside Peace Corps Volunteers with whom they work with. Having my counterparts at both trainings was very encouraging, seeing how they were eager to learn and highly motivated after training to get back to the village and implement projects and begin work for the new year.
PDM Training focused on action planning around theories of human behavior change, including identifying priority and influencing groups/segments, pinpointing right health behaviors, considering and weighing determinants, addressing key factors, both benefits and barriers, and developing activities and programs that support positive behavior change. Working with our counterparts, we were able to create three action plans for three pressing health issues pertinent in our villages that we will be implementing in the new year. Our three projects include: 1) re-establishing our community advisory council, 2) decreasing the rate of early marriages and early pregnancies, and 3) decreasing the rate of malaria and simultaneously increasing the rate of mosquito net usage.
PEPFAR Training included two topics: 1) general HIV/AIDS training and 2) Perma Gardening. General HIV/AIDS training included the usual suspects: transmission, prevention, treatment, and care, but we were also treated to training on Grassroots Soccer, a youth-driven, youth-focused program utilizing soccer as a means of HIV/AIDS education through experiential learning, team sports, and physical education/activity. Parma Gardening was a great training on utilizing both local resources and natural resources to create year-long fertile gardens, providing families with food and sustenance, with minimal work. We even built our own garden during the training, fully equipped with compost piles, seed and tree planting, and garden security and sustainability.
After IST, a group of us went on vacation to Malawi, a country just east of Zambia. Malawi is popular vacation destination for Peace Corps Volunteers in Zambia, as well as other neighboring countries where Peace Corps Volunteers serve, including South Africa, Namibia, Tanzania, and more.
Our first stop before heading into Malawi was in Lundazi in Eastern Province, where fellow Peace Corps Volunteer, Claudia, lives. Claudia is assigned to a special project, along with a handful of other volunteers in our cohort, called Saving Mothers, Giving Lives (SMGL), a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) funded project, aiming to reduce the mortality rate of pregnant women in Zambia. SMGL volunteers work directly with Zambian government through the Ministry of Health offices in their respective BOMAs (provincial capitals), so their living accommodations vary from those of us living in the bush in rural villages. The said, all 10 of us were able to crash at Claudia’s apartment for the night in Lundazi before heading out in the morning for Malawi.
Bright and early, we loaded up a canter (think huge commercial truck with a open flatbed in back where we all sat in uncomfortable positions), and headed straight for the country border. At the border, we went into the immigration offices to process our visas to get into Malawi (visas were $75.00 USD, a new fee Malawi recently implemented). There, we were also able to exchange Zambian kwacha for Malawian kwacha. A little sketch, since the transactions were done on the dirt road with a group of men who rolled up together with wads of cash to exchange, but we were all able to trade in our kwacha for usable money in Malawi. Once in Malawi, we switched over from the canter to a minibus, which took us all the way to our lodge, Njaya Lodge, in Nhkata Bay, Malawi.
Accommodations at the lodge were good, minus the last couple of days when running water became unavailable, forcing us to shower in the lake and transforming functional toilets into pseudo porta-potties. Besides that, food and drinks were good, staff friendly and fun, and the lodge even had fun activities for us to partake in as a group.
Lake Malawi is absolutely breathtaking. The water, clear, temperature, perfect, and beach, clean. We went swimming every day, and we were also able to feed eagles, go out fishing on canoes at sunrise, and my favorite, go cliff jumping from 30 feet up in the air! On Christmas Eve, we had a nice dinner together as a group, and went dancing on the beach afterwards. On Christmas, we went over to a nearby lodge, and went swimming, paddle boarding, and canoeing. We had another nice dinner for Christmas, and ended the vacation in Malawi on a great note.
My vacation ended a week earlier than the majority of our group, who continued their vacation and rang in the new year in Livingstone in Southern Province. My travels took me back to Northwestern Province, where I stayed at our Provincial House for a couple of days before heading back to my village. Lucky for me, there were a few other volunteers at the house, and we were all able to celebrate New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day together. Hunter (a fellow volunteer in my cohort, who, awesomely enough, is also my fraternity brother from another chapter) and I bought a bunch of fireworks and we lit the Zambian sky aglow, along with our Peace Corps Volunteer Leader (PCVL), Ephriam, and other volunteers, Emily, Jenna, and Hannah. Ephriam surprised us all on New Year’s Day with a fancy roast dinner, and afterwards, we played a board game that I really like called “Settlers of Catan,” and watched movies, including Quentin Tarantino’s newest, “The Hateful Eight.” I left for my village the next morning and came home to a warm welcome from my host family and a beautiful sight of three pigeon pea trees growing nicely where I had planted them just before I left at the beginning of the month. Vacation was definitely nice, but it’s great to be back in village.
I’m looking forward to 2016, a brand new year that will be spent in an entirely different country. So many projects and things to do, I don’t even know where to start! The first month of the year will be devoted to planning for the year and beginning smaller projects like perma gardening, jump starting my youth groups, women’s club, and Neighborhood Health Committees (NHCs), and cleaning up my hut and compound, which is now covered in overgrown grass due to the copious amount of rain that we’ve been receiving in Northwestern Province.