Waking up every day to a new experience might frighten some, but to volunteers serving in the Peace Corps, it’s just a regular day. I served in Burkina Faso, a country in Western Africa, from 2008- 2012 as a health volunteer. I taught health education and outreach – spending most of my time weighing babies, teaching mothers proper food preparation, and teaching children how to correctly wash their hands.
During my first two years, I implemented activities and programs based on the needs of my community. To address poor hygiene in the community, I designed and taught monthly classes at elementary schools. I went from class to class explaining hand-washing techniques, modes of transmission for diseases, or proper uses of the outdoor bathroom.
To give my youth activities to do after school, I started a Girls Club and a boys’ soccer league. The Girls Club met weekly throughout the year. We discussed different health topics and life skills. The boys’ soccer league met during summer break. During half-time of the soccer games, the Girls Club talked to the crowd about good health and hygiene practices.
After my first two years in Burkina Faso, I came back to the US for a month-long vacation. During this time I got asked all sorts of questions along the lines of, “What did you like about Africa?” or “What was the worst part about Burkina?”
What I loved most was the sense of community. My village was small, but everyone knew each other.
But not in the way were you know everyone’s business. Instead, when there was a crisis, everyone banned together. I loved that everyone knew each other’s names or looked after pets when owners were out of town.
These villagers lack a lot of resources and materials, but they are very rich. They have a strong community – stronger than most US communities I’ve ever lived.
After spending three years of grassroots work – where I was the pusher, teacher, and project developer – I saw the difference I made in this community. I showed them how to combat their problems by identifying and using their local resources. Although I may have been the push they needed, they truly did the work themselves.
When most people ask me to describe my first 39 months worth of experience in a sentence or two, I usually say, “It was great!” And it was great, but it could be better described as a rollercoaster. Once you start, you’re normally scared, since you don’t really know what you got yourself into. Then you get used to it and maybe start to like it. During the ride you have a lot of ups and downs, but in the end you love it so much it leaves you wanting more, and you want to ride it one more time.
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