I’ve been in Morocco for nearly three months now and I officially become a Peace Corps Volunteer on Monday (up until now I’ve been a Trainee). So it seems like a good time for a reflective post.
Since we’re getting ready to swear in, PC staff has been going over the bigger themes in Peace Corps. The Peace Corps mission is to promote world peace and friendship. There are three components by which the PC hopes to work towards their mission. First is as a development organization to build capacity within countries to improve living standards. Second is to allow foreigners to learn more about American culture and values. And third is to educate Americans about foreign countries. (So in reading this blog you are helping fulfill the third goal of the PC).
So how am I working towards the mission and goals of the PC now that I am a volunteer? For the first six months of service in my community, my two main jobs are learning the language and integrating into the community. Obviously as a health educator, language is critical if I’m going to communicate information to my community. The integration is equally as important because I have to gain the trust and respect of my community if I’m going to be effective. I have to meet as many people in my community as I can and figure out who I’m going to be working with. This is especially important for me because the “community” that I am responsible for is very spread out. I reported differently in an earlier post, but it turns out that there are villages 5, 10, 12, 16, 20 and 24 kilometers away from my village that I’m expected to work with. Also, I am the first volunteer in my community, so people have to get used to seeing an American face in town. Essentially, the most important part of my job for the first 6 months is to meet and hang out with people.
Another important aspect is doing a needs assessment of the health situation in the community. As the first volunteer in my site, I have very little information about the health needs of my community. At first, I can talk to the nurse in the health clinic (who speaks French, which will be very helpful) and a couple of the community leaders that I’ve already met about what they think I should be doing. But once my language improves and I feel more comfortable in the community, essentially I need to interview as many people as I can about the health problems that they have. I need to find out if people have bathrooms and how they get their water. I need to find out how many of their children have died and where they go to birth their babies. In any situation, these would be very sensitive questions, but it will be particularly difficult in the generally more conservative atmosphere in my site. Especially since I need to talk to women about many of these issues. Obviously, sensitivity, respect, and tact are paramount and I need to be careful not to offend anyone. At the same time, I can’t do any health work if I don’t know what the problems are.
After six months, however, our jobs as volunteers change a little bit. We have what’s called “In Service Training” for a week, where we all meet together for more training. At this point we learn about grant writing and other ways to initiate infrastructure projects. Until that point, we’re really not supposed to do much health “work,” other than a few informal health education sessions. Explicitly, our job is to learn the language and integrate.
So how has training helped me be a good volunteer for the first six months? It’s been pretty helpful. The most important skill that you learn during training is language and my language ability is OK. It’s a difficult language and my language group had some disruptive issues with our language teacher, but I’m doing OK. We had our language proficiency exams a couple days ago and I had a pretty good score. Unfortunately, the Berber dialects are so variable throughout Morocco that the language I learned in training will be significantly different from the one I speak in my site. By no means will I be starting over with language at my site, but a lot of what I learned won’t be helpful.
One surprising part of training was the lack of technical training. We had one session on the general health situation in Morocco, one about latrine construction, and one about maternal and child health, but that’s pretty much it. It was very frustrating at first because it didn’t feel like we were learning any of the skills necessary to be health educators. But as I’ve described above, the first six months of service are really about listening and learning rather than teaching. Which means that after three months of training and six months of service (nine months in country), I’ll finally be able to start doing work.
After swear-in on Monday, I travel to my site on Tuesday. I’m very excited to be done with training and start working. Hope all is well in the States.