Tag Archives: Volunteer

On Volunteerism & Development: A World Just Within Our Reach

A Peace Corps staff member assesses the projects planned and presented at the Community Health Project Design & Management conference in Nampula City, Mozambique.

Half the room is made up of American (and one Puerto Rican) volunteers, and the other half is made up of our Mozambican counterparts. We enter the conference room for the start of a three-day training that promises to introduce all of us to project implementation in our communities, a topic that all of us need to understand as projects start to get off the ground.

The all-Portuguese training begins, and I realize the importance of the situation. Roughly 25 years ago, this country was tangled in a civil war that crippled the country, destroyed infrastructures, and left emotional scars that still remain today. While not many people here openly speak about the war, it’s clear to see the effects on the developing country.

However, one product of the end of this war was pure, and understandable hope for a brighter future for the country and its people.

My counterpart is sitting next to me as we spend the day learning about the role of Peace Corps volunteers in Mozambique, developing goals and objectives for our plans, and starting to list out the activities which we are going to complete once we return to our sites.

The American volunteers are familiar with this environment as we scoff at the pile of papers and handouts we receive throughout the day. However, to our Mozambican counterparts, the information is (mostly) new and (mostly) exciting, sparking an energy in the room that is hard to resist.

A fellow PCVs counterpart is a community health worker. He lives a very simple life, but today he is attending a conference in an urban hotel surrounded by accommodations, intelligent discussions, and a bountiful supply of water and food. 

To say that he was elated would be understating it. He was completely and totally beyond himself. Literally, a world had been opened up to him. Not one of excess, but one of deserved recognition for the work that he and the other Mozambican counterparts do on a daily basis.

While employment is hanging over every conversation with volunteers as the country faces high unemployment, especially in rural areas, he sits in his seat for the remainder of the training with a smile across his face and a shirt nicely ironed and buttoned all the way to the top.

We spend three days exchanging ideas, mapping out our activities, and providing advice to one another. While us Americans see this as a normal, everyday brainstorming session, Mozambicans embrace this dialogue as the new foundation to their newly developed home. These conversations provide them a glimpse into a world that is not fully their own but, at the same time, just within their reach. A world of community health and progress. A developed world.

I share a table with my counterpart, and he is also elated. He speaks up often, shares his insights, thanks for me bringing him to this place where he is learning much. 

Ivan with the final project proposal.

As an unemployed member of our shared community, my 28-year-old counterpart, Ivan, thrives on giving back and offering his hands and heart. He describes to me in detail during a lunch break that his last name isn’t actually his last name, as his parents disappeared when he was very young, leaving him to grow up in an orphanage. When asked about his parents, he only knows that someone told him his parents were taken away with the trash.

Today, he’s advocating for youth and health in our community. He is engaging in difficult conversations to move the efforts closer to success. At the conference, he develops a plan to work with the HIV-support groups in our town to raise chickens for sale, gaining money for the groups and the promotion of support groups.

We can learn something from Ivan and Mozambicans: conversation with peers about moving forward should be our constant motivations in life. Why can’t we all see the bigger picture for the future of our own country? Instead of bowing our heads during brainstorming sessions, let us raise our fists and demand change.

The conference asked us to design a project. However, the conference also asked us to be better listeners, not only to our own peers, but those on the outside who still have the motivation and energy to love more, push harder, and seek results.

Ivan, as well as the other counterparts, receive certificates for their work during the conference. A piece of paper to us, the next step in changing their home for the better to them.

Ivan with Peace Corps staff receiving his certificate for completion of the training.


Questions? Comments? Contact me!

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Peace & Inspiration from Unconditional Kindness

With Peace Corps Week in full steam and Michelle Obama’s declaration for more opportunities for girls around the world, I’m thinking back to my first two months with my homestay family, who provided me so much without them ever really knowing or understanding why. It’s simple for me to say, “I appreciate everything you’ve done for me,” but it’s harder to show them how deeply their love for a stranger, a foreigner would shape the rest of my service, or how I view Mozambicans and my purpose of being here.

When you are only able to communicate through non-verbal gestures, especially in the first two months with a new language, it’s difficult to explain the impact of a positive homestay experience.

So, instead, we danced and played.

Usually my days were filled with training and language, but during the evenings and weekends, my sisters and brother would pass the time with listening to music and dancing in the kitchen or on the veranda, much to my host mother’s amusement.

Together we developed a beat-box rhythm that all the neighborhood children would sing as I walked through to my house. Without audio, it sounded a lot like boom-chicka-chicka-boom-boom, but with more bass and the backdrop of the rolling hills of Namaacha in southern Mozambique.

Wilson, my brother, was best at laying down the beat, and my sisters, Ester, Diana, and baby Ayume, filled the air with high laughter and enormous energy. Ayume slapped her hands together or against the table to try and keep the rhythm.

Little do they know – I speak to them when I can, which is far in between – that the time with them has shaped my perception of the people here, the country, and my role. They are forever in my heart and mind as I journey into the unknown of service. The beat is always in my heart, and I look forward to new rhythms, new moves.

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Photo: Learning with a View

A classroom at the Secondary School in Namapa, Nampula in Mozambique.

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Community Needs Assessment in Mozambique: Where Do We Begin?


This is the first in a series of posts about implementing health projects in a developing country. It is meant to introduce a reader to the inner workings of public health training and action, especially the collection of baseline information, and share with the world data, stories, and personal thoughts about the ongoing challenges of global health in Mozambique.

Public health is complicated.

The area of study and practice, focused more on the prevention and detection of disease rather than the actual treatment of it, is underfunded, underreported, and largely misunderstood (case in point). The area isn’t without its controversy, but each day public health workers are attempting to diminish the burden from diseases for millions of people across the globe through epidemiology, monitoring & evaluation, and education (although, as we’ve seen in the states, even education can be somewhat ineffective against an individual’s personal beliefs).

Public health in a developing country is more complicated.

When you first arrive in your host country for Peace Corps service, you spend two months living with a host family, learning about the language and culture, and receiving a mountain of information about health statistics throughout the country. This training often leaves one feeling overwhelmed, living and working in the constant shadow of statistics, findings, recommendations for future research and programs. The voices heard during training are many, and the statistics forced into a volunteer’s conscious are intimidating.

The trick isn’t lowering the mountain, but looking at it from the right angle.

While many volunteers arrive at site ready to destroy (or slightly reduce) this mountain of information with absolute force, strength, and ideas passed along from experts, the public health practitioner first takes a step back, looking at the larger community, researching the entire story, before taking a step forward toward public health practice. One of the main tools used during this analysis is a community needs assessment (CNA). AKA my baby.

The CNA asks you to collect all the necessary information relevant to your site, speak with as many people within the community (leaders, business owners, members of the community), and identify any gaps in service, or areas of health that aren’t already being addressed by other organizations, community groups, or available resources. Instead of doing a cannonball into the deep end of the pool, the CNA both eases you into the pool and helps you find an open area to swim. (There must be an analogy for urine in the pool, but I can’t yet place it). And as we all know, it’s better to (ideally) have a swimming buddy.

Collection of information & sharing the experience with a counterpart

In terms of sustainability (especially in developing countries), it’s important to share your research methods with a host-country national, or in non-Peace-Corps-speech, someone from the country in which you are serving. I arrived at my site with a supervisor but no counterpart, so I first sought out an interested mind in the ways of health. This came in the form of a young man who was new to the area and wanted to keep busy. His name is Flex.

Flex and I eased our way into the water. The Internet is overflowing with information regarding health around the world. With the right sites (here, here, here, yes also here) or even a quick Google Scholar search, you’re able to paint a pretty vivid portrait of the current health culture in any given area of the world. Here is a small sample of what we found on Mozambique, simply by huddling around a computer:

  • The country is home to about 25 million people with a life expectancy of 52 years
  • Low United Nations Human Development Index classification of 184/186 countries
  • The national prevalence of HIV, the primary cause of death among adults and tertiary cause among children, is 11.5% with a province (Nampula) prevalence of 4.8%
  • HIV testing in Mozambique is low with 34% women and 17% men receiving treatment, and testing is less prevalent in the north (23%) than the south (50%)

While the Internet will provide nation-wide statistics on health, it’s more difficult to find information on (in order from hard to solid diamond) the province, district, town, or neighborhoods in which you are serving. In order to build a complete case for whatever decision you decide to do for projects, you need to also collect your own information.

A lesson in language & early morning drunkenness

Since we have already decided to take a broad look at our community, we need to first start broad with our information collection. Would it be very helpful to full aside someone from the community and start to ask them about their sexual health habits if we haven’t yet heard from the community that sexually transmitted infections are an issue? On a first date, would you jump to asking your date about his or her divorced parents or first start by asking about family? Both situations are bound to end in a frustrated party (maybe a slap).


I decided that I first wanted to collect information demographics (sex, age, if they live in Namapa, speak Portuguese, speak the local language), the general population’s ideas about major health concerns in the community, and where people are receiving their health information. Using the survey above, I spoke with 100 members of my community over the course of one day. By walking down our main street with a clipboard and an inquisitive expression, people were curious and interested to share their thoughts. The problem is always with language (attempting the survey after a few weeks at site) and attracting unwanted attention.

A common habit of many people in Mozambique is to drink at every hour of the day. Because of joblessness and a lack of understanding about the health effects of drinking, it is very common to see someone with a beer at 9:00 a.m. It makes for great business for local stores and bars, but the environment is often difficult to navigate with constant distractions from conversations with people who have had one too many cold beverages.

During my survey, a young man grabbed my wrist, pulled me into a dark, smoky bar, and sat me in front of a heavy-set man sitting down in a chair facing the front door. I looked around and saw many faces staring in my direction as I was placed in the chair. With a smile on my face, I greet the man. He tells me he is the chefe (boss) of the neighborhood and wanted to know what I was doing on his street. The tension soon faded when I told him my role as a health volunteer. Tension turned to absurdity as they laughed, shook my hand, and led me out the front door with the original young man by my side. He vowed to help me with my survey, but instead he stumbled about, yelled at passerby’s, and was eventually dismissed by me to head back to the bar.

Distraction alluded, I was able to finish the survey and collected the following results: (1) information about the perceived health problems in Namapa, and (2) where people obtain information about health in the community.

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Moving forward slowly

The information provided important details about the direction of my service; however, I still wasn’t satisfied with the information and knew that the collection of information would need to continue with more personal, detailed, and qualitative information, mainly in the form of in-depth interviews with key members from the community and focus groups with community support organizations around Namapa.

Questions? Comments? Contact me!

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