The Peace Corps’ Work to Eradicate Smallpox

As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I get a free copy of WorldView, the magazine Peace Corps puts out. I read an interesting article in their spring issue I thought I would share. (All information is pulled from an article titled “The Eradicators,” by Patricia A. Wand. I summarize parts of the article. Any direct quotes will be in quotation marks.)

In 1966, the World Health Organization (WHO) wanted to eradicate smallpox, so it enlisted the help of the Peace Corps. “In 1966 an estimated 10-million people had smallpox and two million died from the disease.” Due to the efforts of the WHO and its partners, the last cases of smallpox were reported in 1971. (Kind of amazing that they made such a huge change in just five years.)

The Peace Corps’ Office of Strategic Information, Research and Planning released the following information in a report:

“During the 1960s in Afghanistan only males worked in health care and tradition dictated that men could not touch women and children outside their families. Following a pilot project with Peace Corps nurses in 1966, Peace Corps recruited and trained volunteers for women-only groups. These American women traveled with Afghan male health workers into the far reaches of the deserts and mountains to vaccinate rural and nomadic women and children. Local men, seeing the activity, often stepped up with arms ready for vaccination. The program reached far more people than expected. The volunteers helped devise a way for Afghans themselves to continue the program after 1970 by instructing women and girls to extend only one arm through the tent door so no identification took place.”

In addition to Afghanistan, Peace Corps Volunteers also served in smallpox eradication programs in Ethiopia, Malawi, Nigeria, Senegal, Swaziland, and Togo. (The full report is available online, if you search “Peace Corps Global Smallpox.”)

WorldView magazine is full of interesting stories related to the Peace Corps. I don’t know where you can get a copy in the United States, but it appears to be for sale, as it has a price marked in the corner. The spring issue largely focuses on the world wide refugee crisis and brings to light an interesting question — should Peace Corps Volunteers be placed in refugee camps? It draws comparison to smallpox eradication efforts, noting that Peace Corps has been recruited to partner with other organizations in the past.

WorldView magazine

 

 

Peja Technology Camp

So, there is this thing in Peace Corps called “secondary projects.” A secondary project is anything you do for your host country outside of your primary job role. (Writing this blog counts as one of my secondary projects, because I am sharing information about my host country with my friends and family back home.) LOOK AT ME, SECONDARY PROJECTING AT YOU!

The Peace Corps (at least here in Kosovo) takes a pretty non-directive approach to secondary projects. Volunteers are expected to do secondary projects, but we have a lot of autonomy in the projects we choose. The basic attitude seems to be, “Go forth and … do stuff.”

One of my friends and another volunteer took on an ambitious project — hosting a 7-day technology camp for middle-school kids in Peja. I attended on the first day to show moral support. 1) My host brother did a presentation on graphic design and 2) One of my students attended, and I wanted to shepherd her and make sure she knew where she was going.

The day started with a series of ice-breakers, followed by my host brother’s presentation. After a lunch break, we took the kids over to Anibar, an NGO that primarily focuses on teaching kids about animation. Using old, broken, donated computers, Anibar hosted a “junkyard robots” workshop. Students got to tear apart computers to make their own “robots.”

technology camp peja 2
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technology camp peja 1
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technology camp peja 4
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If I learned anything that day, it’s that kids get very excited when they’re encouraged to break stuff.

technology camp peja 3
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As far as my own secondary projects go this summer, I am putting together some ideas for a few writing workshops I’d like to host. I’ll also likely help out with Anibar’s big film festival in August.

It’s been about a billion degrees here lately. I have to say — at this point, my desire to help Kosovo is about equal to my desire to lie around with no clothes on and read books. 😛 Let’s see if I can rally …

The Year of Living Dangerously

Today marks one year that I have lived in Kosovo! It is hard, in some ways, to believe that a year ago today, I moved to Kosovo. I met a bunch of strangers at Dulles Airport, boarded a plane with them, and have been with them ever since. Only now, I call them my friends.

Lately, I have noticed a big shift in how I feel about being here. While I still feel like a foreigner, Kosovo no longer feels foreign to me. Does that make sense?

I think having lived here through all four seasons has made Kosovo seem like less unfamiliar. In some ways, it feels like I just arrived here. But then, I remind myself I have sweated through a summer, hiked in the colors of fall, shivered through a snowy winter, and marveled at a long, luxurious spring.

I also feel less like some weird American living among strangers. Living with a host family, day-in and day-out, is less exhausting than it used to be. Boundaries are better set, roles are more clearly defined, and I have grown more used to being a part of life here.

In December, I wrote a post about how I have mentally divided my time here into quarters. By my own counting method, I have now completed two quarters.

My second quarter offered two, distinct parts. The first four months, I was miserable. The last two months were happy, and filled with travel, and friends.

I am thankful to have come out of the blues I dealt with this winter. I suspected my first winter would be tough, and it was. But then the weather changed, and I got to go to Rome an old friend, and my feelings shifted.

As much as I love the friends I have made during the Peace Corps, those relationships are new. It was nice to spend time with someone who has known me for nearly a decade. Thanks for your support, Nicole.

Nicole and April
Nicole and April at the Colosseum

I figure now would be a good time to check in with the Peace Corps “chart of emotions.” (I don’t know what it’s actually called.)

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So right now (months 11-14), I can expect to feel:

  • Impatience with self, program, system (Hmm, I think I actually felt more of this a few months ago.)
  • Place blame on the program (Again, I think I felt this a few months ago.)
  • Constant complaining (A few months ago … )
  • Lethargy (Yes. I definitely have less interest in everything … teaching, blog writing, crochet.)
  • Haughtiness with new trainees (HAHAHA. I haven’t met them yet, but I can see myself feeling this way. These new people, they don’t know what they’re in for!)

At times, the idea of living in Kosovo for another year seems daunting … when do I get to go back to a Western life? But when I think of it as 1/2 of my service being gone, I realize there is still so much more I want to do.

Here are some of my personal and professional goals for my coming service year:

  • Finish the grant for my school and (hopefully) be awarded funds
  • Host workshops this summer (narrative writing and essay writing are the plans for right now)
  • Present to Peace Corps volunteers in Albania about starting a poetry competition there
  • Help my friend organize the national poetry competition in Kosovo this fall
  • Start volunteering at an orphanage in Pristina this fall — I found out last week that my application was approved! I am meeting with one of the orphanage directors this week. I’m hoping this new opportunity fills the social work hole in my life.
  • Possibly do another secondary project for the fall (most likely, teach another English Club at my school)
  • Continue teaching. This is kind of obvious, since teaching is my primary role here, but I suppose I should add it to the list.
  • Get my stuff together and help my friends with their “Faces of Kosovo” project
  • TRAVEL THIS SUMMER! There are so many places I want to go in Europe. It’s hard to narrow them down. But if I had to list everywhere I want to go, they would be: Tirana/southern Albania, Greece, Bratislava, Montenegro, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Prague, Vienna, Croatia, Bruge, England/Paris (again), Florence … SO MANY PLACES!
  • Travel around Kosovo. There are still places in Kosovo I want to see, including Mitrovice (major city), Brezovice (skiing), Dragash/Opoje (conservative mountain villages), Skenderaj (Adem Jashari memorial), Rahovec (wine), Batilava Lake (sounds pretty), the Bear Sanctuary (uh, bears) …
  • Get my face painted like a Kosovar bride … This is an experience I really wanted to have while living in Kosovo. I’ve checked into it, and the price would be 150 Euro. That’s a lot of money for me right now … almost all of my spending money for a month. I need to think about it some more …
  • Continue writing this blog regularly, and enter the Blog It Home contest this fall, assuming Peace Corps still hosts it
  • Learn to speak better Shqip (This is not going to happen. It’s just not. I know I’m going to leave service wishing I could speak fluent Albanian, but I won’t.)
  • Continue to build/strengthen my friendships here. I have made an effort to have a breadth of friendships here, to try to be friendly with my entire cohort. However, I feel like I don’t have a depth of friendship yet. It would be nice to have a “best friend” in the Peace Corps.
  • Think about writing a second grant for my school
  • Continue to consider options when I finish Peace Corps. I’ll likely return to social work, but where/in what capacity remains to be seen …

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program Might Be Going Away …

Last week, I saw something worrying pop up on my Facebook news feed. It was a link to an article about the possible cancellation of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.

What is that? The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program forgives student loan debt after someone works for a non-profit organization for ten years, and makes qualifying student loan payments in the meantime.

I have been working toward loan forgiveness for last few years. Once I complete my Peace Corps service, I will have four years of payments completed, and six years to go until I will (potentially) qualify for forgiveness. (Time served in the Peace Corps counts toward loan forgiveness.)

When I returned to graduate school for social work, I was willing to take on debt, with the intention of working toward loan forgiveness. But now forgiveness is being threatened. An attorney was quoted in the article I read (see first link above) as saying that the cancellation of the program probably would not affect people already working toward forgiveness. I hope that’s true. If it is, yay for me. But what about those people entering universities right now? How do we make it viable for future social workers, teachers, and others in the helping professions to obtain the advanced degrees they need to succeed in their fields?

[According to the National Association of Social Workers, “A master’s in social work is the predominant social work degree for licensed social workers.”]

I returned to college at age 30 to earn a Master’s Degree in social work. Prior to that, I had spent years working as a writer and editor. Jobs in the publishing world have been drying up, and after being laid off, I decided I needed a career change. Had I not known about the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, I don’t know that I would have made the decision to return to school. It would have been too expensive.

When people ask me “What do you plan to do after Peace Corps?” I kind of smile to myself. Because no matter where I move, I plan to spend the next six years working for a non-profit in the hope and expectation of having my debt forgiven. I just hope the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program is still around.

Friday Gratitude: Language In-Service Training (IST)

Hello! I spent Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday attending an in-service language training with the Peace Corps. I learned a bit more Shqip (Albanian) and got to spend time in my favorite Kosovo city with some of my volunteer friends. It was a good week!

language group kosovo
Language training

Other bonuses: the weather was gorgeous (I was outside without a coat most of the time), I got to visit Sweet Bean Bakery several times, and I spent the night with another volunteer friend who lives closer to the training site. We (well, mostly he) made a delicious chicken stir fry for dinner.

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Christian making stir fry. 🙂

As far as media consumption goes, I finally finished reading Stephen King’s The Stand. I’d seen the mini-series but don’t think I had previously read the book. I also caught up on Girls.

I’ll be writing a post soon about some of what I learned about the Shqip language, and I’ll be posting about a field trip we took to the Peja Ecological Museum. Have a good weekend and stay tuned!

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Field trip: Sarah Jessica, April, and Kushtrim

Q&A: Becoming a Teacher and Secondary Projects in the Peace Corps

 

Hi, everyone! I’m posting another video today. This week’s questions come from James, who will be coming to Kosovo as a volunteer this June. Thanks for your questions, James!

  1. Could you post about your transition from social work to teacher? (0:25)
  2. Are you a licensed social worker? If so, how are you maintaining your license while serving?* (2:21)
  3. What types of secondary projects are you working on or thinking about engaging? (4:05)
  4. Are there opportunities to work with children outside of a classroom setting? (4:58)

*I misspoke. My license will be up for renewal in January 2018. I don’t know my years …

If anyone else has questions for me, please let me know!

 

Q&A Video: Questions About the Peace Corps

I haven’t made a video in a while, so I asked my friends and family if they had any questions I could answer. My friend Dana (thanks, Dana!) asked the following:

  1. What do most Peace Corps folks do once their service is up? (0:15)
  2. Do people tend to go back to their old jobs or fields? (0:50)
  3. Is there a way to carry on another term? (1:15)*
  4. Would there be opportunities to work stateside? (2:15)

*I misspoke. You can extend any length of time up to a year.

As always, if you have questions you would like me to answer about life in Kosovo or the Peace Corps, please contact me. (Keep in mind, I can’t talk about politics — Kosovo, U.S., or otherwise.)