According to our manuals there are four primary duties of a health extension volunteer:
1. Sensitize and educate on decentralization of the government and health sector in Zambia, and the role of Peace Corps in that system.
2. Form/reform neighborhood health committees and help them understand their role.
3. Capacity build community-based organizations, neighborhood health committees, and individuals.
4. Act as a linkage to the district and to NGO’s working in Zambia and international.
Our every waking moment is spent developing ways to meet these goals. Every action in our community is tailored to integrate into them. Be it solar driers for food security, education on organization formation to build capacity, linkages to NGOs to provide trainings and facilitate the enrichment of human capital in our catchments.
Now Zambia is peculiar. It’s one of a handful of posts that still necessitates provincial houses. Our sites are in the bush. We live in mud, dirt, grime, and love it…without power, living under a constant rain of sawdust and dirt and god only knows what else from our thatch roofs, fetching, treating, and conserving water in traditional ways..Bathing, for the most part out of a bucket in a grass shelter standing on a mealie meal sack filled with sand (it’s classier that way).
We work 24/7 – 28 days of the month. Completely isolated from our culture, families and lives in the U.S. Often we’re the only non-Zambian in 30 to 50 km. Some of the people we work with have never seen or met a non-Zambian before and if the volunteer is White, Black, Asian, or anything else not Zambian, it’s a wonder. Children stare for hours, adults are a little more subtle but no less conditioned and prejudiced against an outsider.
We are living in a fishbowl and given 4 days of freedom a month from that constant curiosity and judgement in the form of a stay at the provincial house. A protected compound with showers (amazing), electricity, other Americans, stoves, American culture and media. It’s a mental and physical break and the recovery time that keeps us sane.
Even as technology races forward and we can keep in touch using cell phones, find power through solar voltaics, and listen to Voice of America over a short wave radio, the provincial house is more necessary than ever.
It’s a place of expression, relaxation, work, and enjoyment. It’s our safety outlet.
I did mention work in there. The provincial house acts as a center of learning and education for volunteers during their service. It’s not some frat house for wild American abandon, but an institution of sharing, cultured expression and capacity building for us, the volunteers.
The provincial capital has offices of NGO’s, government provincial level contacts, and resources that can be accessed to facilitate development in our communities.
Visiting the house is a mixture – work and education, learning and sharing, and after business hours, relaxation and release from the oppressive realization that you’re the only one in your village that understands your humour, background, culture, and actions. It’s a place where you fit and don’t have to explain every action.
That’s pretty awesome. Thanks PCZ. We appreciate it!