Acronyms, Flip Charts, PowerPoints, and Per Diem: How to facilitate a training in Peace Corps

Happy Melissa’s Birthday Month! (Or Almost-4th-ofJuly, whichever…)

This has been a pretty busy month (I feel like I’m always saying that…and yet I still find plenty of time to waste on new television. Mr. Robot, anyone?). So what’s been going on? Most recently, on June 30th, my cohort and I celebrated our 50% mark. I’m halfway through with my Peace Corps service (if don’t extend). It’s pretty surreal, but now that I’m well into my main secondary project (WASH) and entirely integrated into my community, I at least feel pretty accomplished. As a Volunteer, it’s so easy to fall into this trap of “Am I doing enough?” and “Is this all worth it?” Self-doubt is a PCVs biggest struggle. I definitely started to have those feelings around April/May, but was lucky enough to have had strong support systems back home and here in Rwanda that reminded me why I came here and why I needed to continue this journey. After jumping, headfirst, back into work I began to cope, accept, and move toward project completion.

So, here’s what all that busy work looks like!

PAC[wom]MAN & STOMP! Out Malaria

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m on PAC (Programming Advisory Committee). We meet quarterly and just had a fairly important (six-hour) meeting to re-work documents that Health 7 will need for their upcoming site visits and site move-in. To some, I’m sure PAC sounds like the least entertaining committee in existence, but I truly believe in the importance of behind-the-scenes planning. Most recently, we worked to revise the process of site development (creation of new sites for Volunteers to be placed at).

Since I had some ~issues~ with my first site, and subsequently had a site change, I feel pretty strongly about successful site development. In working with the programming staff, we came up with a fairly strict process that requires three site visits before a Volunteer is placed at a health center or school. This is incredibly important as it requires staff to double/triple check one another and ask for the opinion of a nearby Volunteer. (The experiences of staff members can be vastly different than that of a Volunteer who comes in for a day trip to scout the site.) We hope that this new process reduces the number of site changes and housing switches.


Jonathan and me at the PAC booth at All Volunteer Conference (complete with pea-shooter gallery!).


Maria, Jonathan, Scott, Sophia at the PAC booth.

After the PAC meeting, a bunch of us went out in Kigali to celebrate…well I’m not quite sure what we celebrating, but PCVs can always find a reason to celebrate. (We were probably just all bitter than the Stromae concert was canceled.)

Speaking of which…

Stromae (Paul Van Haver) is a Belgian singer, born to a Rwandan father and Belgian (Flemish) mother. He had a concert scheduled in Kigali last month (that nearly every PCV had a ticket for), but he had to cancel due to “adverse side effects to malaria prophylaxis”. The canceled concert sparked quite the conversation amongst my Rwandan co-workers.

As Americans, we are each born without natural immunities to malaria. This is because America successfully eliminated malaria in the 50s (mostly through the use of DDT, better building practices, and the removal of peoples from swampy areas). Thus, as Volunteers, we are required to take our daily malaria prophylaxis. Rwandans, on the other hand, are born with a small natural immunity to malaria (given the high rates in East Africa). That is not to say that they do not get malaria…they absolutely do. In fact, malaria is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in Rwanda. Prophylaxes are too expensive for many Rwandans, thus they are left without the proper meds to bolster their natural immunity. I spent the majority of one of our morning staff meetings, at the Health Center, explaining that, despite Stromae’s Rwandan heritage, he grew up in Belgium (thus does not have natural immunities) and was taking prophylaxis during his East African tour. The conversation definitely resonated with my co-workers when it clicked that America had eliminated malaria. It is possible for Rwanda to do the same.

While on the topic of malaria, I have exciting news! For the first time ever (I think), Rwanda got FIRST PLACE in the annual Malaria Month Competition. This is especially exciting as I’ve just joined the STOMP! Out Malaria committee and really pushed hard during Malaria Month, as did the rest of the committee members and Volunteers around the country. What really won us the competition was Alexa’s (Rwanda’s national STOMP! coordinator) report about our Malaria Month activities. Watch the video on the page linked above for more details! (It’s worth it, I promise.)

WASHing It Up in the Village (plus Permagardening)

After I got back to my village, it was time to get the WASH “village” ToT (Training of Trainers) going. I was definitely nervous for this. I had been away for the few days before and was a little freaked out that the planning wouldn’t have been taken care of. Lo and behold, when I returned on Sunday and checked in with my counterpart, he responded, “All members have received invites and will arrive Monday at 0800.” I find it pretty easy to put trust in my counterparts and supervisors at site (I just lucked out with some incredible co-workers), but it’s always nerve-wracking for Type-A personalities to leave work in the hands of others. The Training started around 9:00AM on Monday, an hour late but at 100% attendance! I was ecstatic. These Health Club members had no clue what the training entailed, other than that it was about hygiene and sanitation. They didn’t know where or not they’d receive food or per diem. They didn’t even know if the trainings were all day long. They put their trust in me and in my Health Center staff and all showed up, ready and willing to learn.


Day One of the Kibilizi WASH Training of Trainers (at capacity with 63 village members)

Monday and Tuesday went off without a hitch, with all 63 members in attendance and all three facilitators working together as a teaching team. Come Wednesday, I felt comfortable leaving the per diem with my counterpart, so that I could head into the regional town (Butare) for a Permagarden training.

What’s Permagarden you say? Well…it’s a “permanent” garden, in that the base for the garden only needs to be dug out/created once and then it’s just a matter of shaping/planting/harvesting. The training itself was hosted at Rwanda’s Agricultural Board in Butare and taught by Peter Jenson, gardening guru for the pretty much the entire world (and Returned PCV). Though I couldn’t attend the entire training, I sent one of my counterparts so he could soak up the information. Peace Corps was sweet enough to extend an invitation to me for a one-day visit, so I could get my hands dirty building a garden. It was great!

We learned how to build a very specific type of garden…one that is particularly useful for developing nations with a lack of water. One of the key aspects is to build the garden right next to a slanted roof…on a sloped area. Rain will fall on the roof, slide down off of the roof and onto the ground, slowly washing over the ground…into the garden’s reservoirs. We learned a bunch of nifty facts about water usage, but this one stuck with me: A roof provides enough water to supplement 6.5 years of Jerry-can water gathering. SIX-AND-A-HALF YEARS of a mama or child carrying a 20-liter Jerry-can from a water source to garden…just gone! The rain does the work, instead, leaving mama more time to spend outside the home (hobbies?!) and child time to go to school. IMG_9148


Selfies were more important than gardening, clearly…

The day before I went to the training, the group went over how to make a compost pile (to create compost to then add nutrients back into the garden). Though I didn’t get to help make the pile, I did get to be present for the temperature-taking. Yeah. Compost piles should reach 130 degrees Fahrenheit to kill the bad bacteria (e coli, etc.). Just two days after its creation…and with no outside influence (just a couple of rice sacks over the compost)…the pile had reached 135 degrees. Just a pile of mush, guys! All those chemicals from the plants working together to heat up the pile and kill bacteria. It was incredible to see the condensation and feel the heat rising up from the pile.


Feeling the heat!

One of the other important aspects to this type of garden is that it has corner “reservoirs” for the water coming down from the roof. You can see the large hole near the upper-left corner; that’ll hold the water for a number of days, meaning mama only has to supplement the garden twice a week in the dry season. (Instead of two times a day, as many gardens are now.) IMG_9095


My counterpart, Maurice, gettin’ in and gettin’ dirty!


Maurice and me…too cool for [gardening] school.


After that busy week, I had the opportunity to head to the training site in the East (Rwamagana) to train the new group, Health 7. I dubbed this past week VATcation (Volunteer Advisory Trainer).

Each of us VATs are responsible for two weeks of training. This was my first week of VATing and the only sessions I had were fun ones…site announcement and Trivia Night. I tried something a little different with site announcement (something more interesting than just dryly reading names from a list) and I think it went well. It was clear that staff put a great deal of work into placing the Trainees at sites where they wanted to be, which was nice. There’s a Trainee who’s been quite vocal about wanting to see the gorillas and wanting to be near them…her site is literally on the border of the national forest where one of the last remaining mountain gorilla populations is. Perfect match! Another Trainee had asked to work with HIV/AIDS populations, as that’s what is background is in…his site has a large percentage of vulnerable peoples, affected with HIV/AIDS. He’s excited, to say the least. It was beautiful to see all of the hard work that PAC and staff put into site development (especially staff) come to fruition with happy Trainees. In total, the Dirty South (Southern Region) got eight more Volunteers. We’re going to be the largest region, or very near. I’m all about the new infusion of energy.

After site announcement, we had a lovely night of trivia and an extended curfew for Trainees (feels so weird to not have a curfew in Rwamagana when I barely ever saw the sunset as a Trainee…thanks 6:30PM curfew). I had a ton of fun being the trivia MC (thanks Type A personality) and I sure hope the Trainees had fun (especially with the Shia LaBeouf category).

So there we go.

That’s what all my busy has been lately.

Burundi Blunder

I’m really not sure what news makes it over to mainstream America, but for the sake of transparency…the was a grenade attack in Ngozi, Burundi last week (just 30 minutes away from my site). The thing is…I still feel incredibly safe, as the Rwandan military really knows what they’re doing and the borders are fairly insoluble (save for the refugees still making it across).

Right now, the opposition party (those who oppose President Nkurunziza remaining in office past his term limit) are asking for a later “election” to make time for peace talks. Some members of Nkurunziza’s own party who oppose his actions are fleeing Burundi in fear of persecution. Most recently, there was a police raid that ended in the death of five people (including two children). This has prompted a UN investigation and has also lit a fire under the EAC (East African Community) who have vowed to hold a third regional meeting for leaders.

None of us are entirely sure what’s going to happen at this point. I’m obviously most worried for the people of Burundi, but also worried that I’ll be removed from site for a couple of weeks while things calm down. I understand that it’s because Peace Corps  errs on the side of caution (and will pull me back to a consolidation point before even a hint of trouble), but it devastates me to think about leaving my co-workers, friends, and neighbors behind to fend for themselves. It’s the ultimate foreign privilege…”Hey, I know I’ve been working toward full integration for a year, but if there’s even the slightest wind of political unrest or violence, I’m outta here and good luck to the rest of you.” I know that’s not how it really is, and that it’s ultimately important for my safety… but it just feels wrong.

On that note…the doctor has arrived to the Peace Corps office and it’s time for me to get my routine meds!

Until next time!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s