Farm-to-table is so in, right? Turns out they’ve been doing it for centuries here in Fiji. We took a boat ride to a local plantation near the Bay of Islands to buy a sheep and four pigs for the office Christmas party and along the way, we got to see an unspoiled, naturally beautiful part of the world.
The Bay of Islands is a destination for yachties who spend months, even years, steering their boats through the world’s most pristine destinations.
The region has roughly 300 islands and limestone landforms cutting through turquoise water that is so calm and protected, it’s a designated hurricane shelter. We stopped along the way so Will could swim into one of the area’s many caves. I stayed in the boat to keep an eye on the livestock.
We are community health empowerment facilitators implementing goals laid out in the Community Health Empowerment Project strategic framework.
We are not clinicians, but we are here to do capacity building and behavior change among the clinicians, the local health volunteers, and the villagers. (A communications plan to complement the strategic plan would go far in aiding this mission, and I’ve already expressed the value of having one. We’ll see if this develops during the next two years.)
So now that I got those buzzwords in (strategic framework, capacity building, behavior change), let me break it down for you. Fiji’s Ministry of Health is doing what it can to reverse what is essentially a non-communicable disease (NCD) “crisis” in this country of nearly 900,000. With one of the highest rates of diabetes in the world:
Of course treating the NCDs is critical, but the ministry recognizes that educating the public about their behaviors will go along way in improving these deadly statistics.
That’s where we come in. We are working with the ministry to educate Fijians about what they can do to avoid NCDs: physical activity, healthy food choices, go to the doctor early instead of ignoring symptoms. We are working to build their capacity so that they have the knowledge to live healthy lives, and to teach their children about living healthy, long after we leave Fiji.
Will and I are in a unique situation with an open field of development opportunities because we’re in a remote region that hasn’t had Peace Corps volunteers since the 70s, and those were education volunteers. We’re at the subdivisional level, which operates a hospital, a health center, a health inspector’s office, a dentist’s office, a maternal child health clinic, and multiple nursing stations throughout six islands. We have the opportunity to educate Fijians about:
So far we’ve given health talks to villagers and trained health workers about practices for women’s self-care and diabetes and hypertension prevention. Our subdivision is in the process of developing its business plan for the upcoming year, so things are a bit slow now. This gives us an opportunity to get to know our community and establish a relationship with the villagers, so they feel comfortable with us and trust us as we move forward together during these next two years.
Enough pretty pictures for now. Let us explain why we joined the Peace Corps at 30 (and 31).
Will and I wanted to join the Peace Corps for a while. The reasons varied (we wanted to do some global service, get international development experience, live in another country, etc.) but the most important, most constant reason: we wanted to take a break from the bubble that is Washington, DC and put humanity into our work. The Peace Corps gives us the opportunity to make a direct impact in the lives of the people we’re serving.
A nurse asked us the other day if our two years here will benefit us professionally. Perhaps not directly (though as a professional communicator I’m confident my resume will shine after my two years here), but surely the personal growth we experience will be present in our professional lives.
As government consultants for a private firm we had to stay billable, and that pressure led to a project or two (at least for me, not for Will) that made me feel like I wasn’t doing the sort of public service that I had done as a reporter, as a policy advisor, as an NGO communicator, and as a communications consultant on other government contracts. We have the education, the skills and the work experience that make us stellar consultants. Those attributes won’t disappear over the course of two years – they’ll only be strengthened by the development work we do here in Fiji.
So, to answer my grandma’s question of “Why can’t you be normal?” which is grandma speak for why can’t you just buy a house and have kids: this idea of joining the Peace Corps almost became an obsession for me. I needed to do this. I couldn’t think about having kids, buying a house, making big decisions until I served in the Peace Corps. I’ve lived my life deliberately, making steady professional and personal decisions and so the Peace Corps wasn’t some irrational, poorly thought out decision. It was years in the making. Although I can already tell that joining the Peace Corps is the most challenging thing I’ve done, I’m relieved that I didn’t pass up my opportunity to do so.
Obviously life here is a bit different than our life in the U.S.
I have a friend
His name is Dramamine
Thanks to his help
New islands I have seen
He wasn’t with me last Fall
When at sea fishing I did yack
But now he steadies me
From repeat attacks
I can now enjoy water
So clear above the reef
That I see colorful sea life
Happily swimming beneath
Although skipping across the waves
Used to worry me a bunch
My trusty Dramamine now saves me
From losing my lunch