Monday, August 29, 2011

When Life Gives You Lemons...

So I know its been a while since I have written a blog entry, and well the reason for that is I have been busy (really, I swear) and also I wasn’t really sure what new things to write. It’s interesting…once you have been living in a place for awhile, life becomes more normal and the less you think that your life is exciting, even if you do live in South America in a remote community. Of course that feeling is two-fold, you finally feel settled and accustomed and you can exhale, but on the other hand you are settled and accustomed a.k.a. “a bit more boring.” So let me see if I can update you all in what I have been up to.

My days at the hospital are pretty busy, I work with almost all the departments on some sort of capacity building or marketing project, I am putting my Public Relations major to good use. You probably are asking, “Marketing? In a developing country?” Well, the type of marketing I do is a bit different. I would call it more “community relations,” were I do projects to raise awareness of certain issues or educate the public on the services the hospital provides and their usefulness. For example, in the next month I will be planning a health fair at the market as a way to educate all the people that come from the river on the services available to them. Like the dentist and the importance of brushing your teeth, that if you fall and hit yourself you can get an x-ray to see if a bone is broken, and that getting your eyes tested can determine if you need to wear spectacles (they call glasses, spectacles here, adorable, right?), etc. Also, it’s a great way to do health talks on water hygiene, washing hands, food storage, family planning and malaria, some of the bigger issues here.

I have also been working extremely close with the rehabilitation department and working with children with disabilities. This past week Nate and I planned a weeklong training for teachers and community health workers (CHWs) on “deaf culture and education.” We other Peace Corps volunteers, one who is deaf, do some trainings on sign language and deaf culture. Even though the sign language was a huge hit, I think what hit home the most was having the teachers and CHWs see a person who’s not held back by his deafness. They just couldn’t get over the fact that a person with a disability could be a teacher. We had people come from around the community and ask to see the deaf guy, as they so delicately put it. And when we introduced him, without hesitation they would say, “No, he can understand me and speak, he is not deaf, you are lying.” Since the volunteer who came could read lips and speak, they were shocked. Unfortunately, any person who has a disability here is thought of as not capable of doing anything, so it was great to show them the opposite and even give them some skills to try and advance the children with disabilities in their community.

But even though we are busy with all these projects and when we have a successful program we are thrilled and feel on top of the world, there are more hard days than easy ones. I remember being in graduate school and sitting in on some of my international health classes, and thinking the solution for all the problems in developing countries is just education. Just educate the CHW’s, teach them and the problem is solved. Wrong! It is way harder than that. First of all, it takes at least six months for people in your community to start not seeing you as a weird outsider or just another volunteer that is here building their resume. And I sometimes wonder if some people will ever stop looking at me in that manner. Then it takes the next… well I actually don’t know how long it takes for people to buy in to your ideas. And if they do buy in there just never seems to be an end to how much training and follow-up it takes to make a sustainable change, unless the community takes an active approach. And on top of all of that, the resources are way limited and well sometimes you feel like you are moving a huge boulder to the top of a hill all by yourself.

I know, I know…this is nothing new. Any person, organization, volunteer, non-profit, you name it, has felt this way before if they have ever worked for a cause or a vulnerable population. But you just never really understand how hard it is, until you are doing it. Don’t get me wrong, I love the challenge and I hope that something (however small it is) sticks when I leave, but that’s the thing with development, you just never know. It’s true what someone once told me, that doing development work you will never experience a time when the highs are some of the highest and the lows are by far some of the lowest. The worst part is that the lows just come out of nowhere and slap you in the face! But like my loving and very eloquent husband says, “Baby when life gives you lemons, paint that shit gold!” And so that’s what we will continue to do, even on the hardest of days.

Till next time.

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