This is a guest post by Anna in our PCV Spotlight Series:
Hello, my name is Anna Yockers and I’m from Minneapolis, MN (Go Wild!). I serve as a Volunteer with the United States Peace Corps in northern Nicaragua – the “Gem” of the Segovias. I arrived in country in March 2014 and will end my service in June 2016. I am a site mate of Emily and Andrew, but unlike them, I serve Nicaragua in the Health Sector. Other volunteers refer to us as “Healthies”. I studied Nutrition in undergrad. After my service, I hope to complete a dietetic internship and possibly earn a Masters Degree in Public Health.
The Health Sector for Peace Corps Nicaragua works under the umbrella of three main goals:
- HIV/AIDS prevention
- To decrease the rate of teenage pregnancy
- To improve maternal and child health
Fortunately, Nicaragua has a low rate of HIV infection. However, this is the ideal time to prevent transmission. During one of my first weeks at site, I was asked to give a presentation on HIV/AIDS prevention to a group of young men. When I arrived, the room was filled with 35 young men ranging from 15-20 years old. I was, however, quite confused about the presence of five armed guards. I later learned that the young men were part of the penal system, a point that my Nicaraguan colleague had failed to mention beforehand. I gave the presentation and the young men seemed to enjoy it. A year later, I am still working with that same group.
Teenage pregnancy is a startling and real problem in Nicaragua. “Niños criando niños” (kids raising kids) is a common saying, as once teenagers become pregnant they usually drop out of school to take care of their babies. To help combat teenage pregnancy, I created a youth health education and empowerment group in one of the rural communities. Each of the girls that participated in this group gave their own heath presentations at the end of the 10-week workshop. My main goal when engaging these youth is to educate them on topics of sexual health and convince them to delay their first pregnancies.
Finally, I am actively involved in improving maternal and infant health. In the late 1980s, the city of Esteli established the nation’s first Casa Materna, or house for pregnant women from the rural communities. These women arrive at the Casa Materna around their 38th week of pregnancy, where they are closer to a hospital and have 24-hour access to a nurse. The Casa Materna presents itself as the perfect venue for health education, breastfeeding training, complementary feeding, general nutrition, and family planning methods. In addition to working directly with these women, I also design and execute continuing education initiatives for Parteras (midwives) and Brigadistas (community health workers) via week-long trainings. Working at the Casa Materna can be very rewarding. I have seen several of the women from the Casa Materna in the rural community that I visit. I had one woman credit her quick and easy delivery to the prenatal yoga sessions that I led the week before she gave birth. I also saw one of the young mothers from the Casa Materna successfully breastfeeding and not using formula, which is a large feat! I have also had women come up to me on buses saying they remember me from the Casa Materna.
Culturally, Nicaragua is quite different from the United States. For example, during casual conversation with Nicaraguan women, they always ask about my age, marital status, and how many children I have. When I inform them that I am 24, single, and have no kids, they are usually very puzzled; in Nicaragua, being in your 20s and not having children is considered quite unusual. Over the past year at Casa Materna, I have met a number of women, still in their teens, who have more than one child. In fact there was recently an expectant mother who was 14 – yes, fourteen years old!
During training, many Peace Corps staff members told us that the age old slogan, “it’s the toughest job you’ll ever love,” is so true in many regards. After completing 15 months of service I can say that I definitely agree. Being a Peace Corps volunteer can be very exhausting, as every day I am presented with a new challenge. No matter how daunting any given challenge might seemingly be, without fail, something reminds me of the importance of my work, which motivates me to keep going.
Anna mostly emails and calls family instead of keeping a blog, so if you’d like to tell her how awesome her post was, use the comment section below.