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Project Panther


The Peace Corps in Benin started a program called "Project Panther," in order to take part in the fight against AIDS in West Africa. As a health Volunteer, I was given the opportunity to include my village in the program. Marthe and David, two people in our village, were chosen as peer educators. Marthe is in secondary school and had never been involved in anything like this, and David had dropped out of secondary school at the equivalent of sophomore year and was also new to work as an educator.

So, these two, knowing that the work was strictly voluntary, attended, with me, a week-long training program hosted by Peace Corps about AIDS education. Once we finished this training, we met about twice a week in order to review their materials and come up with a presentation format that they could begin doing. They were extremely nervous and needed help translating French words into the local language. With the help of a fellow host country national, they translated their presentation into local the language and were ready to go out and do their first presentation.

Their first presentation was amongst a group of women and was pretty well received. The second, however, was amongst their peers, who bombarded them with questions they didn't have the answers to, teased them about the subject matter, and also about their basic presentation skills. In other words, it was a disaster and I must admit to being totally discouraged. I felt that their failure was mine, because I felt responsible for providing them with the skills that they needed to do successful presentations.

So, we took the time during our next few meetings to discuss their demeanor and presentation skills. We also brainstormed about possible questions that might throw them off during their presentations and how to answer them. Marthe and David worked hard to learn more information about AIDS/HIV, practiced their presentation skills, and built up their confidence before going out into the field again.

Finally, the time came for them to do their next presentation amongst a diverse group of people from their village. The audience ranged from young to old, male to female, and a variety of professions. The presentation turned into a forum addressing such issues as: the myths and facts about HIV/AIDS, the role that society plays in changing the behavior of people in order to deter the spread of HIV, and the role that respect, fidelity and true love plays in the fight against AIDS. I was totally shocked to hear this group of people in my village discussing such issues. Marthe and David facilitated these discussions so well and spoke with a confidence I was sure I would never see. They impressed me and made me so proud. Since this day, they have continued to do wonderful presentations, and their personal characters have benefited from being peer educators.

The day of that presentation, I realized that my Peace Corps service was not going to be about completely changing my village. I learned that the difference that I may make would be on a more individual basis and that that was just as satisfying. So, whenever I begin to feel discouraged, if things aren't quite going the way that I had hoped they would in my village, I honestly think back to that day with my peer educators and I feel better about my role here as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Helena Hart (Benin)

Helena was a rural community health Volunteer in Benin. She has a B.S. in Biological Sciences from the University of Southern California.

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