Success Doesn’t Happen Overnight
Peace Corps Response Georgia 2012
Peace Corp Ukraine 2007-2009
How does one define success? This was often a topic among Volunteers during my initial service as a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) Volunteer in Ukraine. Like many of my peers, I dreamed of instant results, but I was pragmatic enough to know that I was playing the “long game.”
After finishing my first assignment with Peace Corps, I pursued a master’s at Ohio University in Communication and Development. What I learned about social geographies, empowerment and social change while in school greatly impacted how I understood the world. During my last quarter of school, I began the Peace Corps Response (PCR) application process. In 2012, I started my assignment in Georgia where I worked at a women’s health clinic as an Organizational Development and Advocacy Specialist. My director, Marika Davituliani, had been playing the “long game” already.
Marika is a strong and determined woman. She is a medical doctor by training. Every day, she sat with patients and counseled them on possible treatments and options. In the late ’90s, Marika recognized a problem: too many women in Georgia were dying from breast cancer. According to the 2010 Statistical Yearbook published by the Georgian National Center for Disease Control, 55% of breast cancer cases were diagnosed in Stages 3 and 4. Of those diagnosed, 17.5% died in the first year.
Marika was seeing these statistics as her patient’s lived them. In 2001, with other female physicians, Marika founded Women’s Wellness Care Alliance HERA in order to promote breast cancer awareness. Within a few years, their team organized their first breast cancer race in Kutaisi, Georgia’s “second city.” These efforts attracted the attention of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Soon the race was part of Komen’s network and moved to the Georgian capital of Tbilisi.
With all this success, why did HERA need a PCR volunteer? The answer to that lies in Georgian society; Georgia is a socially conservative country so issues such as breast cancer can be very sensitive.
From my experience, this issue makes HERA’s work more difficult. First, it is not common to talk publicly about things that they consider of a sexual nature, like breast cancer. Women who are diagnosed with breast cancer are generally hesitant to talk about their experience with others. Women-specific issues are not often at the forefront of the conversation. The Georgian government recognizes the public health challenge, but has limited resources available to address them. Those resources also have to sustain an entire country struggling with the transition to a 21st-century, global economy.
In addition, funding is the biggest problem HERA faces. The organization has ambitious outreach plans, but faces many obstacles when competing for international donor funds. While there are many challenges, HERA still fights for their cause and measures success in the number of women who triumph over cancer.
My work with HERA centered on enhancing the organization’s profile while helping them think farther into the future. They were an organization that existed locally in Kutaisi, but had a national presence because of the annual race. I saw an opportunity to strengthen local connections. I helped broker a meeting between Marika and Kutaisi’s city administration. The gentleman with whom we met had a relative who had died from women’s health issues, so he proposed signing a letter of cooperation that grants HERA access to some of the city’s resources. We also reached out to Georgian celebrities. Some did express an interest in working with HERA in the future. HERA recognized the need for a more robust online presence. We reworked their Facebook page and developed a new bilingual website with information that could be useful for both Georgian and English speakers.
I also worked with HERA to draft a strategic plan so that the ideas generated were codified in a meaningful way. I reminded them that none of our successes and failures were an end. If someone said “no” to partnering today, they needed to be asked again tomorrow. If a grant idea didn’t work, it needed to be rethought and resubmitted. If turnout at an event didn’t meet expectations, the promotion of that event needed to be rethought instead of the event being abandoned. I emphasized that it isn’t “this didn’t work,” it’s “this didn’t work today.”
Although my service ended this past September, I am still HERA’s “advocacy specialist” I believe in their vision to bring an end to breast cancer as a life threatening illness in Georgia. I am proud to have served such a powerful and determined group of women.
Last updated Nov 25 2013
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