Nursing & Health Around the Globe: Peace Corps Volunteers Teaching Wellness, HIV/AIDS Prevention

WASHINGTON, D.C., May 12, 2005 – When Whitney Lawton first joined the Peace Corps she had no idea how big of an impact she would make on the lives of the villagers in her town on the Senegal River, through teaching basic nutrition, infant and maternal health, and HIV/AIDS prevention. Today, she is one of thousands of former Peace Corps volunteers who have worked in health related projects to improve the well-being of community members and families in developing nations.

During National Nurses Week, the Peace Corps recognizes returned volunteers, such as Lawton, and current volunteers serving at the person-to-person level to stop the spread of disease, such as malaria, emphasize water and sanitation practices, teach community health trainers, and work in many other issues in the health sector. Currently, more than 1,500 Peace Corps volunteers, or 20 percent work in health projects. A total of 40 percent of volunteers have primary or secondary projects in HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness.

"I feel like Peace Corps gave me so much and sometimes I wonder if I gave enough back. It helped me define my career path. I met my fianc. I created some wonderful friendships," Lawton said. "But I would have to say that the one thing I am most grateful for is the clarity Peace Corps gave me when it comes to my career … My best friend in the village was the village midwife and working with her everyday and seeing the differences she was able to make in basic things like the health of a newborn made me want to be like her."

Today, as a Johns Hopkins Peace Corps Fellow Scholar, Lawton is pursuing a nursing degree while working in a community outreach program. Her experiences in Senegal have set her path for the future, and the friendships and impact that she made will stay with her for a lifetime.

"A few weeks after I left, my village sister had a baby that was named after me. I would desperately like to see her," said Lawton.

To find out more about Peace Corps volunteers working in health, please visit the What Do Volunteers Do? section.

Since 1961, more than 178,000 volunteers have served in the Peace Corps, working in such diverse fields as education, health, HIV/AIDS education and prevention, information technology, business development, the environment, and agriculture. Peace Corps volunteers must be U.S. citizens and at least 18 years of age. Peace Corps service is a 27-month commitment.

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