Health Extension Volunteer

Before You Apply

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Project Description

The Ebola outbreak of 2014-2015 in Liberia overwhelmed the health system and highlighted the unmet need for a network of health workers covering the most remote communities. With the strategic support of partners, Liberia has restructured and continues rebuilding its health sector, emphasizing maternal and child mortality reduction. The new national community health plan establishes a cadre of health extension workers explicitly tasked with providing essential health services to the approximate 30% of the population living five kilometers or further from a health facility. Peace Corps, which is widely known and respected throughout Liberia, is well-positioned to play a meaningful role in this effort.

In light of the new National Community Health Services Program, Peace Corps Liberia has launched a new Community Health project. In this project, health Volunteers work very closely with their community counterparts and health assistants to build the capacity of local service providers and improve health practices at a household level; with the ultimate goal of improving child and maternal health throughout the country.

Volunteers’ primary work is to support local service providers by:
• Enforcing foundational soft skills that support behavior change through formal and informal trainings, mentoring, and modeling
• Monitoring and data utilization skills to keep track and report on diseases, vaccination rates, etc.

Additionally, Volunteers and their counterparts will directly support households with pregnant women by:
• Providing health education
• Counseling and negotiating behavior change
• Actively linking households with health services

Volunteers will work with and support these households from pregnancy through the child’s first year of life to assist with:
• Encouraging positive health practices during mothers’ pregnancy
• Developing birth plans
• Promoting breastfeeding and immunizations
• Educating on child nutrition and childhood illness prevention

Peace Corps/Liberia promotes gender awareness and girls’ education and empowerment. You will receive training on gender challenges in Liberia and you will have the opportunity to implement gender-related activities that are contextually appropriate. During your service, you will look for ways to work with community members to promote gender-equitable norms and increase girls’ sense of agency. As part of the initiative, you will also report on these efforts and their impact.

Required Skills

Qualified candidates will have an expressed interest in working in the health sector and one or more of the following criteria:
• Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Science degree in any field
OR
• 5 years' professional work experience

Desired Skills

Additionally, Liberia strongly prefers its Volunteers have:
- Household/community outreach experience (i.e. canvasing, voter registration, cold calling, door-to-door sales)
- Academic exposure and/or work experience in global health, public health, women’s health, child health and development, or social work
- Interest or experience in data collection, visualization, dissemination, analysis
- Experience with at-risk populations such as women, vulnerable children, families in poverty/homeless, etc.

Required Language Skills

There are no pre-requisite language requirements for this position.

There are 15 local languages spoken in Liberia with Liberian English spoken throughout the country. Standard English is officially the language of instruction in schools and will be spoken by most health care providers; however, most people speak in Liberian English. Though you will have a transition period when you first arrive in Liberia, most Volunteers report they are able to communicate on a functional basis with the majority of Liberians through Standard English.

You will be trained in a limited capacity in the local language relevant to your site. The majority of language training will be in Liberian English.

Living Conditions

Volunteers are assigned to some of the most remote and rural communities of Liberia, where the largest and longest lasting impacts are often seen. As a health volunteer you will live and work within a community that has a health facility. Working alongside your counterparts you will not only be serving your community but the catchment communities under that assigned facility. Every day will be a different adventure!

Housing: Volunteer housing is very simple and may consist of three to four rooms, including a bedroom, a common area, kitchen and either a pit latrine or an indoor bathroom that requires bucket flushing, as you will not have running water. Water is typically fetched from a nearby hand pump or well. Additionally, Volunteers should not expect to have electricity in their homes and some volunteers choose to invest in solar panels. Though clustered at the county level, due to the remote location of health Volunteers, you are usually the only Volunteer in the community with the closest Volunteer being roughly 2-3 hours away.

The staple food in Liberia is rice! It is the base for all meals you will eat and is typically served with a soup made from a limited variety of locally-grown vegetables and prepared with meat, fish or chicken. Cassava or “fufu” is another main staple and can be found dried, fermented, or fresh depending on the dish.

Transportation: During your Peace Corps service, you will travel via public transportation, often in the form of tightly packed taxis. Due to the rural locations of your communities, most health Volunteers should expect to ride (not drive) a motorbike to reach the bank or a larger market town. Motorbikes are not allowed on paved roads and should be the last choice for transportation. All Volunteers are trained to ride motorbikes and issued a helmet. You should not expect to ride a motorbike for your daily work. However, health Volunteers will occasionally ride to communities in their catchment area to do site visits. Many roads and vehicles are in extremely poor condition, especially during the rainy season. You will be trained in transportation safety, however, transportation will always be a very large challenge during your service. While traveling between locations, you should be prepared for old and crowded vehicles and long hours on the road.

Healthy life: The health, safety and security of Volunteers are Peace Corps' top priority. Throughout the 11 weeks of pre-service training you will receive training on how to keep yourself both physically and mentally healthy while you are in Liberia. Your hobbies are often a great thing to share with your community members!

Communication: While volunteers will most likely have cell phone coverage, given the rural location of your communities in which you will live, you may have limited or no cell phone coverage. If you have cell phone coverage in your assigned community, you will also have the possibility of connecting to the Internet. Volunteers without cell coverage tend to have very limited internet access.


LGBTQ Volunteers: While people in Liberia may be generally tolerant, values and mores concerning sexual orientation and gender identity may be different from those in some parts of the U.S. Volunteers will need to be mindful of cultural norms, and use their judgment to determine the best way to approach sexual orientation and gender. Staff and currently serving Volunteers will address this topic during pre-service training, and identify support mechanisms for incoming trainees.

Learn more about the Volunteer experience in Liberia: Get detailed information on culture, communications, housing, and safety — including crime statistics [PDF] — in order to make a well-informed decision about serving.

Medical Considerations in Liberia

  • Liberia may not be able to support Volunteers with the following medical conditions: asthma, including mild or childhood; cardiology; dermatology; gastroenterology; some types of gynecologic support; insulin-dependent diabetes; mammography; requiring a psychiatrist for psychotropic medications support; ophthalmology; seizure disorder; urology; ongoing counseling.
  • The following medication(s) are not permitted for legal or cultural reasons: Adderall, Vyvanse. 
  • Volunteers who should avoid the following food(s) may not be able to serve: none identified. 
  • After arrival in Liberia, Peace Corps provides and applicants are required to have an annual flu shot, to take daily or weekly medication to prevent malaria, and to receive mandatory immunizations.

Before you apply, please review Medical Information for Applicants to learn about the clearance process and other health conditions that are difficult to accommodate in Peace Corps service.


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