Health Extension Volunteer

Before You Apply

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Project Description

Every day as a Rural Community Health (RCH) volunteer in Benin is a mixture of community, adventure, and creative work. During a typical morning, you will most likely go to the local health center, greeting friends and children along the way who call you by your local name. Maybe you will work with health workers to counsel mothers about their children's nutrition. Maybe you and your counterpart will teach a lesson about malaria prevention since the rainy season is coming. At noon, you will quickly head to the market, since the maman with the best peanut sauce always sells out by 12:30. In the evening you may play soccer with your girls' soccer team or have a meeting with some budding female leaders to plan for a gender equality event. The activities you will do as an RCH volunteer will change from day to day. But what you can depend on is the love and kindness of your village. Mamans will invite you to their homes to eat pâte or pounded yams. Groups of old men sitting under mango trees will tell you the village gossip. Kids will try to hold your hand as they speak to you in the village's local language. Your days in the village will be full of new languages, new food, new friends, and new experiences. Your village will feel very different from where you grew up, but your time in village will be full of love, cultural exchange, and impactful health work. It will be your home.

Project Description
Volunteers will work with their counterparts to achieve the Rural Community Health (RCH) project goal of helping to end preventable child and maternal deaths and improve health and well-being of youth in the community. Your activities will focus on the following four main objectives:

1. Maternal and Newborn Health: Increase the knowledge and skills of women to adopt practices that contribute to a healthy pregnancy, safe delivery, good postpartum health, and a healthy newborn.
2. Child Health: Increase the knowledge and skills of child caregivers to keep children under 5 healthy
3. Youth Health: Increase the knowledge and skills of youth to improve their health and well-being through health and life skills education and linkages to youth-friendly services.
4. Community Health Workers (CHW): Improve Community Health Workers’ (CHWs’) skills to deliver health education and behavior change messages.

Gender Activities
Peace Corps Benin promotes gender awareness and girls’ education and empowerment. You will receive training on gender challenges in Benin and you will have the opportunity to implement gender-related activities that are contextually appropriate. This may include summer camps, clubs, sports teams, etc.

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

Your flexibility and resiliency will be key to your success.

Desired Skills

Competitive candidates will have one or more of the following:
• Experience in supporting health initiatives focusing on women, adolescents, and children.
• Experience in program management and leadership.
• Experience working with youth.
• Demonstrate flexibility to address community needs in structured and unstructured settings.

Required Language Skills

Candidates must meet one or more of the language requirements below in order to be considered for this position.

A. Completed 4 years of high school coursework within the past 8 years in a Romance language

B. Completed a minimum of 2 semesters of college level coursework within the past 6 years in a Romance language

C. Native/Fluent Romance language speaker

Candidates with no French should either have a willingness to take a French course or commitment to self-study prior to departure.

French is used as the official language in the Beninese governmental system. There are several local languages including: Fon, Mina, Adja, Bariba, Yoruba, and Dendi, to name a few.

Upon arrival, you will be tested on your ability in spoken French for language class placement. At the completion of Pre-Service Training, you will be required to reach a proficiency level of Intermediate High. If you are an experienced French speaker and test at a higher level from the beginning of PST, you will begin learning Fon, a local language widely spoken in Benin. At your assigned site, you are strongly encouraged to learn the local language spoken (this may or may not be Fon). Peace Corps will provide you with resources (suggesting a local language tutor and fee reimbursement) for your continued language learning for your first year of service.

Language is key for smooth community integration. Volunteers in the SAS program must have a good base in French, and then also learn the local language that is largely used in your community. Peace Corps will provide resources for ongoing language learning especially for local language. Your assigned counterpart will speak French, however your target groups (women’s groups, etc.) may not speak French at all and so your commitment to learning French and local language is key.

Candidates with no or low-level French language skills, should take a French course or make a commitment to self‐study prior to departure in order to prepare yourself for living and working in Benin. There are numerous free on-line resources available.

Living Conditions

Housing
Volunteers in Benin are assigned to sites in semi-urban centers, rural towns, and villages. Housing is provided by the host organization and may vary in size and amenities. Houses are normally located in a compound with other families. A typical house for a Volunteer will have one main room, a bedroom, kitchen area, and a private shower and latrine. In more rural areas, you will may not have running water or electricity.

Diet
Access to Western foods may be very limited and Volunteers have to adapt their diet to local foods such as rice or "pâte" (a stiff porridge made from corn, sorghum, millet or yams) with various leaf sauces, local vegetables such as okra, eggplant, tomatoes and various kinds of meat. Other protein sources are local cheese and soy products. Couscous, pasta, and bread are readily available staples. Access to fruits, vegetables, and proteins will also vary by region and season.

Transport
Many of the roads and means of public transportation are in poor condition. Rural travel is mostly by local taxi or motorbikes used as taxis. Peace Corps provides training on how to safely ride a motorbike as a passenger. Along with walking, Peace Corps also provides Volunteers with a mountain bike, which may be the principal means of transportation around your work zone. Since this may require considerable physical exertion on the part of the Volunteer, you should be in reasonably good shape or at least willing to improve your physical fitness to meet this work demand

Connectivity
Volunteers are strongly encouraged to bring a laptop which will enable you to complete required assignments off-line and upload them at a later date. Having a laptop will facilitate successful participation in training. Tablets, Chromebooks, and smart phones are not an effective alternative. There are regional workstations with computers and Wi-Fi access.

Attire/Dress
Beninese people dress well and tailored outfits is common in both men and women. Appearance plays a large role in integrating into a community. Long pants, blouses/shirts, skirts (below the knee) and dresses are appropriate attire for work. Particularly in the north where there is a sizable Muslim population, dress is very conservative. If dress is inappropriate (shorts, halters, short skirts, form fitting blouses or low-cut blouses, spaghetti straps, dirty or torn clothing), it will be difficult to find acceptance in the community. Dressing appropriately will help you gain respect in your host community, facilitate integration, increase your credibility and effectiveness, and decrease unwanted attention. It is advised to take cues from your Beninese colleagues, and dress to their standards of professionalism. Sturdy sandals are a must.

Religion
There are two main religions in Benin: Islam in the north and Christianity in the south. Religious tolerance is respected in Benin and religious differences are not an issue. The cultural practice of Voodoo is common throughout the country and many Beninese maintain a strong belief in both Voodoo and another major religion. Benin is known as the “home of Voodoo” and many perceptions of this religion have been skewed by Hollywood and cultural misunderstandings.

LGBTQ
Although same-sex sexual relations for both men and women are not explicitly illegal in Benin, people in the LGBTQ community continue to face widespread persecution and are rarely open about their sexuality. Most LGBTQ PCVs live a dual life in Benin. If a LGBTQ PCV chooses to be in a romantic relationship, it will almost always be with another LGBTQ PCV, an expatriate, or someone from the urban areas who is already “out”. Volunteers will also need to be mindful of cultural norms and use their best judgment to determine how to approach topics related to sexual orientation and gender identity in their communities. Staff and PCVs will address this during pre-service training, and identify support mechanisms.

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

Couples Information

Benin is happy to accept couples, but can only accommodate couples in different sector programs. Your partner must qualify and apply for one of the following:

TEFL Teacher
Sustainable Agricultural Systems Agent

Couples will train in separate locations during PST and live with separate homestays. Couples will see each other once a week during CORE days (joint-sector training days) where all trainees will receive full group sessions.

Once in-service at permanent site, couples live in the same accommodation and will work in the same community.

Going through the Peace Corps experience as a couple allows for ample growth in trust, confidence, and communication. There will be times when you will both need each other’s support. Understand that you will need to put in an extra effort to be an ally to your partner. Although you will not be able to completely eradicate many of these challenges, they can be coped with and overcome with time, patience, and a most importantly a good sense of humor.

Medical Considerations in Benin

  • Benin may not be able to support Volunteers with the following medical conditions: asthma, including mild or childhood; dermatology; gastroenterology; some types of gynecologic support; insulin-dependent diabetes; mammography; requiring a psychiatrist for psychotropic medications support; seizure disorder; ongoing counseling.
  • The following medication(s) are not permitted for legal or cultural reasons: none identified
  • Volunteers who should avoid the following food(s) may not be able to serve:  gluten, peanuts, and shellfish. 
  • After arrival in Benin, 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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