Rural Community Health Volunteer

Project Description

This is an exciting time to work in community health in Benin, as the country recently began implementing a One Health approach, focusing on households as the main actors for well-being and good health within communities. As a Rural Community Health Volunteer, you will work with Community Health Worker counterparts and community members to promote positive outcomes in the areas of maternal and child health, malaria prevention, and youth health and well-being.

You and your counterparts will focus on the following 4 main objectives:
1. Maternal and Newborn Health: Exchange best practices with women that contribute to a healthy pregnancy, safe delivery, good postpartum health, and a healthy newborn.
2. Child Health: Work alongside child caregivers to keep children under 5 healthy.
3. Youth Health: Co-facilitate sexual and reproductive health as well as general health and life skills education that empowers youth as peer educators to access youth-friendly services and be agents in managing their health and well-being.
4. Community Health Workers (CHW): Collaborate with CHWs to deliver health education and behavior change messages.

You will have a local supervisor who is the leader of the community health center or a local NGO, and you will do your daily work in collaboration with your assigned local counterparts, such as Community Health Workers. You and your counterparts will use a participatory approach to assess the community’s local knowledge, resources and needs, and to collaboratively choose the most appropriate activities to address locally prioritized health challenges. Depending on the community’s priorities, these activities may include working alongside counterparts to:
• Co-develop care groups and identify, train, and follow up with mother leaders and father leaders who will expand health education outreach in their communities to address specific community health issues.
• Co-implement Amour & Vie (Love & Life) youth peer education projects to address youth health issues
• Launch health clubs in schools
• Work with CHWs to promote balanced nutrition among pregnant and breast-feeding mothers and children under the age of 5.
• Co-facilitate school-based youth health clubs to address local health issues.
• Educate youth and influential community members on malaria so that they will initiate behavior change.
• Organize cooking demonstrations for women of reproductive age to improve infant nutrition and highlight the merits of a diversified diet.
• Encourage the community to improve hygiene and sanitation by promoting handwashing.
• Plant gardens with women’s groups to provide increased sources of nutrition.

Gender Activities
Peace Corps Benin promotes gender equity and girls’ education and empowerment within Benin’s cultural context. This will be a focus of your trainings, and in your primary and secondary projects, you will have the opportunity to implement gender-related activities that are contextually appropriate, such as clubs, leadership programs, and sports teams. In addition, you will be able to promote gender equity by exchanging best practices for pregnancy and newborn care with fathers and other men.

Training:
You don't need to be a community health expert to succeed as a Rural Community Health Volunteer in Benin. You will collaborate with local counterparts throughout your service, and you will start with 12 weeks of Pre-Service Training in Benin designed to help you build the language, cultural, and technical competencies you’ll need to work effectively in your community. This will include training in malaria awareness and prevention, maternal and child health, nutrition, hygiene and sanitation, and facilitation. Your desire to learn, as well as your intercultural competence, flexibility, humility, interest in languages, and collaborative spirit will be key to working successfully with your community to meet their needs and accomplish their health goals.

COVID-19 Volunteer Activities

As a Volunteer, you will be trained in how to best protect yourself from COVID-19 exposure and understand the impact of and steps to reduce stigma related to COVID-19. You may also have the opportunity to engage with your community on implementing or enhancing COVID-19 mitigation activities, such as COVID-19 prevention and risk reduction strategies including social distancing, hand washing, mask wearing, addressing myths and misconceptions related to these practices, and vaccine hesitancy. Activities will be tailored to address the COVID-19 circumstances in the communities where you will serve.

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

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.

Required Language Skills

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

Benin is a fascinating country for language lovers. You will leave Benin with proficiency in French as well as skills in one of Benin’s local languages.

French is the official language of the Beninese educational and governmental system, and most Beninese people who speak French also speak one or more of Benin’s 50+ local languages, such as Fon, Mina, Adja, Bariba, Yoruba, Idaatcha, Tchabe, Fulani, Mahi, Nago, and Dendi. This linguistic diversity means that speaking French will be essential, and you will likely also need to reach a certain proficiency level in a local language, as local languages are used more than French in many rural communities where not everyone speaks French. Local language skills will help you connect more directly with community members, particularly with women, who may not have finished school and may not speak French, which will help you work successfully and culturally integrate in your rural community.

If you have no French or low-level French language skills, you are strongly encouraged to take a French course or make a commitment to self‐study prior to arrival in Benin in order to prepare for living and working there.

During your 12-week Pre-Service Training (PST) program in Benin, you will be supported by dedicated Language and Cross-Culture Facilitators in your French and local language studies, and you will likely also live with a host family during PST, an experience which will immerse you in an authentic language and culture learning environment. After PST, you will be supported throughout your service by a full-time Language & Culture Coordinator who will support your progress in French and local language by providing you with resources for continued language learning, including identifying and training a language tutor in the community where you will live and work.

Living Conditions

Housing
Volunteers in Benin live in villages, semi-urban centers, and rural towns. 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 has one main room, a bedroom, a kitchen area, and a private bathing area and latrine. In more rural areas, you may not have running water or electricity.

Diet
Access to Western foods may be limited and Volunteers adapt their diet to local foods such as rice and corn "pâte", with various leaf and peanut sauces, local vegetables such as okra, eggplant, tomatoes, and various kinds of meat. Other protein sources are local cheese, beans, and soy products. Peanuts and tree nuts are part of the staple diet. Couscous, pasta, and bread are readily available. Access to fruits, vegetables, and proteins vary by region and season.

Transport
Public buses, car taxis or motorcycle taxis are used as the main transportation for many people in Benin including Peace Corps Volunteers. Many roads in the country are dirt, and their condition varies with the seasons, and even paved roads are of varying condition. Many Volunteers ride a bicycle for transportation within and near their communities. If you want a bicycle, Peace Corps will provide one or the means to purchase one. To bike in Benin you will need to be in decent physical shape.

Connectivity
If you have a laptop you are encouraged to bring it to complete required reports and assignments. Many Volunteers also bring unlocked smartphones. Both will be made available if you do not bring one. At site, Internet is generally through a cellphone (or phone hotspot to computer), and connection quality varies in rural areas. There are two regional workstations with computers and Wi-Fi access for Volunteers.

Dress
Your behavior and dress will be judged according to Benin’s conservative cultural norms. Long pants, blouses/shirts, skirts and dresses below the knee, and nice sandals or shoes are appropriate for work. Dressing inappropriately (shorts, halter tops, short skirts, tight or low-cut blouses, spaghetti straps, dirty or torn clothing), will make it difficult to be accepted in your community, while appropriate dress will earn you respect, facilitate integration, increase professional effectiveness, and decrease unwanted attention.

Hair
In Benin, long hair, braids (including cornrows), locs, and long beards on men are unusual. All men are encouraged to adjust to the local style for hair and facial hair (low cut/short/well-trimmed). Many male Volunteers have chosen to shave or trim their facial hair and cut their hair to facilitate integration. Many female Volunteers wear their hair back in a ponytail or bun, short, or in braids or locs. Regardless of gender, Volunteers should keep their hair clean, neat and well-groomed.

Religion
Religious tolerance is respected in Benin. There are three main religions in Benin: Islam is primarily in the north, Christianity is primarily in the south, and the religious and cultural practice of Animism (Vodoun) is common throughout the country. Many Beninese maintain a strong belief in both Vodoun and another major religion. Vodoun in Benin is very different from how “voodoo” is represented by Hollywood.

LGBTQIA+
While people in Benin may be generally tolerant, values and norms concerning sexual orientation and gender identity may be different from those in some parts of the U.S. There are laws in Benin that target certain acts with individuals of the same sex. People in the LGBTQIA+ community in Benin continue to face widespread persecution and are rarely open about their sexuality. Volunteers will need to be mindful of cultural norms and laws and use their judgment to determine the best way to approach sexual orientation and gender identity in their communities. Staff and current Volunteers will address this topic during Pre-Service Training and will identify support mechanisms for Volunteers.

Serving in Benin

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

Couples Information

The Peace Corps works to foster safe and productive assignments for same-sex couples, and same-sex couples are not placed in countries where homosexual acts are criminalized, or where laws are ambiguous, as in Benin. Because of this, same-sex couples’ placements are more limited than heterosexual couple placements. During the application process, Recruiters and Placement Officers work closely with same-sex couple applicants to understand current placement opportunities. For more information please visit: https://www.peacecorps.gov/faqs/lgbtq/.

Benin is able to accept applications from heterosexual couples, as long as each person is in a different sector program. If you are applying as a couple, your partner must qualify and apply for either:

Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) Teacher
Sustainable Agricultural Systems Volunteer

During the 12-week Pre-Service Training, couples will live and train in separate villages, living with separate host families. Couples will see each other once a week during core curriculum days (joint sector training days) where all trainees will participate in full group training sessions, and will be able to visit each other at their host family homes on weekends. Once at their permanent site, couples will live in the same house and will work in the same community.

Going through the Peace Corps experience as a couple poses unique opportunities and challenges, and success will require 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 eliminate many of these challenges for each other, they can be coped with and overcome with time, patience, and a most importantly a good sense of humor.

Medical Considerations

Before you apply, please review Medical Information for Applicants to learn about the medical clearance process.


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