Rural Community Health Volunteer

Project Description

What words will describe your Peace Corps service as a Rural Community Health Volunteer in Benin? Collaboration. Community Health. Learning. Growth. Adaptation. Leadership. Belonging.

Imagine biking through your community to the village health center, stopping often to greet your neighbors, colleagues, and friends in the local Bariba language. At the health center, you and your Beninese colleagues set up a moringa sauce cooking demonstration for young women. You go to a friend’s house for lunch and take a turn at the big mortar and pestle to help pound the yams that you’ll eat with peanut sauce. In the afternoon you and your counterpart meet with your Amour & Vie youth peer health educator team so they can practice a training they are preparing about reproductive health. It is market day, and you stop on the way home for vegetables, negotiating in Bariba, before going to the tailor with some new tissu (local fabric) to order a new outfit for the upcoming Gaani festival. At home, you sit under the mango tree holding your neighbor’s new baby. After dinner you sit out under the stars with the neighbor kids, talking about the upcoming festival, and exchanging messages with a friend back home.

This is an exciting time to work in community health in Benin. The government uses a One Health approach, focusing on households as the main actors for good health within communities. Benin recently launched malaria vaccinations for children. Benin’s Ministry of Health has invited Peace Corps Volunteers to collaborate with Community Health Workers to promote positive outcomes in the areas of maternal and child health, malaria prevention, and youth health and well-being. Your supervisor will be the head of the local community health center or a local health NGO, and your daily work will be done in collaboration with Community Health Workers or other counterparts. You and your counterparts will focus on:
• Maternal & Newborn Health: Exchanging best practices with women to contribute to a healthy pregnancy, safe delivery, good postpartum health, and a healthy newborn.
• Child Health: Building on the knowledge and skills of child caregivers to keep children under 5 healthy.
• Youth Health: Increasing the knowledge and skills of youth to improve their health and well-being through health and life skills education and access to youth-friendly services.
• Community Health Workers: Collaborating on skills for delivery of health education and behavior change messages.

You will use a participatory approach to assess the community’s local knowledge, resources, and needs, and to identify local health priorities. Together you will:
• Develop a parent care group and identify, train, and follow up with mother or father leaders who will expand health education outreach in their community
• Mentor an Amour & Vie (Love & Life) youth peer health educator program to address youth health issues

You may also:
• Work with Community Health Workers to promote balanced nutrition among pregnant and breast-feeding mothers and children under 5
• Co-Facilitate youth health clubs
• 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 healthy 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. You will be trained on the gender context in Benin, 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 promote gender equity by providing training on pregnancy and newborn care with fathers and other men.

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

You will be most competitive for this position if you have one or more of the following:
• Experience supporting health initiatives focusing on women, adolescents, or children.
• Experience in youth sexual and reproductive health and life skills education.
• Experience working with youth.
• Experience in program management and leadership
• Demonstrated flexibility, humility, intercultural competence, and interest in collaboration to address community prioritized needs in structured and unstructured settings.

Required Language Skills

There is no language requirement except a strong commitment to learning spoken French and a local language. However, the strongest candidates will have some proficiency in French or a Romance language, as described below:
• Satisfactorily completed 4 years of high school coursework within the past 8 years in French (preferred) or another Romance language.
• Satisfactorily completed a minimum of 2 semesters of college level coursework (or equivalent classes at Alliance Française or other language school) in French (preferred) or another Romance language within the past 6 years
• Native/Fluent French (preferred) or Romance language speaker
• A score of 50 on the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) exam or a score of Novice‐High on the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL OPI) in French (preferred) or another Romance language

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, Nagot, or Dendi.
Learning French is essential for successful Volunteer service in this linguistically diverse country. 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. You will use French to communicate with your colleagues and with school groups, but learning a local language will help you connect more directly with other community members, particularly with women, who may not have finished school and may not speak French.
If you have little or no background in French, 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.
You will need to start using French for basic communications within days of arriving in Benin, so the more you know in advance, the better. You will live with a host family for most of your initial twelve weeks of training in Benin, an experience which will immerse you in an authentic language and culture learning environment, however it is important to recognize that most families in Benin mainly speak a local language within their family, and French is not likely to be their first language. Peace Corps Benin has dedicated Language and Cross-Culture Facilitators (LCFs) who will teach you French and start introducing you to local languages during your training program. In addition, you will be supported throughout your service by a full-time Language & Culture Coordinator who will support your progress in French and local language. Peace Corps Benin will provide you with resources for your continued language learning throughout your first year of service, including identifying and training a language tutor in the community where you will live and work during your service.

Living Conditions

Training

You don't need to be a community health expert to succeed as a Rural Community Health Volunteer in Benin. Your intercultural competence, desire to learn, flexibility, humility, interest in languages, and collaborative spirit will be key to working successfully with your community. You will do all your work with Beninese counterparts, and your service will start with 3 months of intensive Pre-Service Training in Benin. During training you will live with a host family in a rural community while you learn about malaria prevention, maternal and child health, nutrition, hygiene and sanitation, facilitation skills, French language, and a local language, navigating the cultures of Benin, taking care of your physical and mental health, and maintaining your safety and security. You will meet your supervisor – the head of the health center or local health NGO – and spend a week visiting the community where you will live and work for the next two years. The second half of training will focus on practicing co-facilitating health trainings in French. After successfully meeting the requirements, you will be sworn in as a Volunteer, and will move to your new community to start work.

Living Conditions

Please see the Benin Living Conditions section of the website for information about:
• Communications
• Languages
• Housing and Site Location
• Food and Diet
• Transportation
• Social Activities
• Professionalism, Dress, Behavior

Dress & Appearance

Beninese people love fashionable clothes, in conservative styles that cover shoulders, knees, cleavage, and everything between. As a community member, your appearance and behavior will be judged by Benin’s cultural norms, and you will be expected to follow them. Many Volunteers love buying fabric in the market and having clothes made in local styles. It is hard to overdress or be overly neat in Benin, as your appearance reflects your respect for the people around you. Long hair, braids, 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 female Volunteers wear their hair short, pulled back, or in braids or locs. Regardless of gender, Volunteers should keep their hair clean, neat, and well-groomed. Volunteers with visible body piercings or tattoos may need to conceal them, as they may be seen as unprofessional. Please refer to Living Conditions and Packing Guidance online for more details.
Diversity & Inclusion

The Peace Corps seeks to reflect the rich diversity of the U.S. and bring diverse perspectives and solutions to development issues. Training sessions will address diversity and inclusion and how you can transcend differences, find common ground, and serve as an ally for your peers. Your social identities will play a role in the way you are perceived and how you experience life and work in Benin. For example, people in Benin’s LGBTQI+ community continue to face persecution and are rarely open about their sexuality. Volunteers will need to be mindful of cultural norms and laws and use their judgment about the best way to approach sexual orientation and gender identity in Benin. Staff and current Volunteers will address this topic during training and will identify support mechanisms for Volunteers.

Additional information is available in the diversity and inclusion section of our website about serving in Benin as a:
• Volunteer of color
• LGBTQI+ Volunteer
• Volunteer with a disability
• Couple
• Volunteer with different religious beliefs than their community
• 50+ year old
• Volunteer seeking to be an ally

Curious about Benin?

The documentary High on the Hog features beautiful footage of Benin and discusses links between Beninese and African American food and history in episode 1. The Woman King is a fictional depiction of the historic female Agodie warriors of the Dahomey Kingdom, which is part of present-day Benin.

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 the laws are ambiguous, like 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 happy to accommodate 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:

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

During the 12-week Pre-Service Training, couples will live and train in separate villages. 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. 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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