Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Education Facilitator

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact Peace Corps domestically and internationally.

The information provided for each assignment is subject to change, including the tentative departure date.

Project Description

The purpose of the Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) project is to work with Panamanians (community members, youth, teachers, health promoters and partner agencies) in capacity building that promotes a healthier lifestyle in regards to water, sanitation, health, and hygiene. We aim to help these groups gain skills and promote individual and collective efforts at achieving and maintaining an improved quality of life through empowerment, education, organization, and peer support. Volunteers accomplish this by working in partnership with their community members and Panamanian government agencies, such as Ministry of Health staff. Volunteers conduct formal workshops as well as informal household-level trainings to develop the critical leadership, organizational, and technical skills that community members need to effectively address water, sanitation, and health needs in their community.

Volunteers also work to build the capacity of local water and health committees to become legalized and trained as per the Panamanian Government Ministry of Health’s strategy for rural water resource management and public health in Panama. A main component of the Volunteer’s work is to identify community leaders to work within the areas of health promotion and sanitation-related capacity building initiatives. Through a variety of educational activities and events, Volunteers raise awareness and train community members on prevention of water-borne illnesses and effective water, sanitation, and hygiene practices in addition to supporting local efforts in addressing other priority health areas such as nutrition and HIV/AIDS prevention.

Volunteers may also have the opportunity to collaborate with local government or private donors on infrastructure improvements. This work will focus on training and supporting community members on developing proper water storage and treatment, natural resource management, and techniques for the construction, maintenance, and repair of appropriate water and sanitation technologies, such as gravity fed aqueduct systems, rainwater catchment systems, pit latrines or composting latrines. In addition, with the main focus of building local capacity, Volunteers will ensure sustainability by supporting community groups and households so they can construct, maintain, and repair locally appropriate water and sanitation solutions on their own.

COVID-19 Volunteer Activities

In the past year, the world has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. 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 public health, sanitation, and hygiene education in communities, and one or more of the following criteria:

• Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Science degree in any field
• 5 years' professional work experience

Desired Skills

Competitive candidates will demonstrate the following skills:

• Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Science in Civil, Environmental or Sanitary Engineering, or other relevant field,
• Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Science in Public Health, Education, Sustainable Development, Sociology, Anthropology or other relevant field
• Certification in water/waste water treatment plant operation or hazardous materials
• Experience in community-level health education and promotion
• Experience teaching adults and children formally and informally
• Conversational Spanish Language Skills
• Public speaking and presentation skills
• High level of self-initiative and self-direction, mixed with a good sense of humor
• Willingness to live in an indigenous area (cultural adaptation can be more challenging) or a site that requires boat travel to access
•Ability and willingness to hike long distances on a regular basis

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 Spanish coursework within the past 8 years
B. Completed minimum 2 semesters of Spanish college‐level coursework within the past 6 years
C. Native/fluent speaker of Spanish

Candidates who do not meet the language proficiency levels above can take the language placement exams to demonstrate their level of proficiency. Competitive applicants typically attain a score of 50 on the Spanish College Level Examination Program CLEP exam or a score of Novice‐High on the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL OPI).

Volunteers need to demonstrate an Intermediate level of oral and written proficiency in Spanish for site placement by the end of Pre-Service Training.

Living Conditions

General Living Conditions
WASH communities are generally remote, and rustic, a truly rural living experience. The majority of these communities are indigenous, where Ngobere is primarily spoken, but we also have about 25% of sites that are Latino where Spanish is primarily spoken. Indigenous communities can be more challenging in many ways and Volunteers need to respect and adapt to strict cultural practices and be willing to learn both Spanish and Ngobere.

Services Access
WASH communities will likely be remote and the Volunteer will have limited and infrequent access to resources, such as medical facilities. In addition, these communities have limited cell service and may not have internet. Volunteers can expect to have internet access one to two times a month when they travel out of their community. The majority of communities will not have electricity but solar panels can be purchased locally and are widely available.

Community Access
Living in these remote communities will frequently require the Volunteer to hike long distances in a hot and humid climate. Communities may be up to one hour from a paved road, often through very muddy, mountainous terrain with steep hills where walking is the only option. Volunteers should expect frequent strenuous hikes, long boat rides, and/or long bumpy car rides on unpaved roads to get in and out of their communities.

Volunteers may live in a rural Panamanian-style home made of concrete block and cement floors or in a wood structure with palm-thatched roof and dirt floors. Volunteers in indigenous areas may live in a wood hut with a dirt floor or in a bamboo, thatch-roofed hut raised on stilts close to a river. Services such as electricity, running or potable water and sanitation systems may be rudimentary or non-existent.

Peace Corps examines each community before selection to ensure that basic health and safety criteria are met. Volunteers will be required to live with a host-family during their first three months of service in their community. After these three months, Volunteers generally live on their own in pre-approved local housing that meets Peace Corps/Panama’s housing criteria.

Food and Diet
The Panamanian diet varies according to the region and the ethnic makeup of the population. Most often the diet consists of rice, beans, bananas or plantains, yucca (cassava), and corn. Rice and beans (kidney beans, lentils, and black-eyed peas) is the staple dish. Corn is served in many ways but is usually ground, boiled, or fried. Sancocho is a traditional soup prepared with a variety of vegetables and chicken. Most rural areas have an array of fruits available, including mangoes, papayas, pineapples, avocados, oranges, and guanabanas (soursops). The availability of garden vegetables, such as tomatoes, sweet peppers, and cucumbers, varies according to the region and the season. The most common meats are chicken and beef. Fish is available sporadically in coastal regions and riverside communities.

Most Volunteers start a garden in their community, and many buy staple foods (rice, beans) in their village. Volunteers can buy a wide variety of foods and imported goods in supermarkets in the provincial capitals one to two times a month when they travel out of their community.

Internet Access
Internet access in Panama is spreading. All provincial capitals and other large towns have internet cafes. There is a program that is installing free Wi-Fi access in rural schools powered with solar energy. Connection speeds tend to be slow, but the service is reasonably priced and otherwise reliable. Internet access for Volunteers is available at the Peace Corps office.

Peace Corps does not provide Volunteers with a cell phone or data but Panama has cheap data plans. Volunteers either bring an unlocked cell phone from the US or buy one in country. Almost all Volunteers bring a computer from the US. It is the Volunteer’s responsibility to maintain and insure electronics they bring.

Learn more about the Volunteer experience in Panama: 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

Panama is happy to accommodate cross-sector couples. We will identify communities with sufficient work opportunities for both Volunteers. Therefore, your partner can apply and must qualify for:

Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Education Volunteer, or
Sustainable Agriculture Volunteer, or
Business Advising Agriculture Volunteer.

Medical Considerations

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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