Water Sanitation and Hygiene Education Volunteer

Before You Apply

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Project Description

The purpose of the Water Sanitation and Hygiene Education (WASH) project is to work with Panamanians (community members, youth, teachers, and partner agencies) in capacity building that promotes a healthier lifestyle in regards to water, sanitation, and hygiene. We aim to help these groups gain skills and promote individual and collective efforts at achieving and maintaining a more advanced quality of life through empowerment, education, and coaching. Volunteers will accomplish this working in partnership with their community members and Panamanian government agencies, such as Ministry of Health staff. Volunteers will conduct workshops and other types of trainings to develop the critical leadership, organizational and technical skills community members need to effectively address water and sanitation needs in their community. Volunteers will also work to build the capacity of local water committees to become legalized and trained as per the Panamanian Government Ministry of Health’s strategy for rural water resource management in Panama. A main component of the Volunteer’s work will be to identify community leaders to work with in the areas of health promotion and sanitation-related capacity building initiatives. Through a variety of campaigns, activities, and events, the Volunteers will raise awareness and train community members on water-borne illness and prevention and proper water, sanitation, and hygiene practices to promote healthy behaviors.

Volunteers may also have the opportunity to collaborate with local technicians from host country agencies and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in the water and sanitation sector. This work will focus on training community members on proper water storage and treatment, natural resource management, and techniques for the construction, maintenance, and repair of appropriate water and sanitation technologies. In addition, with the main focus of building local capacity, the Volunteers will ensure sustainability by supporting community groups and households so the community members can construct, maintain and repair locally appropriate water and sanitation systems.

Required Skills

Qualified candidates will have an expressed interest in hygiene education/sanitation in communities, and one or more of the following criteria:
• Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Science degree in any field

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
• Certification in water/waste water treatment plant operation or hazardous materials management
• Strong commitment to promote water, sanitation, and hygiene practices in rural areas
• 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
• Professionalism and respect for diversity
• Ability to work in unstructured settings
• Conversational Spanish Language Skills
• Willingness to facilitate cultural integration
• Public speaking and presentation skills
• Strong interpersonal skills
• Willingness to live in, semi- urban, rural or indigenous area
• Leadership skills
• High level of self-initiative and self-direction, mixed with a good sense of humor
• Interest and ability to teach adults and children formally and informally

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).

Additional Language Information

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, rustic, and a truly rural living experience. The communities are approximately 25% Latino (Spanish speaking) and 75% indigenous. Indigenous communities can be more challenging in many ways and Volunteers need to respect and adapt to strict cultural practices and to be willing to learn both Spanish and the indigenous language.

Services Access
WASH communities will likely be remote, and as a result, 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.

Community Access
Living in these communities will frequently require the Volunteer to hike long distances in a hot and humid climate. Communities are at least 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.

Housing
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/Panama 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.

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 dish (somewhere between a soup and a stew) 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, which are often deep-fried or stewed. Fish is available sporadically in coastal regions and riverside communities. Semi urban sites near large towns and cities have at least one restaurant that will be familiar, such as McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, Subway, or Dairy Queen.

Some Volunteers are vegetarians, but very few Panamanians follow this diet. Many volunteers start a garden at their sites, and buy food in a provincial capital.

Computer, Internet, and Email 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 most 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/Panama office.

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.

Medical Considerations in Panama

  • Panama may not be able to support Volunteers with the following medical conditions: 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: none identified.
  • After arrival in Panama, 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 also review Important Medical Information for Applicants [PDF] to learn about other health conditions typically not supported in Peace Corps service.


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