Youth Health Facilitator
We are seeking creative, energetic Volunteers to help prepare the next generation of Panamanian leaders. Our health program engages Indigenous youth and focuses on sexual and reproductive health education with an emphasis on HIV prevention. Volunteers will support community leaders, school staff, local NGOs, and state health professionals as they work to increase public knowledge, reduce teen pregnancy, and stop the spread of HIV.
Volunteers will team up with local counterparts to conduct health promotion activities. Although the technical component is paramount, these activities will need to do much more than just share the facts. Successful activities are engaging, empowering, and fun. Together, Volunteers and counterparts will explore the opportunities and interests of their specific community. Examples could include a summer soccer club, an after-school theater program, or a day-camp for art, music, or dance. Volunteers will join their counterparts in creating safe spaces to share information, foster peer networks, raise autonomy and encourage youth to make informed decisions about their bodies and their health.
Volunteers will help strengthen the link between community leaders and local health professionals. In response to a growing number of cases of HIV, the Ministry of Health, along with a network of NGOs, are promoting prevention, testing, and treatment. In 2018, the Ministry of Health formally asked Peace Corps Panama to assist in combating HIV specifically in the Comarca Ngäbe-Buglé, Panama’s largest Indigenous reserve and home to over 150,000 Ngäbe people.
The Comarca Ngäbe-Buglé is unlike any other place on earth. The 2,700 sq. mile semi-autonomous region stretches along the Caribbean coast and spans over the mountains of the Cordillera, nearly reaching the Pacific coast. The region gained formal recognition in 1997 after a decades-long struggle between Indigenous leaders and the Panamanian government. The first language of the majority of the Ngäbe people is Ngäbere. While the majority of people living in Comarca Ngäbe-Buglé speak both Ngäbere and Spanish, older generations may not speak Spanish and younger generations may not speak Ngäbere.
Peace Corps Panama has had the enormous privilege of working with communities in the Comarca Ngäbe-Buglé for over two decades. Our Volunteers recognize that it is an honor to have the Ngäbe-Buglé community share their unique language, culture, and traditions. In order to support their community counterparts, Volunteers will need to learn all they can about the language and culture of their community. The Peace Corps Panama staff includes Ngäbe facilitators to help prepare Volunteers, but it will be incumbent on Volunteers to stay curious and continuously deepen their understanding of Ngäbe culture and language throughout their two years of service.
The challenge is immense. Over 90% of the population in this area lives in poverty. Apart from a few large communities, the majority of the Comarca Ngäbe-Buglé is extremely rural. Roughly 1 in 3 have access to running water and basic sanitation while just 4% have access to electricity. The lack of adequate water and sanitation leads to high incidences of infectious diseases, high infant and maternal mortality, and an overall life expectancy that is 10 years shorter than the average Panamanian. High rates of adolescent pregnancy, low graduation rates, and limited participation in the formal labor market are both caused by and the result of the multidimensional nature of poverty. Limited access to health care was an issue even before HIV cases started to rise.
The challenge is immense, but so is the opportunity. There is still time to prevent an HIV epidemic. The Ngäbe youth of today will be the Ngäbe leaders of tomorrow and they have the enormous potential, and responsibility, to carry their people forward to a healthier, more equitable future. They have the dream, volunteer your time and energy to help them realize it.
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.
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
• 5 years’ professional work experience
Competitive candidates will demonstrate the following skills:
• Experience living in an Indigenous area and/or working with Indigenous peoples
• Experience in the performing arts, especially theater production or performance
• Experience in community-level health education and promotion with vulnerable populations
• Experience teaching adults and youth formally and informally
• Experience working with youth as a camp counselor, coach, or mentor
• Active interest in learning a foreign language through immersion
• Public speaking and presentation skills
• 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.
Volunteers will receive training on basic Ngäbere, but will need to continue to learn the language on their own in their community. Although a writing system has been developed, Ngäbere is mostly a spoken language. Volunteers will need to learn by communicating directly with their friends, neighbors and counterparts. They will need to take notes, study, make mistakes, and – most importantly – continue learning throughout their service.
General Living Conditions
Health communities can be rural or suburban. All communities are Indigenous and Ngäbere is generally the first language spoken, followed by Spanish. Volunteers need to respect and adapt to strict cultural practices and be willing to learn both Spanish and Ngäbere.
Health communities may 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 will vary depending on whether a community is rural or suburban. Living in rural communities will frequently require the Volunteer to hike long distances in a hot and humid climate. Rural 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. Suburban communities can typically be accessed by vehicle, but may require up to one hour of walking on foot within the community between homes and buildings.
Volunteers may live in homes made of concrete block with cement floors or in a wood structure with palm-thatched roof and dirt floors. 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. 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 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 office.
A personal cell phone is necessary for safety and security reasons. Peace Corps does not provide Volunteers with a cell phone or data but Panama offers many cheap data plans. Almost all Volunteers bring a computer from the US. Many Volunteers also bring an unlocked cellphone from the US or buy one in country. It is the Volunteer’s responsibility to maintain and insure electronics they bring.
Serving in Panama
Learn more about the Volunteer experience in Panama: 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.
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:
Sustainable Agriculture Extension Promoter, or
Business Advising Agriculture Promoter
Before you apply, please review Medical Information for Applicants to learn about the medical clearance process.
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