Youth Health Facilitator

Project Description

Panama is commonly referred to as “puente del mundo, corazón del universo” (bridge of the world, heart of the universe). It is also a land of mixed realities. Its strategic geographic location influenced the construction of the canal, which accelerated immigration and contributed to Panama’s diverse population. Panama is known as an international logistics, banking, and tourism hub. For this and other reasons, the isthmus holds distinct social and economic realities which impact structural inequalities.
We are seeking creative Volunteers to support the next generation of Panamanian leaders. The Youth Health and Well-Being (YHWB) program engages Indigenous youth and focuses on sexual and reproductive health education. Volunteers support community leaders, school staff, local NGOs, and state health professionals as they work to increase public general health knowledge and school attendance, reduce teen pregnancy, and stop the spread of HIV and other STIs.

Volunteers collaborate with local counterparts to conduct health promotion activities such as health classes in schools, summer soccer clubs, after-school theater programs, or a day-camp for art, music, dance, or sports. Volunteers join their counterparts in creating safe spaces to share information, foster peer networks, raise autonomy, and encourage youth to make informed decisions about their health and bodies.

Volunteers support communities to 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, is promoting prevention, testing, and treatment. In 2018, the Ministry of Health formally asked Peace Corps Panama to assist in combating unplanned pregnancies, HIV, and other STIs -- specifically with the Ngäbe people of Panama.

The Comarca Ngäbe-Buglé, Panama’s largest semi-autonomous Indigenous region of 2,700 sq. miles stretches along the Caribbean coast and spans over the mountains of the Cordillera. It is bordered by the Province of Bocas del Toro to the North-East along the Caribbean coast and the Province of Chiriqui to the South-West along the Pacific coast, two provinces where many more Ngäbe people live. Peace Corps Panama has had the privilege of working in the Comarca Ngäbe-Buglé, Bocas del Toro and Chiriqui for over two decades. Our Volunteers recognize that it is an honor to have the Ngäbe-Buglé people share their unique language, culture, and traditions. To support their community counterparts, Volunteers learn all they can about their language and culture. The Peace Corps Panama staff includes Ngäbe facilitators to help support volunteers, but it will be incumbent on Volunteers to stay curious and continuously deepen their understanding of Ngäbe culture and language throughout their service.

Over 90% of the population in this area lives in poverty. Apart from a few large communities, most of the Comarca Ngäbe-Buglé and Bocas del Toro are extremely rural, as well as the parts of Chiriqui where Volunteer serve. Roughly 1 in 3 have access to running water and basic sanitation while in the Comarca Ngäbe-Buglé just 4% have access to electricity, in Bocas del Toro and Chiriqui electricity access is spreading quickly. 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 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.

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 skills:

• Master of Public Health degree or Master of Arts/Master of Science degree in Public Health
• Certified Physician Assistant or Public Health Nurse with expressed interest in public/community health
• Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Science degree in Nutrition, Health, or Nursing
• Experience in community-level health education and promotion with vulnerable populations
• Experience teaching adults and youth formally and informally
• Experience living in an Indigenous area and/or working with Indigenous peoples
• Experience in the story-telling or performing arts, especially theatre production, podcast production, writing or performing
• Experience working with youth as a camp counselor, coach, or mentor
• Experience with public speaking and facilitating presentations

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).

Pre-Service Training (PST) emphasizes language acquisition through structured and unstructured language-building learning experiences, while also focusing on strengthening intercultural competence. These critical skills help create a foundation for the ability to serve as a Volunteer in Panama. The technical knowledge and skills that Volunteers arrive with and/or gain during training will not be effective if Volunteers do not have the necessary communication and intercultural skills. Trainees are assigned to a Language and Culture Facilitator (LCF) who facilitate the resources and opportunities needed to build language competency.

Trainees receive three Language Proficiency Interviews (LPI) during PST. By the final LPI Trainees are required to achieve an Intermediate-mid level of Spanish as outlined by ACTFL Guidelines to qualify for service. LCFs do their best to support Trainees in achieving the required level. They provide well-rounded support as Trainees adapt to a new method of language-learning and will persistently challenge Trainees to speak out loud, make mistakes, converse with, and build relationships with native speakers, such as members of Trainees host training community. LCFs are also an important cultural informant and guide while adapting to the local culture.

Trainees must demonstrate an Intermediate-mid level of oral and written proficiency in Spanish for community placement by the end of the 10-week Pre-Service Training. Intermediate-mid level speakers are expected to be able to: start, sustain, and close simple conversations at the sentence level and connect them as well as ask and answer simple questions.

Volunteers placed in the Ngӓbe communities receive formal training on basic Ngäbere and will continue to learn the language on their own in their community. Having an interest in a deeper study of local language in the form of continuous self-study and in-community conversations is a way to work more directly with community members. Ngäbere is a spoken language with limited written materials.

Living Conditions

Housing
Health Volunteers are placed mainly in Indigenous communities. Houses in Panama vary among communities and may include simple concrete block walls and cement floors; stilted wood houses; and/or adobe structures with mud floors. Communities generally have basic utilities and infrastructure, including cell phone signal, treatable water, and sometimes electricity. The reliability of these services varies from community to community; and may be impacted by seasonal changes. All Volunteers receive training on how to treat their water should they need to. Volunteers may have to use solar panels to charge or run electronics. Solar panels are provided by Peace Corps/Panama for Volunteers who are assigned to sites with no electricity. Peace Corps/Panama assesses 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. After three months, Volunteers may opt to live 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 a staple dish. Corn is served in many stews but is usually ground, boiled, or fried. Sancocho is a traditional soup prepared with root vegetables and chicken. Most rural areas have many fruits available, including mangos, papayas, pineapples, avocados, oranges, and guanábanas (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, pork, and beef, which are often deep-fried or stewed. Fish is available sporadically in coastal regions and riverside communities.
Panamanians frequently follow diets based on their region, culture, and seasonally available produce. Depending on the Volunteer’s diet, they may be inclined to start a garden, plan for trips to larger cities to acquire products at supermarkets or adjust to locally available options. Larger towns and cities have at least one chain restaurant that will be familiar.

Computer, Phone, and Internet Access
Host communities generally have reliable cell phone service, though it might be a 10-minute walk to reach. Volunteers assigned to communities with poor communication connectivity will be assigned satellite phones for emergency purposes. The availability of internet access (Wi-Fi) will vary in speed and reliability depending on the geographic location of the community. Volunteers may access Wi-Fi through the local public school, visit a community internet center, or visit a private internet cafe in a larger town. In Panama City, Volunteers have access to Wi-Fi, desktop computers and printers at the Peace Corps Panama office. Peace Corps Panama does not provide Volunteers with a cell phone or data plan but does provide all Volunteers with a SIM card on arrival. Many inexpensive data plans are available in Panama and many Volunteers bring an unlocked cell phone from the United States or buy one in country. Should you Volunteers choose to bring electronics, it is their responsibility to maintain and insure them. Be aware that service providers in Panama do not fully support phones with eSIMs or will charge extra, which will be at the Volunteer’s expense. Currently serving Volunteers have reported that newer iPhone models have difficulties connecting to local phone data signals, causing them to purchase an additional phone.

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.

Couples Information

Peace Corps Panama cannot accommodate cross-sector couples. Therefore, your partner must apply and qualify for the following positions: Youth Health Facilitator

During Pre-Service Training, couples live in the same home and are requested to speak Spanish with each other and the host family to improve language learning. During their service, they may live together first with a host family and then on their own or be placed with a family guide and living on their own upon arriving in the community. Couples will be placed in medium to large communities, to ensure sufficient work is available for both Volunteers.

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. Because of this, same-sex couple 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/.

Medical Considerations

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


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