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Health Extension Volunteer

Project description

The impact of the Ebola outbreak from 2014 still lingers in Liberia. Ebola overwhelmed the health system and highlighted the unmet need for a network of health workers covering the most remote communities. With the strategic support of partners, Liberia has restructured and continues rebuilding its health sector, emphasizing maternal and child mortality reduction. The new national community health plan establishes a cadre of Health Extension Workers explicitly tasked with providing essential health services to the approximate 30% of the population living five kilometers or farther from a health facility. Peace Corps, which is widely known and respected throughout Liberia, is well-positioned to play a meaningful role in this effort.

In light of the National Community Health Services Program, Peace Corps Liberia has launched a Community Health Project. Health Extension Volunteers work closely with the Community Health Program and community counterparts to build the capacity of local service providers and support health practices at a household level, with the ultimate goal of improving child and maternal health throughout the country alongside Liberian counterparts.

Volunteers’ primary work is to support local service providers at the health facility and community levels by:
• Promoting foundational soft skills that support behavioral change through formal and informal trainings, mentoring, and modeling
• Promoting monitoring and data utilization skills to track and report on diseases and vaccination rates

Volunteers and their counterparts will directly support households with pregnant women by:
• Providing health education
• Counseling and encouraging behavioral change
• Actively linking households with health services

Volunteers will work with and support households from pregnancy through the child’s first year of life to assist with:
• Encouraging positive health practices during mothers’ pregnancy
• Developing birth plans
• Promoting breastfeeding and immunizations
• Providing education on child nutrition and childhood illness prevention
• Making liquid soap for handwashing and household usage

In addition to primary sector work, Volunteers have the opportunity to engage in cross-sector programming priorities and supplemental projects. Peace Corps Liberia’s cross-sector programming priorities are gender equity and girls’ empowerment, malaria awareness and prevention, and COVID-19 awareness and prevention. All Volunteers will receive training in these areas and learn basic ways they can collaborate with counterparts to incorporate messaging and activities into their primary sector work.

Because a Volunteer’s work is complex and sometimes stressful, many Volunteers find constructive outlets through engaging in supplementary projects with counterparts, community members, and local NGOs. While Volunteers are free to explore their personal interests, such as music, art, and sports through community engagement, Peace Corps Liberia works to provide basic guidance to Volunteers interested in six supplemental activity areas: school-based agricultural education, youth leadership development, gender equity and girls’ empowerment, malaria prevention campaigns, COVID-19 vaccination campaigns, and school-based nutrition education.

While Volunteers will spend much of their time on the activities described above, they will also be developing relationships with their community. They will be picking mangos with neighbors, learning to build a cookfire to make cassava gravy and getting clothes made of traditional lappa fabric by a tailor.

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
• 5 years' professional work experience

Desired skills

Additionally, Peace Corps Liberia prefers its Volunteers have:
• Household/community outreach experience (e.g., canvasing, voter registration, cold calling, door-to-door sales).
• Academic exposure and/or work experience in global health, public health, women’s health, child health and development, or social work.
• Interest or experience in data collection, visualization, dissemination, and analysis.
• Experience working with women and children in under-resourced environments, or families experiencing homelessness.
• Experience in supply chain management, as it relates to getting health supplies.

Required language skills

There are no pre-requisite language requirements for this position. There are 15 local languages spoken in Liberia with Liberian English spoken throughout the country. Standard English is officially the language of instruction in schools and will be spoken by most healthcare providers; however, most community members will speak in Liberian English. Liberian English is very different in pronunciation and structure from Standard English and will require training to understand. In addition to training in Liberian English, Volunteers receive limited training in the local language in their community.

Health Extension Volunteers will need to be motivated to learn both Liberian English and the local language spoken in their community since they will use it daily in work life.

Living conditions

Volunteers are assigned to some of the most remote and rural communities of Liberia. Health Extension Volunteers live and work within a community that has a health facility. Working alongside counterparts, Volunteers will not only be serving their community but also the communities within that assigned facility’s catchment area. During Pre-Service Training (PST), Peace Corps Trainees will stay with a host family and commute to the training center for sessions.

Housing: Volunteer housing is simple and may consist of two to three rooms including a kitchen and either a pit latrine or an indoor bathroom that requires bucket flushing. Volunteers will not have running water. Water is typically fetched from a nearby hand pump or well. Volunteers should not expect to have electricity in their homes. Though clustered at the county level, there is usually only one Volunteer in the community. The closest neighboring Volunteer might be roughly 2-3 hours away.

Diet: The staple food in Liberia is rice. It is the base for most meals and is typically served with a sauce or soup made from a variety of locally grown vegetables and prepared with meat, fish or chicken, when available. Cassava fufu is another main staple and can be found dried, fermented, or fresh depending on the dish. Because of Liberia’s widespread food insecurity, access to higher nutrition foods tend to be limited and many Volunteers find the amount of carbohydrates to be much higher than they are used to. Spices and hot peppers are also common in Liberian cuisine and many dishes put even the most spice tolerant palates to the test.

Transportation: Due to the rural locations of communities, most Health Extension Volunteers should expect to ride a bicycle or take public transport to reach a bank or a larger market town. Many roads and vehicles are in extremely poor condition, especially during the rainy season. Health Extension Volunteers will be provided mountain bikes and accessories for travel to work and around their communities. Volunteers usually walk to do daily tasks like going to the market.

Health & Safety: The health, safety, and security of Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) are the Peace Corps' top priorities. During the eleven-week PST, PCVs are trained on awareness and prevention activities such as handwashing, food safety, and other hygienic practices in the Liberia context. Volunteers are also given information on Emergency Action Plans and ways to keep themselves safe during service. We also provide extensive training and information on personal safety and security best practices and available resources throughout the Volunteer’s service. The Liberia team includes dedicated Medical Officers, a Safety and Security Manager, and other designated staff at Post and at Peace Corps’ headquarters, who are always available to support and respond to Volunteer health, safety, and security needs.

LGBTQI+ Volunteers: While Liberia is generally less conservative than neighboring countries, local laws and wide-spread cultural beliefs are opposed to same sex relationships and non-heteronormative presentations and behaviors. LGBTQI+ Volunteers are advised to not disclose their sexual orientation and/or gender identities during service. Despite this cultural context, LGBTQI+ Volunteers engage in safe, rewarding services. Peace Corps Liberia has designated Safe Zone staff who are trusted and trained to support LGBTQI+ Volunteers, and who can advise Volunteers on how to safely work and live in Liberia. As part of Peace Corps Liberia’s commitment to supporting LGBTQI+ Volunteers, all Trainees receive Safe Zone training as part of Pre-Service Training. As a general best practice, it is strongly recommended that Volunteers do not disclose LGBTQI+ identity to other Trainees, Volunteers, or staff prior to receiving Safe Zone Training.

Learn more about the Volunteer experience in Liberia: Get detailed information on culture, communications, housing, and health/crime statistics in order to make a well-informed decision about serving.

Medical considerations

Before you apply, please review medical clearance and legal clearance to learn about the process.

Couples information

Your partner must qualify and apply for one the following positions:
• Junior High Math Teacher
• High School Science Teacher
• Primary Literacy Co-Teacher

Peace Corps Liberia welcomes applications from couples. Couples will live apart during Pre-Service Training. In their community, couples will share a home that meets the same standards for all Volunteers. There will be time during service when couples will spend days and nights apart, such as when one member of the couple is attending a meeting, routine medical appointments, etc.

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