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Peace Corps Volunteer

Maternal, Newborn and Child Health Educator

Project description

Rwanda has made enormous progress over the last 28 years in its economic, political, and social development. Great strides have been made in maternal and child health recently, in part due to a strong commitment on the part of the Government of Rwanda to strengthen health systems and quality services; and introducing 60,000 Community Health Workers (CHWs) into the health sector. Despite significant gains, data from the Rwanda Demographic Health Survey (RDHS) 2019-2020 shows that 33% of children under five are stunted due to malnourishment. This has resulted in increased mortality, morbidity, decreased educational achievement and lost productivity.

The Government of Rwanda has requested Peace Corps Volunteers to support the capacity of local health centers and community-based health workers to plan, deliver, monitor, and evaluate services in the areas of maternal and child health. Specifically, there is a focus on hygiene, nutrition, and prevention of childhood diseases including malaria, and acute respiratory infections (ARI). The primary goal of the Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (MNCH) Project is to increase the number of mothers/caregivers adopting practices that improve maternal and child health across the first 1,000 days of life.

To accomplish this, Volunteers are assigned to community health centers (CHCs) in small Rwandan villages. Through the CHC, Volunteers partner with their Rwandan counterparts (community and environmental health officer, nutritionist, and/or social worker), "Titulaire" (supervisor), and CHWs on a broad range of public health initiatives including those aimed at improving maternal and child health outcomes. Volunteers work with expectant mothers, mothers and their children, as well as their families on a variety of interventions to ensure a healthy start to life for Rwandan children.

To conduct this work, Volunteers coordinate with local colleagues on programs and educational initiatives to:
• Improve maternal and child health and nutrition
• Support families to adopt improved hygiene and safe water practices at the household level
• Encourage families to prevent and appropriately respond to childhood illnesses, such as diarrhea, acute respiratory infections, and malaria
• Engage/work with fathers and other relatives to support mothers and children in improving their health and wellbeing

Along with their primary work assignment, Volunteers may be involved with school clubs, youth programs and extracurricular activities. MNCH Volunteers integrate Peace Corps Rwanda’s Cross Sectoral Program Priorities into their health and secondary activities, which, depending on the needs of the community, can include gender equity, HIV/AIDS & STI prevention, malaria mitigation and food security.

During Pre-Service Training (PST), MNCH Volunteers will spend 12 weeks living with a local family and participate in training on technical, cross-cultural, language, medical, and safety and security aspects within the rural Rwandan context. As a Peace Corps Trainee, staff will support you throughout PST and assess your progress to determine if you have successfully achieved the necessary competencies before swearing-in as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Peace Corps Rwanda promotes gender awareness and girls’ education and empowerment. You will receive training on gender challenges in Rwanda and you will have the opportunity to co-implement gender-related activities that are contextually appropriate. During your service, you will look for ways to work with community members to promote gender-equitable norms and increase girls’ sense of agency. As part of your work, you will also report on these efforts and their impact.

Required skills

• Competitive candidates will have a Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Science degree in any discipline and a strong desire to work in community health.

Desired skills

The most competitive candidates will have:
• Master's degree in Public Health.
• Volunteer or work experience in a health-related field (e.g. nutrition, hygiene, sexual education, contraception or family planning counseling; AIDS education and outreach).
• Demonstrated capacity to develop and deliver instructional materials in both small and large group settings to a diverse range of individuals.
• Familiarity and comfort in clinical settings and working with infants, young children and mothers.

Required language skills

You will learn Kinyarwanda during training. In 2008, Rwanda changed its official language from French to English; thus some Rwandans will not speak much English. In the rural areas where you will live, Kinyarwanda will be essential to daily life and work as a Volunteer. Visit www.kinyarwanda.net to become familiar with this language. Continuing to improve your language skills beyond training and through your service will be extremely important for your success, both at your health center and in your community.

Living conditions

Volunteers live in modest housing provided by their health center that vary both in size and resources depending on what is available in the host community. Some housing will have running water and electricity, some will not. Volunteers might use solar lanterns for light, and charcoal and/or gas stoves for cooking. Volunteers receive a modest settling in allowance from Peace Corps for basic household furnishings and accessories. Housing will be identified and approved according to Peace Corps safety and security standards.

Volunteers primarily travel on foot, by bicycle, or public transportation. Public transportation is available near most communities and in most cases goes several times a day to and from the nearest regional town with markets and banks. Public transportation is relatively inexpensive but can be crowded and unreliable. Volunteers traveling by bike are required to wear a Peace Corps provided helmet.

The climate of Rwanda is made up of two rainy seasons and two dry seasons. The lowest nighttime temperature is around 10° C (50° F), and the highest daytime temperature is about 34° C (94° F).

Rwandans are conservative in attire and grooming. In professional working environments, Volunteers are held to the same standards as their Rwandan counterparts. Rwandan men wear trousers such as chinos and button-down shirts in work settings. Jackets and ties are occasional requirements for certain activities. Men keep their hair cut short and well-groomed. Facial hair is kept neat and short. Rwandan women wear long dresses and skirts that fall below the knee or trouser suits with tunic style tops in both work and leisure environments. Women may wear their hair long, but keep it styled conservatively.

Tattoos, piercings on men, and long hair on men (including locs), are traditionally not accepted in professional environments, although trends are changing in urban areas. Volunteers with visible tattoos and male volunteers with piercings or long hair will have more difficulty integrating into work settings and may consider covering tattoos, removing piercings, and/or cutting hair short.

Volunteers will encounter different cultural and social norms that require flexibility and understanding. For example, communication in Rwanda tends to be very indirect, which can be difficult for Americans who have been taught to value direct communication.

Women, particularly young women, and younger Volunteers need to be aware of very different gender and age dynamics in Rwanda. Gaining the respect of colleagues and traditional leaders may require more effort than you expect.

Normal working hours for most public institutions are 7:00 am to 5:00 pm, Monday to Friday. Work schedules are developed in collaboration with your Rwandan counterparts and supervisor. As a Health Volunteer, you will need a laptop to complete required activity reporting and assignments. If you would like a Peace Corps-issued laptop, you will be provided an allowance for local purchase upon arrival regardless of whether or not you bring a personal laptop. Please note that Peace Corps Rwanda will not reimburse for any laptops purchased elsewhere.

Volunteers must be mindful of cultural norms and use their judgment to determine the best way to approach sexual orientation and gender identity in their communities and host countries. While people in Rwanda may be generally tolerant, their values and mores concerning sexual orientation and gender identity may be more conservative than those in some parts of the U.S. In Rwanda, disclosing LGBTQIA+ identities, while not illegal, can result in ostracism. Staff and currently serving Volunteers will address this topic during Pre-Service Training and identify support mechanisms for Volunteers throughout service.

Learn more about the Volunteer experience in Rwanda: 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

Couples are welcome. You will be assigned to the same health center or two neighboring health centers. However, you can extend your work into neighboring communities (normally in the same catchment area).

It is also possible to accept couples working across sectors Peace Corps Rwanda's health and education projects), in which one Volunteer will work at a Community Health Center and another Volunteer will work at a primary or secondary school or a Teacher Training College.

During training and service, you will live with your partner. Married couples have served very successfully in Rwanda. They tend to be well accepted as the social norm is to be married by the time you are an adult. Married couples are almost always questioned about their children, or lack of, as childbearing is one of the most important and normal aspects of married life in Rwanda. You may also face curiosity and/or judgment if you perform different gender roles than are culturally expected. Non-married couples should be prepared to present themselves to their communities as legally married for the length of their service.

In all cases, while couples are warmly welcome, each partner will work in their own position and be supervised and supported as an individual Volunteer. It is important that you realize and accept that you may have different work and/or training schedules. In-service trainings and other events may mean that you are away from site for a week or more while your partner stays at site. Requests to travel or miss work in order to accompany a partner cannot be accommodated, just as they are not approved for single Volunteers.

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