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2 years, 3 months
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Up to 12 months
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3-6 months
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Julia B.

“Working hand in hand and maintaining a mutually beneficial working relationship with Ministry staff is a valuable experience for those wanting to work in the international development sector, as well as other sectors.”

Person smiling at the camera.

1. What got you interested in the Peace Corps, specifically the Response program?

I had been working in global health for many years, however I was laid off in 2022 as a consequence of COVID-19. I took on a temporary role while trying to find a new job, however it was a difficult time in the international development sector due to budget cuts from donors; not many jobs were available. I chose to see this as an opportunity to be more open to ways of how I could serve others more directly. After some research, I came across the Peace Corps Response program, which I had never heard of before. As someone in mid-career, I felt the Response program was better for me than the well-known two-year program, as Response seeks out Volunteers with more experience and is shorter term.

The Zambia Response program works with the Ministry of Education to support integration and implementation of life skills and health education (LSHE) (formerly comprehensive sexuality education) under the Determined, Resilient, Empowered AIDS-Free and Mentored program, funded by the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which complemented my background in public health managing and supporting family planning and sexual and reproductive health programs. The Zambia Response program has given me exposure to a corresponding technical area directly in a country, while also applying my own background and experience.

2. What projects are you working on with your community?

I primarily work with a group composed of Ministry of Education and public-school teachers who serve as LSHE champions. I support the champions to conduct and facilitate LSHE workshops for teachers to become sensitized in the importance of LSHE, and to integrate LSHE into their school’s curricula. I’m also working with them to strengthen integration of LSHE into schools using a tool we developed together, as well as support referral for learners to access sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services, including HIV testing, contraception, and other health services.

3. How have you leveraged your previous professional experience and skills in your service?

As someone who works in public health with technical expertise in SRH and gender, I’ve been able to support understanding of LSHE themes in the education sector primarily through trainings and workshops, as well as supporting local LSHE champions to monitor and strengthen referral. I also have experience strengthening capacity in the public sector in low resource settings in Africa and Asia, which is a primary focus of my role in Zambia.

The Volunteer with a group of community members and other Volunteers posing with a certificate.
Julia with community members and other Response Volunteers

4. What is a highlight of your time in service so far?

I worked with a fellow Response Volunteer in a neighboring site to conduct a "boys respecting others" camp. Adolescent boys attended the 5-day camp, which focused on health education through sports, and which was led by Peace Corps partner Grassroot Soccer. Themes focused on increasing the boys’ awareness and knowledge of SRH, HIV, sexually-transmitted infections, gender-based violence, and sexual consent. The boys also went on field trips to help them explore future career ideas. The opportunity to be able to work with the boys on this experience was impactful and meaningful.

5. What strategies have you used to meet the challenges of a Response Volunteer experience?

The main challenges faced by a Response Volunteer are related to work and personal life. It can be difficult to be accepted into a community remarkably different from your own, even if you speak the same language. It takes time to learn about the people you work and interact with, and their cultural and social norms. You can feel isolated. It's helpful to maintain an open mind, ask questions, and show you are interested in learning. Most people are accepting if you are respectful and show willingness to learn and support.

6. How will the skills you are developing help you in the future?

Throughout my career, working with host country government staff has been essential. During my time with Peace Corps Response, working hand-in-hand and maintaining a mutually beneficial working relationship with Ministry staff is a valuable experience for those wanting to work in the international development sector, as well as other sectors.

Understanding the advantages and disadvantages, and successes and challenges, of how the LSHE model is being applied in Zambia is a practical and useful way to fully understand LSHE as a technical area cutting across education and health, that is also applicable in many other countries.

The Volunteer and group of counterparts smiling at the camera.
Julia with counterparts in Zambia.