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Julia L.

“In Madagascar, when you walk down the street everyone says hello, invites you into their home, and wants to converse. My community has been extremely welcoming from day one, and I am blessed with their kindness and openness.”

Julia L headshot

1. What got you interested in Peace Corps?

When I was in middle school my aunt shared photos from a friend of hers who was the country director for Peace Corps Madagascar at the time. I was captivated by the many photos of lemurs and rice fields that went on for miles, and immediately drawn to the idea that people could make a career out of helping others overseas.

Joining the Peace Corps was the perfect way for me to combine my passions for intercultural communication, language learning, and cultural preservation with my desire to work in international development as a career. It felt like fate that I would be assigned to Madagascar, the country that triggered my interest so many years ago.

2. What projects are you working on?

As a Health Volunteer, I spend most of my days at the local health clinic; I assist with appointment paperwork and bookkeeping for child vaccination and pre-natal visits.

Outside of the clinic, I have two primary projects: care groups and a life-skills club for young girls. Care groups are small neighborhood-specific cohorts of local mothers and pregnant women. Alongside a local health worker, I lead educational sessions on health topics that are relevant to the community. The participating women implement the lessons in their daily life and help spread information throughout their communities.

In the life-skills club, young girls learn various textile-based crafts like sewing, embroidery, crocheting, and bracelet-making, using local materials. Members can sell their own creations or just enjoy a fun new hobby. In the club we also incorporate valuable lessons about reproductive health, healthy relationships, and youth leadership.

I am also in the process of starting a radio show that combines English lessons with educational health programming.

Julia L is a Health Volunteer in Madagascar
Julia with a coworker at a health clinic in Madagascar.

3. What strategies have you used to integrate into your community?

I love to cook, so when I first arrived in my host community I made big batches of the few local snacks I knew and brought them to my neighbors. Sharing food was the perfect excuse to drop by and start up a conversation. I also push myself to make the first move to connect with people.

In Madagascar, when you walk down the street everyone says hello, invites you into their home and wants to converse. My community has been extremely welcoming from day one and I am blessed with their kindness and openness.

I also meet many people at my town’s daily open-air market that is filled with people selling local fruits, vegetables and meat. I typically make my way through the market and start up random conversations with market stall owners.

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

An ongoing highlight of my service has been to witness births in the delivery room of the health clinic. Before coming to Madagascar, I had never seen someone give birth. Now it's nearly a weekly occurrence.

In the delivery room, close female friends and family support the woman giving birth. They feed the mother sugar water, hold her hand, and give quiet words of encouragement. As a Volunteer, I don't play a clinical role, but I do offer words of support and assist friends and family in gathering water, soap, clothes, or whatever else is needed in the moment.

It's beautiful and moving to be part of such a universal experience. Being able to hold a newborn baby and imagine all the possibilities for this new life that has just entered the world is an experience that never gets old.

Julia L is a health volunteer in Madagascar.
Julia and her counterpart deliver a lesson on leadership skills at a high school in Madagascar.

5. What have you enjoyed most about your community so far?

There is so much to love about my community, including the people, the beautiful landscape, and the consistently cold weather. I’ve really enjoyed how welcoming and supportive everyone has been. It can be hard moving to a new town and becoming the focus of attention for many, but my community has been patient, respectful, and eager to work with me from the beginning.

In Malagasy, the word tamana represents a feeling of utter happiness, joy, and contentment. It’s common to be asked if you’re tamana in reference to where you’re living. My community makes it easy to always answer YES!

6. What are some of the most important things you’ve learned from your community?

My community has helped me learn how to slow down. I’ve always been a planner who needs to do many things at once to feel productive. But life in Madagascar runs much slower than in the U.S. I came to my site with a very Western idea of what success looks like and the timeline necessary to achieve it, but my community has helped show me that we don’t always have to run at a breakneck pace. Sometimes it’s okay to sit in the grass and eat peanuts with the kids.

7. How do you spend time when you’re not working on a project?

I live in the same medical compound as the rest of my coworkers, so most of my free time is typically spent with them. I enjoy playing cards or making friendship bracelets with the local kids. I’m often at the market, hanging around my favorite store or at my favorite food stand.

When I need “me” time, I like to read or work on a craft project in my house. Lately, I’ve gotten into embroidery, and I’m always adding to my scrapbook.

8. What are you looking forward to in your remaining time as a Volunteer?

I’m excited to continue learning more about Malagasy culture, specifically local folklore and fairytales. I’m really interested in using folklore as a way to trace history and culture within a community. Madagascar has 18 ethnic tribes that are richly diverse in their histories and customs. I hope to learn as much as I can by connecting with people all parts of the country.

9. Once you finish your service, what will you do differently when you return to the U.S.?

Before joining the Peace Corps, I was overconsuming resources like food, water, and clothing. When I return to the U.S., I want to live a less wasteful and more intentional life. In Madagascar, I’ve cut my food waste down to nearly zero, I heavily supplement electricity use with solar power, and I have a much more intimate understanding of water scarcity issues.