Friday, May 29, 2015

New Be(gin)nin(gs)

Ok, I realize the title of this post is super cheesy, but who doesn’t love a good Friday morning Benin pun?  

Today marks the official three week countdown to Peace Corps staging in Washington, DC on June 19th! It’s crazy how fast time has flown by since I announced in December that I would leaving for Benin.  In the last couple months, I have spent countless hours completing paperwork for medical clearance, connecting with (stalking) current volunteers in Benin and preparing for my departure.  Stay tuned for another post about the dreaded packing process!

Over the last couple weeks, many people have asked me what I will be doing, what I am most looking forward to and what I think life will be like in Benin.  My answers have been fairly vague, but I’m going to try and hash out some better answers here:

What will I be doing?  

I will be serving as a Rural Community Health Volunteer focusing on HIV/AIDS, malaria and malnutrition.  When we arrive in Benin, we will spend two days in a welcome and safety crash course with the other volunteers. There are about 50 of us serving in four different sectors: Rural Community Health (RCH), Education (TEFL), Community Economic Development (CED) and Environmental Action (EA).  One week after our arrival in Cotonou, we will move into home-stay families and continue with rigorous daily trainings in language (French) and technical skills with our sector.  Our trainings will take place in Lokossa, a small town close to the Togo border.  Three weeks into training we will be assigned to our permanent village location and do a two week site visit before returning for another 7 weeks of training.  Assuming that we all meet the training expectations, we will swear in as official Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) in mid-September.

For more information on my actual job description, please follow the link to the “Programs and Activities” page above.

What am I looking forward to?

It has been bittersweet saying goodbye to my wonderful friends, colleagues and the City of Boston; I can’t believe that I have been here for two years!  That being said, I’m thrilled at the opportunity to learn a new city (country), culture, language (after French we will begin training in a local language), and face the challenges that come with being a Peace Corps Volunteer.  I’m excited to learn about Beninese foods and to cook in my village.  Many people have asked what my living conditions will be like and the easy answer is that I don’t know yet.  However, it is unlikely that I will have running water or electricity when in my village, so please bear with me if I disappear off the grid for periods of time!  I may be kidding myself, but I don’t think the transition to bucket showers will be that hard.  Ultimately, I’m excited for this new adventure and am approaching each new task with an open mind and an open heart.

What do I think life will be like?

This is a really hard question and the answers depend on several different factors.  Most importantly, once I find out where I will be stationed, I will start by conducting needs assessments to determine what issues I think I can actually address.  Most of the programming in Benin is based in the idea of Care groups, or groups of children or women who come together to discuss issues then return to their own communities to disseminate the information.  I am also hoping to partner up with and shadow a local midwife or medical practitioner and learn more about rural access to women’s health and pediatric care.

I imagine that my daily life will consist of cooking (most likely over a gas stove but I’ve been looking into how to build an easy oven for baking purposes!), practicing my language skills, spending time with my community, and probably collecting water.  I don’t know how far I will be living from the next volunteer, but expect to partner with other PCVs regularly.  

Finally, I have started to compile a reading list (see tab above) and plan to tackle this in my free time.  Please send suggestions!

I’m looking forward to using this blog to describe my experiences in Benin and stay connected with everyone back home.  

Thanks for joining me in this new adventure!