Piecing Together the Nepal Project

I wrote a blog post that was featured on VaxTrac’s website about our work in Nepal. I’m posting it here too because I haven’t yet gone into detail about the work we do at VaxTrac. Enjoy!

Part I: Vial to Child

Many moving parts must come together to execute a project.  Imagine a puzzle in which all the pieces are constantly evolving and changing shape.  How do you put it all together to form a cohesive end product?  How do you know which pieces are the corner pieces—vital for defining what the picture should look like? How do you adapt when some pieces no longer fit within the scope of the puzzle?

Managing a project is a lot like this.

When Meredith, Shawn, Amelia and I traveled to Nepal in November, we were faced with the challenge of filling in a lot of missing puzzle pieces in order to prepare for the launch of our new project called Vial to Child.

sample vial

New OCR technology will scan labeled vials and record important data

Vial to Child will use Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology to link each vaccine vial to the children that receive their dose from that specific vial.  OCR works just like your mobile banking app. Take a picture of your check and the software will capture the words and turn it into text.  Similarly, our OCR app will capture crucial information from each vial, such as the lot number, batch number, and type of vaccine simply by taking a photo of the vial.  The idea of this is that if there is a bad batch, the Nepali Ministry of Health will be able to track it and see which children received a dose from it.

In early 2015, we will train health workers in two districts of Nepal—Nawalparasi and Dadeldhura—to use our Android-based app to register each child that receives a vaccine and to record which vial is used for their vaccine. We will be implementing Vial to Child in 45 health centers between the two districts, serving a population of roughly 36,000 children under five. Since Meredith and Mark visited Nawalparasi in August, this trip focused on finalizing plans with our partners in Kathmandu and doing a site visit to Dadeldhura.

Dadeldhura is located in the Far Western Region of Nepal.  Whereas Nawalparasi is in the terai, a flat area of Nepal, Dadeldhura is located in the hills.  This means that we must account for the difference in access when considering how to roll out Vial to Child in each district.  Although the population in Dadeldhura is smaller than in Nawalparasi, people are dispersed throughout the mountains and sometimes must walk several hours to reach the nearest health center.

Part II: Site Visit to Dadeldhura

To get to Dadeldhura, we took a small plane to Nepalgunj where we met up with our UNICEFcolleague, Meena Thapa, who works in the region.  From Nepalgunj, we drove for seven hours.  The first four hours were easy because the roads were flat, but the last three hours felt like being in a perpetual roller coaster as our car made its way up the windy mountain roads.

boarding plane

Boarding our plane to Nepalgunj

I slept most of the trip, mostly to avoid car sickness, and awoke only to eat at Meena’s favorite spots along the road.  We stopped in one village to eat the typical Nepali dish, Dal Bhat, which is comprised of lentils, rice, spinach, and curried vegetables.  We stopped a second time part way up the mountain to eat rice pudding from a man who cooks it in a giant iron pot on a wood-burning stove, carefully stirring the rice and milk together until they merge into a perfect gooey creation.

Even though we left Kathmandu in the morning, we did not arrive in Dadeldhura until dark.  The next morning we got see how beautiful the town was.  Dadeldhura looks like it’s in layers because it’s built on hills, and is surrounded by white-capped mountains.  The buildings are four or five stories tall and are painted in bright pinks, greens, blues, and yellows.

dadeldhura

Dadeldhura

Meredith and Lauren in Dadeldhura

Meredith and I enjoying the beautiful town

Our objectives for this site visit were to meet with the District Health Office (DHO) to present the project to them and to coordinate with them to see some of the health centers. While the DHO was optimistic about the project, within five minutes of talking to them, we learned that they are facing a significant staffing shortage—13 out of the 20 vaccinator posts are unfilled.  This is will present an interesting challenge from a training perspective because we need to train someone from each health center on how to use the Vial to Childsystem.

meeting with DHO

Meeting with the DHO in Dadeldhura

Luckily, UNICEF is running a pilot project in which they have already trained a number of women to be Auxiliary Nurse Midwives (ANMs).  The ANMs are based in each of the health centers and are sometimes involved in the vaccination clinics.  We will be able to train the ANMs to use the Vial to Child program in the clinics that do not already have a dedicated vaccinator.

We made trips out to three different health centers while we were in Dadeldhura.  At each health center, we interviewed the person in charge, the person responsible for giving the vaccinations, and when available, we also interviewed mothers of children under five as well as Female Community Health Volunteers (FCHVs). There is a FCHV in each of the nine wards served by each health center.  Since they know all of the women and children in their respective communities, they work with the health center staff to notify families of upcoming vaccination sessions.

health center staff

Posing with health center staff

Interviewing staff and patients at the health center helps us understand how the vaccination system works: when and how often there are vaccination sessions, who administers the vaccines, if the health center counsels families on the vaccines, general attitudes towards vaccines, how the cold chain works, what happens when a child misses a vaccination session, etc.  Health workers were generally very excited about the idea of using tablets to register the children.  Their main concerns were not about the technology itself, but about keeping the tablet dry during the rainy season and how to store it so it is safe from theft.  All of this information informs the way we design the Vial to Child app as well as how we implement the project.

demonstrating tablet to health workers

Meena showing health workers how Vial to Child works

female community health volunteers

female community health volunteers

Part III: Back in Kathmandu

After Dadeldhura, we returned to Kathmandu for one final week of orchestrating meetings with our project partners, including UNICEF, WHO, the Ministry of Health and local tech companies.  Working with the Ministry of Health is the key to executing a successful project in Nepal.  If Vial to Child works, we want the Ministry of Health to have ownership of the project so they can incorporate it into their national plan.  We are thus relying on them to put together a Technical Advisory Group (TAG) of our key partners to direct and manage the project.

We experienced a slight hiccup with the Ministry of Health just a few days before leaving for Nepal.  Nearly the entire staff of the Child Health Division (CHD) within the Nepal Ministry of Health changed hands suddenly. Thus, a major challenge of this trip was reestablishing contact with CHD.  It was difficult timing-wise because the new CHD director started his post during the second week of our trip.  We were finally able to meet with him and solidify plans on our last day in Nepal, which happened to be his third day of work.

We left it to CHD to organize a TAG meeting between all of the project partners in December.  Our new Nepal Project Coordinator, Amelia, will be moving out to Kathmandu in January to oversee the project, and a small contingent of us will be back in Nepal in February to begin rolling out Vial to Child.

It is going to be a busy and exciting couple months, but to be perfectly frank, I’m happy to leave DC winter behind. Until next time, Namaste!

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Wherever you go, there you are. And so is Peace Corps.

Peace Corps started working in Nepal again in 2012 after a long hiatus.  There haven’t been too many volunteers yet and none of them are currently in the Far Western Region.

And yet Peace Corps kept coming up while we were out there working.  When Meena learned that both Meredith and I had been Peace Corps Volunteers, she began introducing us to local health official as VaxTrac, but also as Returned Peace Corps Volunteers.  One of our UNICEF colleagues said that before Peace Corps left Nepal in 2004, he used to be a Language Culture Facilitator, teaching new Volunteers not only Nepali, but also things like how to slurp up your tea like a local.

When we were meeting with the chief of the District Health Office, he said that he was going into Kathmandu in a few days to meet with Peace Corps staff about putting three Volunteers in his district! How exciting!  I happened to be taking notes with my Peace Corps pen at the time and so I gave it to him.  Peace Corps seems to have a good reputation around here and I think that our experience as Peace Corps Volunteers added to our credibility when working with our local partners.

Chief of District Health Office

Chief of District Health Office

Our first day out in the field we went to a nearby community where one of the Peace Corps volunteers may be sent. It seems like it would be a fantastic site. They are currently building a birthing center next to the health post, though it is still unfinished because they are still looking for funding (hmm, SPA project, perhaps?)

Unfinished birthing center

Unfinished birthing center

The population is small and dispersed throughout the hills, but it’s still a highly organized community with a lot of capacity.  While there, we attended a community meeting led by UNICEF and attended by community leaders from various sectors, including school officials, clinic staff, and female community health volunteers.

You can see people waiting for the meeting to start below.

You can see people waiting for the meeting to start below.

Meena sat next to me translating so I could follow along, which was enormously helpful. The meeting was about how to create a child-friendly environment.  The focus was on schools but the community challenged each other to think more broadly about the topic, discussing how to create child-friendly homes and health facilities as well. 

One of the most interesting points was from a young woman who works in the schools, who was urging the group to consider building separate bathroom facilities for the girls.  Currently, boys and girls use the same bathrooms in the schools, which prevents girls from attending class when they’re on their period.  She was saying that by building separate bathrooms with a way to dispose of pads, it would help with girls’ attendance. 

In a separate conversation Meena added that menstruation is sometimes considered “impure” and when girls and women get their periods, they have to spend the whole time in a separate hut away from their families. She said that this goes back to when modern sanitary products like pads and tampons weren’t available and it was done for hygienic purposes, and argued that the practice is outdated and sometimes dangerous, citing recent deaths that occurred while girls were trying to heat up the hut in the winter, and another incident when a girl got a seizure while she was there alone.

Gender equity is a long road away for everyone, everywhere.  But building a girls bathroom in the school would be a great leap forward.  It’d definitely be an interesting time to serve as Peace Corps Volunteer there!

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Tips and Tricks from the Road

Over the weekend Meredith and I traveled to the Far Western Region of Nepal to visit one of the sites that we are going to implement our project in this winter.

View from the plane to Nepalgunj

View from the plane to Nepalgunj

To get there, we took a taxi to the airport in Kathmandu, waited a few hours for the morning fog to clear, flew an hour to Nepalgunj, met the great Meena Thapa, our UNICEF contact in the region, drove for four hours on easy roads, stopped along the road for lunch, drove for three more hours on mountain roads, stopping just one more time to eat some rice pudding before finally pulling up to the hotel after dark.

lunch

Meredith and Meena eating lunch.

lunch

This was lunch. Dal Bhat (lentil and rice).

When we were preparing for this trip, our colleagues in the UNICEF office in Kathmandu were very concerned that we’d (1) FREEZE in the mountains; and (2) get sick on the road.

We handled UNICEF concern #1 by buying cold weather clothes before departing. But how were we going to handle UNICEF concern #2?

It really WAS cold

It really WAS cold

Over the years I’ve honed my ability to fall asleep to avoid physical discomfort. I take great pride in this ability and decided to employ this strategy throughout the car ride, which was good because we drove very quickly on the paved mountain road, swerving right and then left, right and then left, repeatedly for three hours.

While sleeping is an effective strategy, Meena taught us two more strategies for avoiding carsickness.

  1. Sitting on a newspaper
  2. Eating something sour

With respect to #1, I have yet to try it, but I suspect she was pulling our leg.  With respect to #2, I can confirm that eating an orange actually does help. We stopped for oranges along the road and I emerged from unconsciousness long enough to enjoy a couple of them, but unless you’re prepared to eat oranges nonstop, it’s only a temporary fix.

Meena also taught us that you can cure hiccups by holding your breath and blocking your ears while swallowing water slowly.  Meredith can confirm that this method is effective, though Meena may have forgotten to mention that in addition to water, you may also have to swallow your pride to carry it out in public.

IMG_3056

Hiccup cure

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Namaste Nepal

Namaste is my first Nepali word.  I first heard it when we arrived at the small airport in Kathmandu and a woman in front of us greeted the immigration officer by putting her two palms together as if in prayer and saying “namaste.” We use “namaste” as a greeting.  It literally translates to “bowing to you.” They say that the sense of smell is directly linked to memory. Once this summer while I was walking to the beach, memories of Nicaragua suddenly flashed into my mind.  I remembered rocking absentmindedly in Doña Petrona’s chair and walking with José Ángel along a dusty road after giving a training session to brigadistas. I almost stopped in place trying to figure out why all the memories were rushing back to me unprovoked. And then I realized that it smelled like Nicaragua. As I tried to place the familiar scent, I looked up and saw the guards were burning a small pile of trash in front of the guard stand. Nicaragua smells of many things, but for reasons unknown, the combination of trash and fire, hot sun and dust will always smell uniquely of Nicaragua to me. Kathmandu also smells of many things. It smells of dust and of car pollution, of momos and of crowds of people.  But out of all of those smells, it’s the smell of incense that hits me when I venture out onto the main streets. I’m staying in an area of Kathmandu called Patan.  The streets are narrow and lined with old buildings of about three or four stories, with doors and shutters that are painted in deep blues, reds, yellows and greens. The first floor of these buildings are characterized by short entryways– probably about 5 feet high– which opens up into various types of shops.

Patan streets

Patan streets

Temples are littered throughout the streets and they are adorned with strings of marigold flowers, candles, Hindu gods and goddesses, and of course, incense. Because of this, the whole neighborhood smells of incense.

marigold flow

marigold flower

Meredith said that when she got home from Nepal last time, when she opened up her suitcase, everything smelled of incense. In addition to the warm scent of incense, my other first impression of Kathmandu is of the traffic. There are more motos here than I have ever seen in my life.  It is the main form of transportation. Traffic moves in the opposite direction as it does in the States.  Like in England, you drive on the left side of the road.  This is a big adjustment, especially as a pedestrian trying to cross the street. To get to the UN complex where we’ve been taking meetings with our partners at UNICEF, we have to cross a highway without any traffic lights, pedestrian bridges, stop signs, or cross walks. Especially at rush hour, it is hard to find a break in the flow of traffic to dart across to the median, and then to the other side of the street. Usually we wait for a local to cross and follow suite.  Today we literally used a microbus as a shield.  As it cut across traffic to turn right, we walked on the outside of it knowing that cars would need to slow down to let it complete its turn. As jarring are the motos that weave around pedestrians on the narrow streets of Patan. We’ve been in Nepal for a little over a week. After being so immersed in Nicaraguan culture, it feels odd being in a country where I don’t know the history or the language.  And since we’ve been busy with meetings, I haven’t gotten the chance to dive in and get to know the city. I need to get my bearings. Towards the end of this week, right before heading back to the States, we’ll have some time to look around and venture out beyond the 10 minute route between our guest house and the UN complex. Since I’ll be making many more trips to Nepal this year, I’m know this trip is a mere introduction to all it has to offer. This trip is the first moment of a new conversation when you greet the other person with “namaste,” knowing the bulk of it has yet to come. While this trip is only the beginning, we’ve already accomplished quite a bit. We’re here to prepare for the roll out of a new mobile vaccine registry project in two districts in Nepal. We ventured out to the Far Western Region and caught a glimpse of rural Nepal. We saw some serious access issues, with people needing to walk several hours through the mountains to reach the nearest health facility. We also saw a huge capacity within communities to self-organize and ensure that every child is immunized. Nepal will be a complex but rewarding place to work.  I’m looking forward to continuing to get to know the culture, places, and people as we finish this trip and look on to the next. On Friday we’re going to go to Thamel, a touristy neighborhood in Kathmandu where we’ll get to visit the famous Durbar Square, see big temples, and go shopping for spices, tea, scarves, and jewelry. We’re leaving on Saturday morning. But after the long journey home, when I get to my room, sit down on my bed, and open my suitcase, I’m anticipating the moment when the smell of incense pours out and floods my room with memories of our time in Nepal.

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Por Fin, a New Adventure

I tried to write a new series of haikus over the summer to capture the essence of my “funemployment,” but it was hard to sell the self-deprecating humor without sounding slightly depressed. The haikus went something like:

Today I woke up
and arranged sea shells by size.
Productivity.

IMG_2425 After drafting many iterations of my resume, a mountain of cover letters, and traveling to interviews in Miami, New York, Boston and DC, I landed a job at a wonderful organization called VaxTrac.  I’m their newest Program Associate.   It’s based in DC, the city that I’ve been fantasizing about since I lived here:

My home in my site, La Dalia, Matagalpa

My home in my site, La Dalia, Matagalpa

DC is the epicenter of most of my social networks. University of Maryland friends are in DC, Peace Corps friends are in DC, grad school friends are in DC, and even my sister Ari is in DC.  I’m near people, horrah! So Maní and I packed our bags and arrived in DC last week.  I’m living in a cute row home with a friend from college, a friend from Nicaragua, and an RPCV from Peru.

Moving day!

Moving day!

I even fit the Ikea bed in my car.

I even fit the Ikea bed in my car.

I’m really proud at how my room turned out.  Here’s my new and improved Tour de House: IMG_0005IMG_0004 I will blog at length about my new job at VaxTrac in later posts, but for now, I just want to say that one of the perks of working there is that I get to bring Maní to work with me.

Photo Credit: Meredith Baker

Photo Credit: Meredith Baker

So, in conclusion, I am so happy to have landed where I have landed. Here’s to new adventures in DC!

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Reuniting with Peace Corps friends on the National Mall.

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Siempre La Gringa (Always the Gringa)

Waiting for the Calle 13 concert to begin

Waiting for the Calle 13 concert to begin

Amidst the crowded floor of the Calle 13 concert in DC, Alyssa and I danced and made friends with the group of people standing right by us.  Two of their friends left to get a drink from the bar.  As they navigated their way back, the girl said, “I told you– we’re here, right by las gringas!!!”

I couldn’t help but laugh at how our gringa-ness made us a landmark in the huge crowd.

I tell Alyssa, “it doesn’t matter if we’re at home or abroad, we’re always going to be “las gringas!”

“Nailed it!” was all Alyssa said in response.

Nailed it, indeed.

Las gringas

Las gringas

Calle 13 in action

Calle 13 in action

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Peace Corps Volunteers in Nicaragua Create SMS-Based Health Hotline

Lauren:

ChatSalud was featured on the Peace Corps website! Here’s the press release from another Peace Corps blog.

Peace Corps Volunteers in Nicaragua Create SMS-Based Health Hotline

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 7, 2014 –To empower Nicaraguans to lead healthier, safer lives, returned Peace Corps volunteer Lauren Spigel of Baltimore, Md., and current Peace Corps volunteer Nishant Kishore of Glen Allen, Va., together with fellow volunteers and community members, created a text-message based health hotline called ChatSalud to anonymously share accurate health information and connect Nicaraguans to local health resources.

Nicaraguan youth group ready for ChatSalud 2“In the small community where I was living and working, youth often faced barriers when accessing sexual and reproductive health information,” said Spigel. “In doing our work as Peace Corps volunteers, we found that people want information about sexual and reproductive health, but they want a way to get it anonymously.”

An unwillingness to talk openly about sexual and reproductive health in Nicaragua has led to a widespread lack of reliable information for young people and high rates of pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS. The topic is considered taboo, and as a result, about one in every four adolescent girls in Nicaragua will become pregnant before they turn 18, and only about 60 percent of the rural population engages in family planning.

Testing out ChatSaluds SMS content with a focus group in NicaraguaSpigel and her colleagues found that while less than 10 percent of households in Nicaragua had access to the Internet, nearly 90 percent of the population had access to a cell phone. The volunteers’ mobile solution is filling an important gap by making sexual and reproductive health information accessible in a reliable and confidential way that resonates with Nicaraguan youth.

The free text hotline will be the first of its kind in the country and will work to break down the stigma associated with talking about sexual and reproductive health in Nicaraguan culture. The ChatSalud team has brought together significant resources and local organizations, including the Nicaraguan government, to get the program off the ground. With the help of local telecommunications companies, the text message service will be completely free for users.

“ChatSalud is showing that Peace Corps volunteers can mobilize coordinated efforts between partners at the grassroots and national levels,” Spigel said. Youth from the program’s pilot community in rural Northern Nicaragua are already proving the impact of the project, and in the months ahead, ChatSalud hopes to expand across the country.

Texting, even in rural Nicaragua.  -ChatSaludIn honor of World Health Day, the Peace Corps celebrates the work of volunteers around the world to improve global health in collaboration with the countries and communities they serve. World Health Day is celebrated annually on April 7 to commemorate the establishment of the World Health Organization in 1948 and bring worldwide attention to public health issues.

“Really, this is what the modern Peace Corps is all about,” Spigel said. “With ChatSalud, we identified a problem at the grassroots level and had the flexibility, perseverance and technological know-how to innovate a solution.”

Peace Corps volunteers work at the grassroots level with local governments, clinics and non-governmental organizations to expand health education and promote social and behavioral change in public health, hygiene, water sanitation, and HIV/AIDS. Health volunteers work in both formal and informal settings, targeting those most affected by specific health challenges.

About Peace Corps/Nicaragua:  There are currently 172 volunteers in Nicaragua working in the areas of community economic development, environment, health and education. During their service in Nicaragua, volunteers learn to speak the local language of Spanish. More than 2,295 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Nicaragua since the program was established in 1968. 

Originally posted on Peace Corps Mid-Atlantic:

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 7, 2014 To empower Nicaraguans to lead healthier, safer lives, returned Peace Corps volunteer Lauren Spigel of Baltimore, Md., and current Peace Corps volunteer Nishant Kishore of Glen Allen, Va., together with fellow volunteers and community members, created a text-message based health hotline called ChatSalud to anonymously share accurate health information and connect Nicaraguans to local health resources.

Nicaraguan youth group ready for ChatSalud 2“In the small community where I was living and working, youth often faced barriers when accessing sexual and reproductive health information,” said Spigel. “In doing our work as Peace Corps volunteers, we found that people want information about sexual and reproductive health, but they want a way to get it anonymously.”

An unwillingness to talk openly about sexual and reproductive health in Nicaragua has led to a widespread lack of reliable information for young people and high rates of pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS. The topic is…

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Youth Leadership Camp!

Lauren:

Congratulations Anna for organizing your third annual Youth Leadership Camp!

Originally posted on ¡Salve a ti, Nicaragua!:

YLC 2014!

YLC 2014!

Peace Corps counselors

Peace Corps counselors

From February 4th-7th my big project of the year finally came to fruition. Youth Leadership Camp (YLC) was a major success thanks to the hard work of all the Peace Corps volunteer counselors, my NGO (Asociación la Amistad), and the dedicated staff in our Managua Peace Corps office. 60 Nicaraguan adolescent leaders from all over the country came to take part in three days of education, activities, and cultural exchange. The following video was made by my co-worker René Olivas to promote the camp next year:

I have to say, the fact that things came together in the end was a minor miracle. In order to fund YLC we applied for a grant from USAID called SPA (Small Projects Assistance). A month before the camp we were told that everything was approved and we’d get the money soon. But a few weeks later we found…

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One Year Later

On March 27, 2013, an emotionally upheaved chela boarded a plane in Managua and, after a short confrontation in the Miami security line when an insensitive man said something like, “We’re in America and these people don’t speak English,” landed in Boston.

Upon seeing her family she burst out crying.  And then she reunited happily with her dog, and then with her mother.  In that order.

The chela in question is 4th from the left in the photo below, taken right after ringing the bell, signifying the end of our Peace Corps service.

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Hanna, Lenka, Alyssa, me, Kourtni

A whole year has passed, and I want to pass on my congratulations to all those from Nica58 (Nica 50-great!), who finished their service this week.

Nica58ers (photo credit: Hannah Grow)

Nica 58ers (photo credit: Carli Dean)

Things that have changed since coming home last year:

  • I’m nearly a Master (of public health)
  • I lost my grandmother and my great aunt
  • The Mid-Atlantic got Northeast-level cold
  • Maní went on a diet
The diet started after she began snoring at night. Sleep apnea is real.

The diet started after she began snoring at night. Sleep apnea is real.

Things that have stayed the same since coming home last year:

  • I still wake up with the sun and go to sleep by dark
  • Beans are a staple item for breakfast, lunch, and dinner
  • I still can’t dance
  • And I still do the infamous Nica nose scrunch. People here just don’t get it when I look at them like this:
See: http://lspigel.wordpress.com/2011/11/07/say-what-nica-gestures/

See ‘Say What? Nica Gestures’ blog post: http://lspigel.wordpress.com/2011/11/07/say-what-nica-gestures/

So, there you go. Lots has changed; lots has stayed the same. Miguel (our Acting Country Director) promised that after a year I’d stop being so god-damn weird in social situations. But, alas, I think that some things are just a part of who I am. Congrats to Nica 58, and I can’t wait to see you weirdos on the other side!

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Let’s text about sex(ual health)

Lauren:

Chloe wrote this article, and I just found it on the PC blog!

Originally posted on Peace Corps Passport:

Lews_Sign

Yesterday I googled “safer sex.”

You’ve possibly done it too. Most people have. Perhaps you wanted to double check something that your friends were talking about or maybe you were simply curious about an aspect of your own health and didn’t want to navigate a face-to-face discussion.

While sex permeates many aspects of our lives, including health, relationships, self-esteem and gender dynamics, it is still a sensitive and often uncomfortable subject. For topics such as sex, the Internet is particularly useful. One of its unappreciated beauties is that you don’t need to endure the discomfort of an in-person conversation. Instead, you can investigate your concerns and questions in private. After all, your search engine can’t judge you. But how do you get the answers you need when you don’t have Internet access?

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Hacking away for fair farm prices

Lauren:

Peace Corps posts about a texting project in Kenya, but the photo highlighting the story is from our very own ChatSalud project in Nicaragua!

Originally posted on Peace Corps Passport:

Back in April I received an email requesting creative, humanitarian ideas to improve the everyday lives of Kenyans through technology. Well the Kenyans I hang with on a day-to-day basis are farmers. Not John Deer-ridin’, irrigation-pipe-slingin’ farmers, but plough-pushin’, hand-pickin’ folk. I watch these guys and gals work all year long on their seasonal cash crops of mangoes and oranges, which they then turn around and sell at dirt-cheap prices.

During the harvest season farmers typically get less than 5 cents a mango, which doesn’t necessarily reflect the fair-market value of the crops they work so hard to cultivate. The amount they get for the less exportable orange may be even less. Figuring out how farmers could get the crops’ fair-market value is where “my” idea comes in…

Back in December another PCV told me about a cell phone service that would respond to texted queries about fair market produce…

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inner monologue

Ever Mainard is a comedian.  She has this bit in which she talks about trying to go home one night in Chicago while being followed by a really creepy dude.  Like all good comedy, her bit is humorous, but her message is spot on.  She starts off saying, “as a woman we’re taught: NEVER WALK ALONE AT NIGHT!  IF YOU WALK ALONE AT NIGHT YOU WILL DIE!” And continues with, “every woman in their entire lives has that moment when they’re like, ‘oop, here’s my rape. This is it….[checks watch] 11:47 PM, how old am I? 25? Alrighttttt, here’sssss my raaape [said as if you won a game show]!’ “

She, of course, goes on and does what many women do: imagines a scenario in which you stand up to and outsmart your would-be rapist with wit and poise and threats of 25 to life jail time. In actuality, though, she called her mom.

Her bit is funny because it’s based on truth. I have a constant inner monologue whenever I’m walking alone. Sometimes I even practice my fighting skills in my head.

This behavior is not irrational, nor is it over-dramatic or unjustified.  It’s a consequence of living in a world in which women are constant targets of sexual assault.

A coward (aren’t they all?) raped a woman by the park near my house last week at noon. The next day, I took my dog to the park around noon, remembered what happened, and immediately felt like a sitting duck.  I hurried out of the park.

I’m writing this because I know that most women have probably had this same inner monologue at some point in their lives. Many, like me, might have this inner monologue daily.

And most men never have to.

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