March is here: my 27th and final month as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I have one more week in site, and nineteen short days left in Nicaragua. I’m not crying because I’m in denial. So it goes.
During the month of November, I teamed up with a local NGO, Acción Médica Cristiana, to lead an educational campaign about cervical cancer in seven rural communities.
Cervical cancer is both PREVENTABLE and TREATABLE, yet many women don’t get their pap smears done for several reasons. For instance, sometimes women are too embarrassed, especially if the doctor is a male. Sometimes their husbands tell them they can’t go: (“no one can see your vagina but me!”). In addition, sometimes the ministry of health misplaces these women’s pap results, which understandably brews a certain degree of mistrust, and women are (justifiably) hesitant to give it another go.
Side note: After months of telling women that they should still get their paps done if the doctor is male (“they’re professionals!,” I tell them. “They’ve seen thousands of vaginas! Yours is not unique!”) I had to eat my words. For my final close of service medical review, Peace Corps assigned me to a male doctor. I was nervous. But as he was examining me, I took a deep breath and made small talk: “You went to the University of Maryland?! I went to the University of Maryland!” ”I talk to women about paps ALL THE TIME!” It really wasn’t bad.
Okay, back to the story:
Due to all of these factors and more, more than 350 women die EACH YEAR from cervical cancer in Nicaragua.
After giving the charla in all of Acción Médica’s communities, we came up with an idea: I would train leaders from the communities how to GIVE this charla. That way, it wouldn’t matter that I leave this month; they’ll always be able to teach women about cervical cancer.
Thus, the Cervical Cancer Facilitator Training Workshop was born. On Wednesday, February 6, eleven women and one man arrived at my little casita in La Dalia. Don Jorge brought a truck full of tables, chairs, coffee, snacks, and other supplies. Paola from HLS 58 came in to help me lead the workshop.
The workshop had three components:
1) A charla on how to facilitate a non-formal educational session. This included defining a “facilitator” versus a “teacher;” thinking about different ways to present information (brainstorm, role-playing, case studies, demonstrations, games…); and tips on planning your session (is it too hot? too cold? how are the seats arranged? are all my materials prepped?….)
2) A modified charla on cervical cancer. It was modified because after each component, the group had to tell Paola and I what technique we were using to present the information.
3) A practical experience. This was the BEST and MOST-EFFECTIVE part of the workshop. After participating in both charlas, we broke everyone into two groups. Each group was tasked with preparing and giving a charla on cervical cancer. One group gave it to patients in the waiting room of the hospital and the other group gave it to the pregnant women in the casa materna (maternity home).
After the practical experiences, we ate lunch, decompressed, discussed the days’ events, and lastly, we pulled out a calendar and everyone told me when they would give the charla in their own communities. Acción Médica promised to help each leader give the charla, and I’ve already heard success stories of these guys giving charlas to groups of 20+ people at a time.
This workshop was absolutely the highlight of my work in La Dalia. It challenged me to harness all the skills I’ve learned in the Peace Corps and to make use of my community integration to put together a workshop that would EMPOWER people to both lead and teach their communities. I was so proud.
And I think Acción Médica was too, because they asked me to lead a second one in another community, which I did this past Wednesday with the help of Robyn, PCVL HE 52.
And with that, my work here is done. Over the next seven days, my only job is to wrap up my life here and to say goodbye to La Dalia and all the people that have made my service so special over the last two years.