My friends! I have so much to tell you. First and most importantly, I am a real official Peace Corps Volunteer! Aiie! After about a year-long application process, three months of in-country training, and many years of pondering and waiting, I am living one of my greatest dreams! I am so thrilled to finally begin service and continue my integration into Nicaraguan culture in a new town with a new family.
Indeed, I have moved to my permanent site! It is in Carazo, the same department where we were living during training, and is actually only about three kilometers from where I was living before.
My training host family was kind enough to drive me with all of my things to my new home and say goodbye there. My host mom Claudia gave me a long, hard hug, and I could feel her small frame tremble with tears. Of course, that got me weepy as well. Though I will certainly be visiting my former host family in the future, the three months we shared together cooking, eating, talking and laughing have come to an end. I am so touched by the generosity, openness, and flexibility of my host family. It is such a risk to invite a foreigner into your home to live in your space, and to be so ready to accept that strange person as a member of your own family is heartbreakingly beautiful. That’s dramatic, but the truth is these are feelings that can (and did) bring me to tears.
And what will I be doing for the next few months? The next few weeks? The first year, and certainly the first months, of Peace Corps service are all about integration and cultural adaptation. This is why we’re in it for 2 years, and why I admire the Peace Corps approach so much. How could I know what projects to pursue in my community if I didn’t first get to know and understand the people and their culture? That will be the primary focus of my work for now. I am currently conducting a health survey, known as CASA or Community And Sector Assessment. The first part of this project involves having “guided conversations” (interviews) with community leaders about their impressions of the state and system of health in my town: the accomplishments and strengths as well as the problems and challenges. I am required to interview at least 15 people by August, after which I will start in on the second part of CASA: designing and administering questionnaires on a specific health topic. I will select the topic and target population based on themes that come up in my interviews. For example, I may find that drug abuse by adolescents is seen as a big problem by most of my interviewees, so I may create a questionnaire about drug use and practices among high school students. When all the interviews and questionnaires are done, I will analyze my results with my Nicaraguan counterparts at the health center and present the information to the Nicaragua Ministry of Health and to the Peace Corps.
The goals of CASA are fourfold: to build relationships with leaders in my community, to begin collaborating with my Nicaraguan counterparts, to assess the needs and resources of my town, and to integrate more fully into my community. I will probably not provide any new information to my town, but I will hopefully form some friendships, gain a better understanding of the state of health here, and discover some paths that lead to potential projects I can pursue!
I have my own personal goals for the next few months as well. Before the seasons change again in the Northeast U.S., I hope to have hiked at least one of Nicaraguan’s famous volcanoes, found a guitar to play, and discovered the best way to bake a pizza in my new home.
And what goals are on your mind, dear readers? I would love to hear updates from all of you and I hope to write to you more regularly. Thanks for reading. All the best and UN ABRAZO GRANDE A TODOS!!