Submitted by Kimberly Ocheltree, Community Health Educator in Peace Corps Cameroon. Before joining the Peace Corps, Ms. Ocheltree worked as a Policy Fellow in USAID’s Office of Population and Reproductive Health.
I used to work at USAID and answer mission’s questions surrounding 13 various policies and statutes related to family planning assistance. My life has drastically changed and now I sit in mud huts educating men and women on the importance of pre-natal consultations using hand-drawn pictures and feeling like quite a bit of information gets lost in translation.
The transition from USAID’s Office of Population and Reproductive Health to Peace Corps Cameroon has been challenging and engaging…but most of all it’s been an adventure. I currently work as a community health educator in Tourningal, a small, rural and predominantly Muslim village in the Adamaoua province of Cameroon.
My experiences at USAID prepared me in an incredible way to become Peace Corps volunteer, because it taught me how to think about public health interventions and development programming.
As a result, I conducted a DHS-style survey my first three months at post to assess my community’s maternal and child health needs. Over the last 13 months, I have tried to focus my service on educating men and women on the importance of maternal health for women and families. I have worked to integrate the knowledge of maternal and reproductive health I gained at USAID into my service in an attempt to provide my host community with comprehensible and appropriate health information, which they can utilize to improve their behavior.
Development inherently has its pitfalls and moments of frustration; prime examples for me here in Cameroon have been when close friends in village choose to deliver their babies at home despite my education on the dangers and girls receiving scholarships for their school fees being forced to abandon their studies to get married as young as 16. Despite these challenges, I seek to remember what I’m working for and why I’m trying so hard. Development is a slow process–even though it feels even slower in Cameroon–if no one tries it would never happen. The small successes I have experienced in village make the struggle worth it: mothers adopting soy to enhance their children’s nutrition, villagers actually showing up for free HIV testing on World AIDS Day, and kids being able to ask questions surrounding sexual and reproductive health during a summer camp hosted by Peace Corps volunteers.