With the start of fall comes a renewed sense of energy in my community and my work here. My trip back to America gave me perspective and a new drive to use towards my projects in the upcoming months of my service. Before leaving for the Blog It Home Top Bloggers week in Washington D.C I felt stuck in a rut and was a bit lost at what I was going to focus my efforts in during my second year in Albania.
Now that I am home in Albania and school is back in session, projects and work keep coming my way. I might even have to start rejecting some offers because it seems as though I am going to be pretty busy. I am really excited to have work finally come my way. My first year of service was a lot about building relationships and sometimes I wanted to pull my hair out because I was unsure if all of the “intentional relationship building” was ever going to turn into anything substantial. Sure enough though, just like it’s outlined in the Peace Corps timeline of a volunteer’s service, things are beginning to look up.
One of my counterparts at the Directory of Public Health and I are putting the final touches on our cervical cancer project and hope to get a Small Project Assistant (SPA) grant provided through Peace Corps. We initially applied for this grant back in January, but unfortunately our original proposal was not approved. We learned from this experience and have spent the past months ironing out details and learning how to work better together to get this done. This has been quite the learning process for both of us, but I think that we finally have a good understanding of how we can make this work for ourselves and for our community. I really hope that the project will be accepted this round because it would be a great success for my workplace and there is a serious need in our community. The first aspect of the project will focus on training 30 health professionals in our city and the surrounding villages about female health through a half-day training of trainers. After the training they will be able to: identify risk factors of cervical cancer, demonstrate how to properly use contraceptives, utilize community resources to receive PAP smears, explain the recommendations for annual PAP smears/pelvic examinations, explain good sterilization procedures, identify the female reproductive tract, and improve their capacity regarding women’s health topics. In the second portion of the project, the health professional will take their knowledge learned at the training of trainers and hold their own mini-trainings for women in their community. Once the women in the village receive the training, they will then have the opportunity to receive a free cervical exam and PAP smear at the local hospital. The community health professionals will help pick the participants for the training and PAP smears based off of risk factors, age, etc.
Another project that I would like to work on in this upcoming year is starting a youth center in Kavaje based off of a successful center that was started in Berat through the work of several amazing Peace Corps volunteers. The project would partner with the town hall and the culture centers in the city. The youth center would be an open space for future Peace Corps volunteers and community teachers and counterparts to use for after-school activities, clubs, summer camps, etc. I am very interested in youth development in my community and offering students here an opportunity to expand their learning outside of the traditional classroom environment. Once the project is approved by the mayor, I will apply for a Peace Corps Partnership grant and will begin raising money back in the states and here in Albania to help buy supplies and materials to make the youth center a reality.
Last year the first Outdoor Ambassadors group was started at the high school. We work on volunteer projects and building student leadership. This year I would like to expand this group to the professional high school here. Having a youth center and a reliable space to hold these meetings would help out tremendously. Beginning English clubs and homework clubs would also be much easier if the city offered us a space to hold regular meetings. My site-mate Chuck is also starting a Toastmasters club and a Gavel club, so this center could also be used for those activities as well. It would also be great for my soon-to-be yoga club! *Fingers crossed. I have a lot of great ideas, but sometimes it can be hard to find the time and to manage my time efficiently to work on all of them. The high school is also hoping to bring Model United Nations back as an afternoon activity for the students. This year I would be co-facilitating that club with a teacher at the high school. So far I have received a lot of student interest for Model UN, so hopefully our application will be accepted. If we are accepted, the students will be given a country to represent in the nation conference and they will mock debate with other clubs across Albania. It is a great way for students to learn about diplomacy, practice English, learn proper research methods, and become up to date on current event.
Continuing health education classes in all the schools, holding several after-school clubs, and working on two different project proposals should keep me pretty busy for the next year. I am so excited to see where everything goes. Now I just have to begin bracing myself for the colder temperatures… My house is absolutely freezing in the winter and I am not exactly ready to be living inside my coat and sleeping bag just yet, but at least this winter I know what to expect.