I arrived in Capiíbary, San Pedro, Paraguay as a health extension volunteer more than three months ago. My professional contacts are doctors and nurses at the local health post here in town.
Like health professionals all over the world, they are busy. They never seem to have enough time or resources, but they do critical work every day. I know what it’s like to be an overworked nurse. You want to devote more time to preventive education, but finding the space is difficult.
Part of what drew me into Peace Corps was the opportunity to work on bettering the quality of life of people through public health education.
I am new to my community, but I noticed that there are many opportunities for patient education. Moreover, I learned that the the health post needs to give a certain amount of health lectures every year.
I mentioned this to my contact. I wanted to help form clubs and plan health education lectures to supplement her work. For legal reasons, in the Peace Corps I can’t use much of my medical training. Nor can I bring in much in the way of financial or material resources. But I can use my background to help the health post with its health education mandate.
Health clubs and lectures
Working with my partners, we mobilized the health center to start two clubs. One focusses on diabetes/hypertension and the other works with expecting mothers. I also worked with my contacts to begin a public health lecture series.
One of the things Peace Corps Paraguay teaches you is how to be a “charla [lecture] warrior.” It’s hard to find projectors to do powerpoint presentations. But with markers and poster paper, you learn to forget your technology dependence.
I started cranking out health charla posters on topics suggested by my contacts. The idea was to take advantage of waiting room time by lecturing on health topics.
Later, my contact and I went to a meeting with the health center director asking for support for the diabetes, hypertension, and pregnancy clubs. He approved our request and we started planning.
My contacts convinced local businesses to donate fruit, diapers, healthy snacks, baby clothes, and other gifts for club participants.
At the diabetes and hypertension club, the health center staff measured and recorded everyone’s blood sugar and blood pressure. They gave a series of lectures about diabetes and hypertension and the services provided at the health center. I spoke about the importance of a healthy diet and physical activity. We also served a healthy breakfast for people with diabetes and hypertension.
At the pregnancy club, the health center gave a series of lectures on the importance of vaccinations, pre-natal care, breastfeeding, pre-conception care, and dental care throughout pregnancy. I led the group through some stretches that would ease pains related to pregnancy. We gave each pregnant woman a gift of diapers and some lucky women won raffle prizes of baby clothes. The staff served natural fruit juice, sandwiches, and banana bread as a snack.
We ended up having 30 pregnant women and 21 people with diabetes and hypertension at the events. The plan is to continue the clubs and help people improve their health through knowledge and behavior changes.
In addition, we also gave charlas about the importance of iodized salt in preventing certain diseases.
It’s a problem in Paraguay because the salt here does not naturally contain iodine. Often people in rural areas are especially vulnerable.
I tried to give this one in Guaraní, but most of the time Spanish is easier. My contacts told me that most of the people here can understand Spanish even if they prefer to speak Guaraní.
Another area we are trying to tackle is meningitis prevention. We built a lecture around basic knowledge and handwashing basics (critical to stopping the spread of this disease).
One of the most well received parts of this lecture was the “handwashing song,” both in Spanish and Guaraní.
In the future, I would like to branch out into the local schools and start a general fitness and nutrition group. We’ll see!