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Alum opens her heart to help the poor of Nicaragua be healthy

Sustainable SolutionsStephanie Phipps, '09, is in Nicaragua working as a Peace Corps volunteer.

Stephanie Phipps, '09, is in Nicaragua working as a Peace Corps volunteer.  She was inspired to join after traveling abroad through Queens John Belk International Program.  She shares tales about learning the social customs in the Central American country and her work to provide sustainable solutions in e-mail dispatches whenever she can get a clear signal on her laptop. She's survived a parasitic infection, earned the trust of prostitutes in order to provide them with HIV and STD education, and learned to eat a burrito by squeezing it through a hole in a plastic bag.

Here's an excerpt from one of her messages:

Within my program Peace Corps volunteers conduct surveys on what the most pressing health issues are within their community, they give the required talks before patients see a doctor on a number of issues from hygiene to AIDS, they work with kids groups to give them constructive activities to do, and are resources for local NGOs.  As health workers, we work through the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health and wherever we are stationed we have a Host Country National Counterpart who works within the Ministry.  We pass our methods, information, enthusiasm, and ideas to our counterpart and they help us target populations, locate resources, identify needs within the community.  Working together creates sustainable solutions to problems identified by the host country nationals. 

Nicaragua suffers from an abundance of early teen pregnancies, a high infant mortality rate,  upper respiratory diseases, and diarrhea.  They even have a hand gesture for "no need to ask; yes, I have diarrhea." 

They also have a hand gesture for "cheapskate," and they scrunch their nose when they don't understand something.  I have been getting a lot of that.  They also point with their lips not their finger.  Directions are also difficult because there are no road signs and some streets don't have names.  They begin their directions at a landmark like a church or a widely known store.  This is difficult because some of the references that they use for addresses no longer exist due to the war.  So people have to know where that landmark was at one time.  Then you are directed by North, South, Arriba, and Abajo in quadrants.  It is extremely confusing. 

I currently live in a small town called Dolores in the Department of Carazo.  We have 24 members in my group of incoming Health Volunteers. ... We spend the majority of our day in Spanish class.  In the afternoon we have applied Spanish lessons where we are practically tested on what we are learning to communicate and two times a week we have technical sessions on Health.  We have created a youth group through the Health Center, and give talks on health issues like STDs, dengue fever, malaria, hygiene, self-esteem, and HIV/AIDS. 

Right now in Nicaragua the wind is terrible.  It is not the rainy season and so the area is very dry.  The wind picks up dirt and spreads it to the far corners.  In my room there is a layer of fine dirt that covers everything as it sneaks in through the slats in my window.  It is no wonder why there is a high rate of respiratory infections.  Also, a unique thing is that people eat and drink from plastic bags.  Vendors sell, not bottled, but bagged water.  People put their drink in a small plastic bag, tie it up, then bite off the tip of one of the corners to drink. 

 My host family took me to a fiesta celebrating one of the patron saints of a nearby village.  They bought me a tortilla filled with unpasteurized cheese, cabbage, and crème off a vendor in the street (the Peace Corps has advised against this for the sake of our health).  It was wrapped like a burrito but my host sister scolded me for eating it like a burrito.  She took the tortilla and smashed in down inside the bag, tied the bag, then bit off a corner.  She then told me to eat the food through the hole in the bag.  It was an unusual way to eat a snack. 

I don't think I could have a better host family.  They are fantastic.  There is a notion here of "confianza" where you have to establish trust with the people otherwise your work here will be impossible.  My family invited me into their homes and confianza was established easily.  I live with Don Fernando and Dona Anita; their 31- year- old daughter Johanna and her husband Henry; and Johanna's 4-year-old daughter Ferany.  Ferany is like the Energizer Bunny.  She showed me her pet hens, Lolie and Pinkie, her two turtles which she keeps in a bucket under the pila, her dog, and her rooster Pepe.  Pepe and I have not been getting along.  He rouses me at 2am, 4am, and 6am, every single day. 

We do have a cyber café in the town where we are stationed so I am trying to take advantage of communications while I can because once placed in a site it is very dubious that I will have Internet. 

 So for now, Adios from Nicaragua!

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