Saturday, June 18, 2011

Medical Center Success – pairwise ranking session!

My Program Manager recently asked me to lead this summer’s training sessions on medical center work for the new health volunteers.  Thus, while the events of this post took place a couple of months ago now, it constitutes one of my bigger successes here in Moldova and is something I’m thinking about a lot while preparing to teach the new volunteers.

One of the hard parts of the Health Education program is that we straddle worlds – we must work in both the highly structured educational system, and the much more fluid world of community medical centers.  Work at the school begins very quickly after arriving at site, and similar to English Education (EE) volunteers, the fruits of our labors become quickly visible.

Facilitating a needs assessment session at the med center.
At the medical centers, however, our job is much closer to that of Community Organization and Development (COD) volunteers – work at the organization goes in fits and starts depending on how busy they are and how effective we are at identifying projects they are motivated to collaborate on.  These two cultures can often be hard to bridge, with the fast pace of the school making it harder to be patient with the incremental change at the medical centers.  This is one reason I think so few healthies work at their medical centers for the entire two years of service.

As a result of the less structured environment of medical centers, the needs assessment stage is a much longer process.  Facilitating good needs assessment, in fact, is not just necessary to choosing the best health education topics, but is in of itself a key skill we need to transfer.  Good needs assessment is also the first step of any long term planning process.

After coming up short for months in trying to get my medical center to write a one year health education plan, we’d had a number of needs assessment discussions that fizzled.  I finally decided it was time to try a different approach, and reached out to my COD friend Craig.  One of the downsides of bridging programs is it doubles the number of competencies a successful volunteer needs to possess; one of the upsides of Peace Corps is that we have colleagues like Craig who bring the perspective of a different program.

As part of its heavy emphasis on local sustainability, Peace Corps teaches the PACA  approach to needs assessment, (Participatory Analysis for Community Action).  More than a set of tools, PACA is a whole philosophy that calls for empowering community members instead of the development worker to set the agenda through participatory activities.  It also includes a toolkit of creative needs assessment activities.  The results are better needs assessments and thus an increase in the number of stakeholders, which lays a stronger foundation for resulting actions.  The analysis itself helps build consensus amongst participants by demonstrating that the agreed upon needs were not a foregone conclusion.

For my medical center, Craig recommended we try an approach known as Pairwise Group Ranking,

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

One Year

I just got back from a post-school year vacation in Odessa, and suddenly lots of 1 year anniversaries are crashing over me, much rougher than the gentle waves of that Black Sea port.  Today, June 8, marks one year to the day since I reported to staging in Philadelphia.  Yesterday marked my departure from Denver, and the day after tomorrow will make 1 year in Moldova.  It’s still 10 more weeks until the August 18 anniversary of taking my oath and officially becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer, but with the school year now over and the new trainees arriving in a couple hours, those 10 weeks seem more like a formality.

It’s half over.

Soon, there will be fewer days in front of me than behind me.

I’m more about metaphors than theories of physics, so I’m not sure what the Theory of Relativity has to say about the actual passage of time, but it feels a lot like reaching the peak of a roller coaster: the first half of the ride, the climb, goes much slower than the plunge back down.

This could provoke all sorts of reflections; hopefully in the weeks to come some will make it into this space.  But for the time being, perhaps in the most telling sign of reaching the halfway point, there is little time for reflection.  Despite classes being over, I have a full roster of community projects to implement and training sessions to design for the new volunteers.

So, here’s to the first year of memories and the plunge into the second!