This year, Thanksgiving has taken on a new meaning. It marked the end of the first three months at my site, also known as the integration period. I am grateful I was able to spend time with my cohort and our respective counterparts at a week long training. Among other things, this time was much needed—to reset, speak in English, clarify and plan for what we are capable of accomplishing in the next two years, and most importantly, take hot showers. Just kidding.
Among the list of things I am grateful for, is this unique opportunity to challenge myself and experience more of the world, not from a birdseye abbreviated vantage point, but from a very real place of cultural integration and exchange. The novelty of taking bucket baths and cooking on an open fire has worn off, but on the other hand, it has become quotidien and routine because this is the new normal.
This past week has grounded me in many ways—being able to plan projects and discuss the needs of the community with my counterpart gave me a sense of purpose. As someone from Peace Corps said to us early on, “your reasons for coming here will likely not be the same as the ones that keep you here, so it’s important to figure that out.” The crux of this statement is that sometimes you don’t fully know what brought you here in the first place. That said, I am slowly gaining an understanding of both simultaneously.
As a MCH (maternal and child health) volunteer in Rwanda specifically, my work priorities are very much aligned with those of Rwanda’s first 1,000 days initiative. During training, we had a guest speaker who discussed, in depth, the rates of malnutrition by district. It turns out, Rulindo, my district, has some of the highest rates of stunting at 42%.
Malnutrition isn’t simply what the mass media has portrayed it as—visibly underweight. Malnutrition also comes in the form of stunting. Stunting is a sign of chronic malnutrition and according to the World Health Organization, “stunting is the height for age value less than two standard deviations of the WHO Child Growth Standards median.” Stunting which is the most common form of malnutrition here, is critical in the first thousand days, but also for children under five, as this is when children have the largest and fastest rate of growth and development.
In a study done by Harvard University, scientists measured the level of activity of the brains of two children, one stunted and one not. They found that the level of white matter fibers in the brain were significantly less in the stunted child than the one on a normal/acceptable growth rate.
My role here is behavior change and that is very clear in how to affect change. But I am also not here for my own gratification. If that were the case, I’d probably be doing voluntourism, whereas now, if at the end of two years I have affected change, then that is a product of my work. Being a peace corps volunteer is a job, just like any other.
And in addition to the reasons listed above, I am grateful for:
- The fried chicken we made on Thanksgiving
- For my parents who have been so supportive on the darkest of days, and who have also shared in the small wins
- For my friends who also happen send me letters and goodies (feels like my birthday each time that happens)
- My peace corps friends who can empathize and support from a position of knowing and understanding
- And for consistent water access for three consecutive weeks now
- Oh. And for WhatsApp. To name a few.