This is a guest post from Peace Corps Ecuador Country Director Michael Donald who has been in post for about a year now.
I’ve been in touch with Josh Busby and appreciate his interest in receiving an update on how Peace Corps Ecuador is currently engaged as we start 2018. I’ve been the Country Director here for one year and try to find the balance in devoting my energies among relationships with Volunteers, Staff and counterparts. My most favorite part of the job is visits with the Volunteers; this is what energizes me.
We have three programs currently in the Peace Corps Ecuador portfolio: Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL), Community Health, and Youth and Families Development. Training is also, of course, a major focus with classes arriving in January and May each year. By spring we should level out at around 140 Peace Corps Volunteers population in Ecuador.
Omnibus 119 arrived the evening of January 17th; a fresh cohort for the TEFL program!! We will have 37 new TEFLeros!! An on-line platform, to be fully implemented for Omni 120, also helps the flow of information BEFORE staging….in turn helping to manage realistic expectations. The Close of Service (COS) conference for 115 is just around the corner, starting February 7th.
Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) is Peace Corps-Ecuador’s largest program, with 61 Volunteers currently serving in public schools throughout Ecuador. In 2017, the TEFL program continued to work closely with the Ministry of Education through the service of over 85 TEFL Volunteers. The Ministry of Education considers Peace Corps as a strategic partner that has helped the Ministry advance toward its goal of improving the teaching and learning of English in Ecuador. The TEFL program has provided Ministry schools with trained TEFL Volunteers who work with English teachers and students, and the program has also provided teacher training through Volunteer-led regional workshops for English teachers from schools that have not been assigned TEFL Volunteers. Additionally, the TEFL program has partnered with the Municipality of Quito to provide TEFL Volunteers to municipal schools and programs, reaching additional English teachers and students in the greater Quito area.
TEFL Volunteers work with English teachers in co-planning and co-teaching, offering new techniques for teaching language skills and setting up communities of practice where their teachers can share valuable information and experience directly with each other. Additionally many TEFL Volunteers start English clubs for the students that are most interested in improving their proficiency, where they may discuss and plan activities around American holidays and traditions, world cultures, and more.
Community Health and Youth and Families Development
After the April 2016 earthquake, Peace Corps-Ecuador was forced to cancel a Community Health and Youth and Families Development training class (what would have been Omnibus 116). Unfortunately, that meant that Volunteer numbers for the Community Health and Youth and Families Development programs dropped to levels lower than expected during 2016 and early 2017, but 2017 was the start of a rebuilding process for both programs. Omnibus 118 arrived in Ecuador in May with 24 Community Health Trainees and 23 Youth and Families Development Trainees, including a few that were re-assigned from a canceled Peru training class following extreme rains and flooding. With the training class arriving in May of this year (what will be Omnibus 120), these programs will finally be back to full strength, but despite the lower than normal Volunteer numbers, both programs have continued to move forward and make impressive accomplishments in their respective areas.
While the Community Health program finished 2017 with only 24 Volunteers, the accomplishments of those 24 Volunteers along with others who COS’d at different points in the year are notable. Community Health Volunteers worked with counterparts from Local Governments, NGOs, and the Ministry of Health, to develop health profiles of their host communities and to design diverse strategies to help improve the health and well-being of community members and help them overcome common health challenges, such as high teen pregnancy rates, HIV transmission, malnutrition, and lack of hygiene habits. Additionally, the CH program has trained Volunteers and Counterparts with successful methodologies as Grassroot Soccer, Keyhole Gardens, and My Plate, and also a variety of sexual education curriculums to be fully prepared to work in their sites.
During 2017, Community Health Volunteers and counterparts educated over 1100 individuals on the principals of a balanced nutrition, over 1400 individuals on sexual and reproductive health, over 2200 individuals on the importance of the HIV test, and over 3400 individuals on the prevention of HIV.
Youth and Family Development
The Youth and Families Development program also ended 2017 with 24 Volunteers, but the Youth and Families program maintained a high level of impact throughout the year. The program continues to be closely aligned with Ecuadorian national development priorities, giving Youth and Families Volunteers the opportunity to make a positive impact in the lives of children, youth, and families in their host communities, and in spite of lower than expected numbers, Youth and Families Volunteers still met many of the targets in their project framework. Volunteers reported having meaningful work in the four programmatic goals, but results for 2017 were strongest in the goals related to asset-based development with youth and building skills for the world of work with youth.
Youth and Families Volunteers are working with youth to help them develop life skills and leadership; training youth and counterparts in substance abuse prevention and alternatives to risky behaviors, including art and sports clubs; supporting youth in developing employability skills, vocational skills, and a habit of saving and investment in the community through community banks; and helping youth to engage in their communities through service-learning activities and mentorship programs. Youth and Families Volunteers are also working with parents through parenting skills workshops (“Escuela para Padres”) and with service providers through the co-design and co-facilitation of positive activities for youth.