Anna Hankins applied to the Peace Corps in 2011 hoping that service would help her learn different perspectives on wellbeing, experience other ways of seeing the world, and strengthen her understanding of public health work. A year after beginning the application process, she found herself in a village of 2,000 people in rural Kenya.
As a public health volunteer her role was fluid. Once she got to know her community and their needs, she worked with them to design and implement projects to improve health outcomes. The assignment felt sometimes inspiringly wide and other times frustratingly vague. After months of building relationships and sharpening her language skills she began to develop a sense of what her friends and neighbors perceived to be the biggest barriers to health in their village. Because of her particular interest in maternal-child health, the majority of the projects that she chose to focus on were centered around women, and their families.
Many of Anna’s most treasured memories from her time in Kenya involved time spent with a mother-to-mother support group. Together with staff from the local health clinic, she worked to improve household health through building pit latrines, constructing fuel efficient cook stoves, and planting a tree nursery. They also organized a day-long workshop for village elders about gender-based violence. In response to high maternal mortality rates, they invited traditional midwives from the village to a local maternity hospital to strengthen communication between native healers and health care professionals.
Through teaching reproductive health and sexual education at local primary schools, Anna was able to build connections with village teachers and organize a week-long overnight camp for teenage girls. During this camp they were able to delve deeper into conversations about feminism, women’s bodies, and educational aspirations. While in the Peace Corps, Anna’s desire to pursue nursing was further fueled.
Her time in Kenya taught her many things—two new languages, a new framework for community organizing, how to cook over a coal stove—but most importantly it taught her the value of humility. Then as a public health volunteer, and now as a nurse, Anna is perpetually in awe of the depth and intricacy of every human being. Throughout her Peace Corps service she continued to realize, again and again, that she cannot create the solutions to build better health for other people. She learned to trust that individuals and communities know themselves better than she could ever hope to know them, and learned that serving others means working with them and not for them.These lessons have been invaluable to Anna as a nurse, and will continue to serve her as she transitions into the role of nurse midwife.