In 2011, Eleanor Thompson embarked on the start of her Peace Corps service as a Community Health volunteer in a small rural town in northern Peru called Conchan. As a Community Health Volunteer she was tasked with the mission of furthering maternal-child health outcomes and facilitating an interactive sexual health curriculum. She lived with a host family, and over the course of two years formed close friendships and trusting relationships with community leaders with who she worked to create and implement projects.
During her two-year service, Eleanor facilitated a Healthy Schools program in the local preschool teaching children under five about handwashing, teeth brushing, self-esteem, and personal hygiene. In coordination with the local municipality and the town librarian, Eleanor was able to secure funding to place shelves in the library and obtained Spanish-language texts in a variety of reading levels to place in the library.
She also completed a Healthy Homes project with mothers in three small communities who had young children under 5 years old. Throughout the course of this project, Eleanor worked with the nurse in the health center to facilitate educational sessions on topics such as handwashing, hygiene, nutrition, breastfeeding, and early child stimulation. Together, they completed monthly house visits with the mothers to reinforce learning and evaluate their progress. To culminate the project, the mothers who demonstrated improvement in the health of their families received improved cooking stoves.
One of Eleanor’s favorite projects was working with teenagers in the local high school. She trained the students in a sexual health curriculum designed by Peace Corps Volunteers called Pasos Adelante. At the end of the course, she identified students who demonstrated a keen interest in the material. These students were trained to be Peer Health Educators and they presented elements of the curriculum to their classmates.
Eleanor’s experience as a Community Health Volunteer with the Peace Corps demonstrated to her the importance of health promotion and health education to change people’s lives. She was inspired by working with the nurse at the local health center who demonstrated caring and compassion to all of her patients. Eleanor saw the impact nurses can have on communities, not only to provide expert health care, but also to recognize the lived-experience of the people they are caring for and tailor care to their specific needs. Eleanor’s work in the Peace Corps influenced her choice to become a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner, as she saw through her work the impact women and mothers have on their communities – that when you care for women, families and communities thrive. As a WHNP, Eleanor believes her experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer will inform her work with marginalized and disadvanganted groups in the United States.