Washington — To mark Mother's Day, celebrated in the United States on the second Sunday in May, Peace Corps volunteers worldwide are engaging in projects to improve maternal health, educate new mothers and support women and children.
Volunteers regularly serve in maternity clinics, teach nutrition to new and expecting mothers and provide information to keep families healthy.
Today, 22 percent of all Peace Corps volunteers work in the health/HIV sector, the agency said. Health volunteers help communities meet basic public health needs through education and awareness, providing access to safe drinking water, distributing bed nets for malaria prevention, teaching sanitation measures and more. Even though Peace Corps volunteers are not medical care providers, they provide the skills and training to help keep communities healthy and safe. Many volunteers participate in health-related projects during the course of their service.
The following are highlights of some of the ways Peace Corps volunteers engage in maternal health projects:
• In Ecuador, health education volunteer Caitlin Leach of Medina, Ohio, provides HIV counseling to more than 200 pregnant women each day as a volunteer in the largest public maternity hospital in Ecuador. Patients visit Leach before and after receiving an HIV test to learn about HIV prevention and transmission during childbirth. Leach also educates patients and their family members about HIV through lively activities and discussions. With the assistance of a licensed psychologist, Leach recently helped create a support group to encourage HIV-positive mothers to take medication. "I have learned countless life lessons from my coworkers in the clinic and the courageous patients whom I help daily," said Leach, a graduate of Miami University of Ohio who has worked in Ecuador since 2010.
• In Morocco, environmental education volunteer Jenifer McEnery of Wappingers Falls, New York, is working with a group of 14 mothers in her community to form a mothers' committee at a local preschool. The committee members will meet regularly to discuss topics including maternal health, education, community leadership and methods of addressing common challenges related to motherhood. The meetings will also serve as a platform for the mothers to interact with their children's teachers and to share ideas about successful education techniques. "We're hoping to create a model that can help other communities establish preschools that develop mothers and children together," said McEnery, a graduate of Marist College who has been working in Morocco since 2011.
• In Peru, youth development volunteer Elizabeth Salerno of Sierra Vista, Arizona, is creating and implementing a six-month program for mothers aged 18 to 24 in her Peruvian community. The program, "Life Guidance for Adolescent Mothers," is divided into three themes: woman, mother and spouse, and is composed of lectures, discussions and interactive educational activities. Topics covered during the program series will include personal development, decisionmaking skills, how to set and meet goals and the importance of communication. Participants will also learn about different income-generating activities and will plan and implement maternal health-related educational activities at the local secondary school. "The program series has the potential to create a whole new generation of women, mothers, and wives in the community," said Salerno, a graduate of University of Arizona.
• In Swaziland, community health volunteer Jenn Baker of Newark, Delaware, is providing support and guidance on healthy maternal lifestyle choices to members of the "Young Mother's Support Group" in her community. The group was started by community members and local health workers to help provide peer support, health information and business development skills for mothers. "Because the group is community driven and community led, it demonstrates that solutions to perceived obstacles can be found within a community and the individuals that reside there," said Baker, a Juniata College graduate who has been in Swaziland since 2011.
Since President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps by Executive Order on March 1, 1961, more than 200,000 Americans have served in 139 host countries. Today, 9,095 volunteers are working with local communities in 75 host countries. Peace Corps volunteers must be U.S. citizens and at least 18 years of age. Peace Corps service is a 27-month commitment. The agency's mission is to promote world peace and friendship and a better understanding between Americans and people of other countries.