Saturday, April 20, 2013

2 Years of What?

Now that I am done being a Peace Corps Volunteer, you may wonder what I actually did over the past two years. In order to officially finish PC we had to write a document stating everything that we accomplished as a volunteer. This document is called the Document of Service. It can be used in job interviews, graduate school applications or for personal use to prove to everyone that PC is no vacation! it is!




Kate Lena began Peace Corps Nicaragua’s community based training program in the town of Masatepe, Masaya on January 17, 2011. The intensive 11-week program was designed to help trainees adapt to actual field situations, while living with Nicaraguan families. Living with a family not only helps with the improvement of Spanish language skills, but also allows volunteers to familiarize themselves with Nicaraguan culture. The program included 8 hours a day of formal instruction in Spanish. Kate entered Peace Corps with an intermediate middle language level, which allowed her to test out of Spanish classes halfway through training. Spanish classes were replaced with extra classes to give in the health centers and schools, non-formal surveys and trips to the market. After taking her final language exam, Kate will be finishing Peace Corps with an Advanced High Spanish level. The training program also included formal sessions on Nicaraguan culture, customs and orienting to health education techniques and familiarity with governmental and non-governmental programs in Nicaragua. It consisted of approximately 180 hours of Spanish language studies, 56 hours in technical aspects of community health promotion, and 30 hours in cross cultural studies. An additional 101 hours of non-formal and self-directed activities were carried out in technical and cross-cultural themes at the community level.
Aside from technical trainings and formal classes, the training program allows volunteers to make real, lasting relationships with a Nicaraguan host family. Being far away from home can be difficult and the people Peace Corps volunteers live with can help ease the feelings of homesickness and loneliness. Kate lived with an amazing host family and has been back to visit them 6 times over the past two years. Although this is not a formal part of the program, it is extremely important.

After successful completion of training, Kate Lena was sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nicaragua on April 1, 2011.


Kate Lena served as a Healthy Lifestyles volunteer assigned to the Ministry of Health (MINSA) in Corinto, Chinandega located in the north western region of Nicaragua on the coast. Her area of work generally concentrated in MINSA’s Youth Center and Clinic located near Corinto’s hospital. The Casa y Clinica de los Adolescentes is a safe space for youth, where they can come with sexual and reproductive health concerns and questions without fear of being judged. The youth who were trained at the Casa y Clinica have now opened their own Association apart from MINSA, called, Association Youth Footprints (Asociacion Huellas Juveniles or ASOHJUV). Kate now divides her time between ASOHJUV and the Casa y Clinica.
As a Healthy Lifestyles worker Kate worked in coordination with MINSA and ASOHJUV in a youth soup kitchen, clean-up campaigns, health classes in the schools and neighborhoods and creating health care related materials for the health center. Kate worked directly with community health workers and youth health workers, providing them with training and support. In collaboration with the Casa y Clinica, she trained 50 youth to be health promoters and designed a youth health work manual to be used by the youth promoters. Principal and secondary activities include the following:


  • Established, coordinated and managed the donations for a Youth Soup Kitchen that provided lunch three times a week to 30 undernourished children. In addition to providing lunch, the Soup Kitchen volunteers also gave weekly talks on personal hygiene, communication, domestic violence and common infections and illnesses.

  • Designed and implemented a manual for the “School of Youth Health Promoters” in Spanish; includes class plans for 16 sexual and reproductive health sessions. I recruited 60 students to participate in this training program, which consists of 2 trainings per month on domestic violence, teen pregnancy, birth control methods, self-esteem, effective communication methods, STIs and HIV, as well as how to form a youth group and how to teach these topics to their peers. After graduating from the program, promoters form youth groups and re-teach everything they learned during the Promoter School.

  • Assisted in the development of the Asociacion Huellas Juveniles (Youth Footprints Association) which is a non-profit organization formed by a group of youth from Corinto. The Association focuses on the empowerment of youth through peer-to-peer education. A few of the projects the Association is working on are: latrine building project, domestic violence shelter, youth groups, health classes in the schools, English and German classes, free psychological sessions and activities promoting sexual and reproductive rights.

  • Planned and facilitated large conferences and weekly class sessions in 1 high school and 8 elementary schools on a variety of health topics including HIV, sexually transmitted infections, teen pregnancy, malaria, dengue and sexual and reproductive health rights

  • Organized and participated in 10 health fairs, 4 HIV themed pool tournaments and 8 mobile movie nights on the streets of Corinto, using a variety of media to educate the population on sexual and reproductive health


  • Promoted the sexual and reproductive rights of youth through a variety of activities, including a city-wide parade and butterfly-themed carnival float decorated with informational posters

  • Worked with the 35 members of the local sex worker union, promoting HIV testing, self-breast exams and completing annual Papanicolaou exams

  • Assisted in a sexual and reproductive health education research study which tested the health knowledge 380 public high school students had and how this relates to teen pregnancy and youth being infected with sexually transmitted infections

  • Assisted in the grant proposal and project development of Nicaragua’s 2nd Domestic Violence Shelter. I will continue to be involved in this project after Peace Corps, by searching for funds to bring this project to life.

  • Designed and implemented an hour and a half long training on Pre and Post HIV Test Counseling in Spanish, to the 39 other Healthy Lifestyle and Maternal and Child Health Peace Corps Volunteers and their 39 Nicaraguan counterparts.

Kate Lena completed her Peace Corps service on the March 19, 2013.

At the completion of service, Kate was tested by a certified Peace Corps Language Proficiency Interview (LPI) tester utilizing the American Council of Teachers of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) assessment scale and was assessed with the proficiency rating of Advanced High in Spanish.
“Pursuant to section 5(f) of the Peace Corps Act, 22 U.S.C. 2504(f) as amended, any former Volunteer employed by the United States Government following Peace Corps Volunteer service is entitled to have any period of satisfactory Peace Corps Volunteer service credited for purposes of retirement, seniority, reduction in force, leave and other privileges based on the length of Government service. Peace Corps service shall not be credited toward completion of the probationary or trial period or completion of any service requirement for career appointment.”
“This is to certify in accordance with Executive Order 11103 of April 10, 1963, that Kate Lena served satisfactorily as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Her service ended on March 19, 2013. She is therefore eligible to be appointed as career-conditional employee in the competitive civil service on a non-competitive basis. This benefit under the Executive Order entitlement extends for a period of one year except that the employing agency may extend the period for up to three years for a former Volunteer who enters military service, pursues studies at a recognized institution of higher learning, or engages in other activities which, in the view of the appointing authority, warrants extension of the period.”

Thursday, March 21, 2013


Shoutout to my sister, Emma. 


I Put the R in RPCV

Host Family in Corinto

Amigas Bonitas en la Playa

Almost home!
Wow. I am no longer a Peace Corps volunteer! Im not quite a Returned Peace Corps volunteer (RPCV)...I guess Im just a person andaring in limbo bouncing around until I return to the states. Here are a couple fotos of the past few days! Ill send more updates on Lindseys and my trip around the Atlantic Carribbean Coast of Nica, saying goodbye to Corinto and ringing the bell when I get home!
Ringing the Bell!

Hairy hair hair
Alyssa and I celebrating/destressing with seafood paella!
Rio San Juan: 100% Nica!

Monday, March 11, 2013


Xiomara is my Nicaraguan counterpart. As a Peace Corps volunteer, we are assigned a Nicaraguan counterpart to work with and to support us adjusting to Nica culture etc... Xiomara works for the Ministry of Health and as a Volunteer Coordinator for the non-profit Youth Footprints Association. Some PCVs are assigned couterparts who barely have time to work with them or who do not understand the objectives of Peace Corps or just are not passionate about their work. I got extremely lucky by being placed in Corinto with Xiomara. She is one of the most passionate, dedicated, caring women I have ever met. Some people do their job just for the money. Xiomara is most definitely not one of those people. She cares so much about the youth of Corinto, so much so that she gets paid almost nothing and she still works 10-20 hours extra a week without getting paid extra. This past Friday I threw her a surprise "We Love You Xiomara" party, disguised as my going away party. Past volunteers sent in videos describing their time working with her and their general impression of Xiomara. They sent in photos of all the work Xiomara has done over the past 8 years. I put on a presentation for Xiomara and she had NO IDEA! It was such a huge success. She said some of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me, which left both her and me in tears. I've been thinking a lot about my future recently since I am finishing up this chapter in my life and I honestly cannot imagine my life without Xiomara and my other Corinto friends in it. People ask me if I will come back to visit Nicaragua and my answer is always YES! Of course! I do not know when I'll be back or for how long, but I do know that Xiomara and all of the amazing people I have worked with and become friends with in Corinto, have changed my life. I will never forget any of you and will most definitely be back to visit.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Thinking About the Future

Ah the big question everyone is asking me right now...what's next? That is a great question. I have a rough idea of what I would like to do, but no details yet. Plan for home- grad school (Master's in Public Health with a concentration in Urban and Immigrant Health-still waiting to hear back from Northeastern University, Boston, MA and SUNY Downstate Medical Center, Brooklyn, NY) and a great job that I love (honestly...who knows where I'll be working. I need to wait to hear back from schools to know where to apply).
People here always ask me if my volunteer-ship with Peace Corps helps me when I get home. It does! As a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) I have non-competitive eligibility for government jobs. That means that my application automatically goes to the top of the pile. It does not mean that I will necessarily get the job; I still have to be qualified, but it does make things a lot easier. For graduate school there is a Fellowship program with grad programs all over the US. They offer scholarships, housing and a fellowship placement in a local organization connected to whatever you are studying. I looked into all of the fellowship programs offered and for me, nothing caught my eye.
So really my plans for the future are on hold while I await the decisions of Northeastern and SUNY. Also in thinking of future plans, I am a bit worried about reverse culture shock when I get home. After two years of being here, I've really become accustomed to the culture here and the general way of life. People talk about having a tough time readjusting to US life and catching up to where friends and family are now. I know I have an amazing group of people at home, so I'm not too worried about that. Hopefully I can find a job that will allow me to arrive 10-15 minutes late!

So I'll focus on short term plans until the long term plans can be figured out. Here's what my last month in Nicaragua looks like:
Thursday March 7- Art Fair with Asociacion Huellas Juveniles
Friday March 8- International Women's Day!! and my going away party!
Saturday March 9- Lindsey's going away party-pool party style
Sunday March 10- lunch with Texas Rotary Club and Chinandega Rotary Club donors. ALSO Nelsons going away and birthday party
Monday March 11-Friday March 15- last week in Corinto!
Friday March 15-Sunday March 17- going away party with Chinandega PCVs
Sunday March 17- Tony's going away party
Tues March 19-Fri March 22- Chill with Host family in Masatepe
March 22-March 24- Leon
Sunday March 24- Emma's BIRTHDAY! HAPPY 21st! Head to the Atlantic Coast
March 24- beginning of April- Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua, kayaking the Rio San Juan and saying goodbye to Nica.
April 9-I'm HOME!

What I Would Change...

Honestly there is not a lot I would change about my service. I was extremely lucky in the fact that I got placed with a fantastic counterpart. I'm happy with how I spent my 2 years. Here are the few things I would change if I could:
     1. I tried to work with the local sex worker group, the Girasoles (the Sunflowers), but had some trouble. The idea of my former sitemate, John, was to start up a community bank with the group. Each month the group would meet, would deposit whatever the minimum deposit had been decided by the group (usually 100 cordobas). Each month the community pot grows, allowing members to take out small loans. The idea is that the loans can be used to start up your own business. With a very low interest rate and the pressure of the money belonging to the group, members usually pay back the loan fairly quickly. At the end of the year, each member receives whatever they put into the bank and a portion of the interest collected from the loans. We set up meetings but usually no one showed up. This was at the beginning of my service when I was learning how to work with different groups of people with different lifestyles. With the Girasoles, since they were working all night long, it did not make sense to expect everyone to be there for a 9 AM meeting. I learned to schedule meetings and health fairs for the afternoon, at a place where they felt safe and arrange reunions around their busiest times. I teamed up with the Ministry of Health and with a local bar-owner and we put on a couple successful health fairs focusing on PAP exams, self breast exams and condom usage. If I could go back in time, I would have liked to dedicate a bit less time on the youth soup kitchen and a bit more time working with and helping to organize better the local Girasoles group.
    2. I lived with a really amazing host family here in site for the first 4 ish months. I decided to move out because I wanted to experience living in Nicaragua on my own; what it was like to pay bills on my own, cook for myself etc... I'm glad I did that. But I should have gone back to visit them more often. With such a passionate counterpart, I worked A LOT. Many weeks we worked 60 hours, putting on events at night and working the regular soup kitchen schedule during the day. Most nights I got back to my house exhausted, happy and very content with the work we had done, but tired, so I did not visit. We're still close and I will see them this Friday at my going away party, but I wish I had gone to hang out at their house more often.

At the moment these are the only two things I can think of that I may have changed. I can definitely look back and know that I really do not have regrets. Don't get me wrong, it has been a rollercoaster of emotions, sometimes changing 5 times in one day. But for Peace Corps, that's normal!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

One Month

It has been 26 months since I left the US to be a Peace Corps volunteer. Thinking about it then, 27 months seemed like the longest amount of time in the world. I was pretty sure I would be able to do it, but it is a long time. Now, looking back, it has gone by so fast and comparing it to the rest of my life, 2 years really is not that much. I have not been posting recently because I have been so busy finishing up my service. Things to do before I leave: wind down my work (although I'm sure I'll be working up until March 14th) , empty my house, pack, complete a few documents for Peace Corps, medical check-ups to get rid of any parasites that might be hiding out in my body, plan my going away party, prepare myself emotionally to say goodbye to friends here AND on top of all that...plan what I'll be doing when I get home. Returned Volunteers have told me to enjoy the last days I have here and take as many pictures as possible. That is what I'm trying to do.
One of the things we had to do to officially be done with Peace Corps was an exit interview with the director of the health program. We talked about what i would have done differently if I could start over, my major successes, how I've changed etc... It's interesting thinking back on my time here. So how did I answer these questions?
Major Successes
-The soup kitchen is a major success and a major stressor. For those of you who do not know-the soup kitchen is for children who are under weight and under fed and whose families do not have money to feed them three times a day. These kids are amazing. Major stressor part of it is that we do not have a budget and sometimes the cooks do not show up. Budget-wise, we end up soliciting donations for various sources. The fantastic part is that we submitted a letter to this major energy company and they have agreed to fund the comedor for another year! That means we have one more full year of chicken, bones for soup, ground beef, drink mixes, vegetables and sugar. This is a HUGE help.
-Another major success is our new Association- Asociacion Huellas Juveniles (Youth Footprints Association-ASOHJUV). Through the Casa y Clinica, a group of youth have been trained in sexual and reproductive health topics as well as how to train their peers on the same subjects. This group of youth have now started their own non-profit organization focusing on the empowerment of youth through peer-to-peer trainings. We have been funded by a German organization and this week will be applying for funds to participate in Global Youth Service Day. Services offered by ASOHJUV are: free english and german classes, free psychology consults, a latrine building project, Youth Health Promoter Program, Domestic Violence Shelter, charlas in the schools and in youth groups as well as charlas about taking care of our environment and how to protect our human rights.  You can visit ASOHJUV's facebook page for more information:
For now, I will leave you with these 2 successes and will update you with what I would have done differently, my plans for the future and how I have changed in my next posts.