Peace Corps Service Teaches Health Systems Student about Resourcefulness

Posted: May 9, 2011 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: May 6, 2011 at 3:28 pm

By Tara Laskowski

Treniese Polk spent two years volunteering for the Peace Corps in Mozambique. Photo courtesy of Treniese Polk

When supplies and resources are limited, people have to do the best with what they have. This lesson is one that Treniese Polk will take with her after volunteering in Mozambique with the Peace Corps.

As a College of Health and Human Services (CHHS) health systems management student exploring how to help the people in this southeastern African nation, Polk was inspired by the people and culture around her.

“People here are so resourceful. If something isn’t available or affordable, people here will find a way around it,” she says. “The children make cars out of wire and Coke cans. Adults can fix anything.”

For the past two years, Polk has been stationed in Mozambique with the organization Community-Based Care, Protection, and Empowerment (COPE). As a participant in Master’s International, a joint program of the Peace Corps and George Mason University, Polk was able to fulfill her required Peace Corps volunteer service while earning an MS in health systems management.

With COPE, Polk worked with orphans and vulnerable children who have or are affected by HIV and AIDS, providing support with nutrition, home-based care, education, psychosocial support and income generation. Polk helped monitor and evaluate the program across all the intervention areas and helped facilitate workshops, training and orphan exchange visits.

She also volunteered with a teenage girls group, meeting weekly with the Mozambican girls to play sports, exercise, cook and learn about women’s health.

Treniese Polk. Photo courtesy of Treniese Polk

“We always had so much fun. In many developing countries such as Mozambique, a social life or outlet for teenagers doesn’t really exist outside of school and housework, especially for girls,” Polk says.

In fact, she found working with teenage girls so fulfilling that she co-coordinated a weeklong conference for Mozambican girls about women’s and children’s rights, health and self-esteem.

“It was one of the most challenging and yet rewarding experiences I have ever had,” Polk says.

Outside her volunteer service, Polk enjoyed getting to know a new culture. By shopping at the local open markets, traveling within the country, attending local fairs and meeting people from all over the world, Polk feels like she has gained a more universal worldview.

Now that she’s finishing her two-year stint in Africa, Polk can look back and reflect on all that she’s learned.

“I’m definitely more realistic about the world, its problems and how everything ultimately ties together,” she says. “I can’t change the world in two or maybe even 10 years, but I can definitely make a difference in someone’s life and leave a few imprints in the grand scheme of improving health disparities.”

This article originally appeared in the College of Health and Human Services publication, Dimensions 2011, vol. 17.

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