Helen McGuirk, Kenya



I lived with the Luo tribe in the Nyanza Province of Kenya, near Lake Victoria; the land was constantly green and lush with rolling hills. The primary language spoken is DhoLuo, a Nilotic language spoken around the lake in various countries. My main job was collaborating with community health workers to support HIV positive members and children orphaned by the epidemic in my village. We started a Girl-Child Education program, which educated over 500 in-school girls on menstruation, puberty, and healthy hygienic practices. The main goal was to teach girls how to make re-usable sanitary pads out of locally available material, while addressing one of the main reasons why young girls fail to complete their education.

Secondary projects included a collaboration with the NGO Nyanza Reproductive Health Society and governmental program PEPFAR (President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief), providing two annual World AIDS Day Events for my community on December 1, 2010 and 2011. Both events held HIV testing/counseling, male circumcision, and general communications about HIV/AIDS for an estimated 700 people.

I also collaborated with another PCV to help address the malaria epidemic in the Coast Province of Kenya. We came up with a cheap, easy, and locally available way to diagnose malaria by creating a training guide for laboratory technicians to conduct peripheral blood smears using simple light microscopes; the main goal of this project being reducing over-diagnosis and ultimately a drug resistant malaria parasite in this volunteer’s community.

I was also chairperson of Peace Corps' Gender and Development Committee, where we successfully initiated a grants program for PCVs and their community to promote positive progress on gender issues that arise in Kenya. There I continued to develop a sustainable solution to fund the GAD grant program. In association with GAD I often participated in “Camp GLOW” (Girls Leading Our World), a camp devoted to teaching girls skills on how to empower themselves and making good decisions for the rest of their lives. This camp holds some of my favorite memories of my Peace Corps accomplishments.

Communicable diseases are still a major health threat for the majority of the world’s inhabitants. I decided to pursue an MPH in infectious diseases when I noticed a disconnect between research and development work, and realized if communication and culture were approached in a more efficient manner infectious diseases could be handled more effectively. I chose Pitt because Pitt Public Health was the only school that offered an MPH in infectious diseases, offering the best of both worlds and an excellent environment to explore my research interests.

Helen McGuirk