Melissa Knorr, Zambia, Belize, Costa Rica

MPH/MSW student; Behavioral and Community Health Sciences, School of Social Work

I served as a health education volunteer in a tiny village (about 500 people) in the Northwestern Province of Zambia. My primary assignment was to help build the capacity of the Neighborhood Health Committee as part of the national plan to decentralize Zambian healthcare. Much of my work in Zambia centered around two of the identified health focus areas: HIV/AIDS, and maternal and child health.

I amplified HIV/AIDS education and activities by supporting school and community based clubs, facilitating training workshops, and launching a peer based condom distribution program. My community and surrounding neighborhoods expressed great interest in deepening their knowledge of HIV/AIDS, which enabled me to collaborate with other volunteers and organizations to plan training events and workshops.

My passion for women’s and girls’ health and wellbeing motivated me to advocate for girls’ education and discourage early pregnancy and marriage. With the support of community leaders and teachers, I helped to establish girls’ clubs at two local schools within my catchment area. Additionally, I assisted my community members in creating a formalized women’s group that is still active to this day. By connecting the group to a nearby agricultural project, the women began participating in animal husbandry and profitable farming endeavors.

My subsequent tours of service in Belize and Costa Rica helped me to contextualize population health by investigating the underlying social, cultural, and economic challenges faced by my neighbors. My Peace Corps experiences in Zambia, Belize, and Costa Rica ultimately solidified my commitment to community health. I decided to pursue the joint program in Public Health and Social work because its emphasis on social justice and determinants of health align closely with my own values.

Melissa Knorr with girls in Belize
Me with some of my favorite girls in Belize

Melissa Knorr's Going Away party in Belize
The women's group in Belize all dressed in purple (my favorite color!) for my farewell party

Melissa's house in Zambia
My house in  Zambia (a mansion by village standards)

Knorr's Zambia knitting club
The first weeks of the women's group, when they started as a knitting club using yarn donated by my grandmother and her friends (Zambia)

Nsweta girls club
The Nsweta girls club, who walked 2 hours to present a skit about HIV/AIDS (which they wrote and directed) at my going away party in Zambia