Sarah Sisaye, Kenya

MPH Behavioral and Community Health Sciences

I was sworn in as a Peace Corps Public Health Volunteer on July 21, 2010 and placed at the Navakholo Sub-District Hospital in Navakholo, Kenya. Navakholo is located in Western Kenya, Kakamega Central District. The main tribe in Western Kenya, and with whom I lived, is the Luhya tribe. I learned a dialect of Kiluhya, Kisamia, which unfortunately was not spoken at my site, but was a sister dialect. As a result, I focused on Kiswahili, one of the two official languages of Kenya, and used it as my main mode of communication. By learning Kiswahili, I became completely ensconced in my community’s cultures and traditions.

At the hospital, I worked closely with my supervisor, the Public Health Officer, to integrate into my community and meet important stakeholders. After a couple of months, I was approached by a handful of community health workers (CHWs), who became my close friends. With them, I traveled throughout the Navakholo area and met with a variety of community and faith-based organizations. Most of the community groups I worked with were psycho-social support groups for People Living With HIV/AIDS (PLWAs). Most of my work entailed capacity building with these groups on topics such as proposal writing, creating budgets, and starting and sustaining Income Generating Activities. In addition, I did a lot of nutritional education for PLWAs as well as mothers and their children. A necessary component of this education was addressing food security. To do this, I taught groups about making sack gardens and composting.

I also worked with CHWs who were tasked with distributing LifeStraw Family, a water filtration system provided by Vestergaard Frandsen. Every Sunday I taught for 30 minutes at a local church on topics such as female empowerment, family planning, malaria and HIV/AIDS stigma and discrimination using relevant Bible passages. I especially enjoyed this work, as I felt a real sense of belonging and got great feedback from both the pastors and the congregation. One of the more rewarding projects I took on was the construction of a wheelchair accessible latrine and a pit latrine for the Special Unit at Siyombe Primary School. I worked closely with the Unit’s head teacher to write a proposal that was funded by Appropriate Projects: An initiative of Water Charity.

An important part of my work was creating a mutually beneficial network between local government officials and the groups with which I worked. As much as possible, I tried to bring in local skilled Kenyans to build these groups’ self-efficacy. It was important to me and part of Peace Corps’ mission that a skill transfer take place, so that work would continue unhindered after I left.

Upon Completion of Service, I returned to the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health, where I was the first Peace Corps Master’s International Student. I was in the Department of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences and earned a Certificate in Global Health. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have been part of a program where I could apply my in-class training to my Peace Corps service. As a result, I feel that I gained so much more out of my education than I was initially expecting. Moving forward, my focus is on global health, conflict and HIV/AIDS education.

Sisaye teaching community members
Teaching community members how to use LifeStraw Family, provided by Vestergaard Frandsen

Wheelchair accessible latrine
Wheelchair accessible latrine and regular pit latrine we successfully completed at Siyombe Primary School for the Special Unit, which is composed of mentally and/or physically disabled students