Acting Director Carol Spahn meets with Partnering for Peace Executive Committee see more
CAROL SPAHN, ACTING PEACE CORPS DIRECTOR, SUPPORTS PARTNERING FOR PEACE: FRIENDS OF PEACE CORPS AND ROTARY INTERNATIONAL
Carol Spahn, Acting Director of the U.S. Peace Corps, recently met with the executive committee of Partnering for Peace (PFP): Friends of Peace Corps and Rotary International. Spahn addressed the current Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the two organizations, and discussed additional ways PFP and Rotary can continue its support of the Peace Corps and of Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) abroad, as they begin to return to the field.
Kim Dixon, president of PFP stated, "Carol was very open to the opportunities that the Rotary/Peace Corps partnership can offer; from local integration of staff, support of PCVs in the field, projects supported by Returned PCVs, and opportunities for PCVs to collaborate with Rotary in their primary or secondary projects, it all adds up to a win-win for Peace Corps."
Peace Corps/Rotary Week is being planned for later this year. Steve Werner, founding and immediate past president of PFP, provided an overview of the plan with examples of how the week will galvanize attention of the joint goals and projects of Peace Corps and Rotary in the field to a continuation of service by RPCVs as members or friends of Rotary clubs back home. Rotarians are also good candidates for Peace Corps assignments, and the week-long event will allow Rotarians to learn more about what PCVs do and how they can work together.
Rotary International currently boasts over 1.2 million members and 35,000 Rotary clubs worldwide. Joint projects between the two organizations have been documented to the tune of over $700,000 USD, and the Partnership continues to collect stories of additional projects. The missions of Rotary and PC are almost identical, and examples of collaboration include support of English libraries; healthcare; education; to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) projects. The relationship between Rotarians and Peace Corps is mutually beneficial, and local communities reap the rewards.
There are numerous ways for PCVs and Rotary to further the partnership in the field, and back home, which PFP can help identify. Kim shared her own recent Peace Corps experience of gaining support from a Tbilisi, Georgia Rotary club that helped with transportation, and printing of health pamphlets for the ethnic minority in her region. PCVs responded by helping with Rotary’s rural health fair. Another example of recent partnership is a Give-a-Book program in Costa Rica and several other countries, where PCVs identified the needs and Rotarians helped collect, ship, catalog, and set up libraries in PCVs schools. These are just a few of many examples that highlight the collaboration between the two organizations. Upon completion of service, PCVs can continue their partnership with Rotary upon return to the US.
PFP is hoping to find current Rotarians in the RPCV ranks. Please let us know by signing in and gaining more information at www.partneringforpeace.com,
Rotary Presents to the Gulf Coast Florida Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Organization Reveals An Old PC Rotary ProjectAn Peace Corps - Rotary Project from 1962 see more
On June 5th Rotarians Vana Prewitt and Kelsey Mitchell presented to the Gulf Coast Florida RPCV Organization on what Rotary is and how Rotary can work with Returned Peace Corps Organizations at the grassroots level. Prewitt also has served as a Peace Corps Volunteer twice. This was sent to them by one of their members, in response to the presentation.
Almost six decades past I was a PCV stationed in San Pedro de Macorís, a port city on the southeast coast of the Dominican Republic and the site of the nation's oldest Rotary Club. Rotarians were quite helpful to me in achieving the construction of 5 multi-purpose basket/volley ball courts around town. In fact, one of their members, a prominent lawyer, helped me to establish a non-profit entity to collect funds for the project. Such was the importance of Rotary assistance to my efforts that our country director came to a special meeting of the club to explain the purpose of the Peace Corps in general and to describe the work of volunteers nationwide.
Teaming with local organizations like Rotary is an excellent way for PCVs to become known among influential leaders in their communities who could provide material help as well as influence with local authorities in pursuit of their projects and activities -- not to mention substantially furthering the second goal of the Peace Corps Act.
Connecting Peace Corps Recruiters with local Rotary Clubs – it’s never to late too be a Peace Corps VolunteerHave a Peace Corps Recruiter present to your Rotary Club see more
It has been my pleasure to be part of the Rotary International – Peace Corps partnership for the last three years as the Outreach Chair for Partnering for Peace: Friends of Peace Corps and Rotary. As the partnership grows and increases in scope, our outreach committee is currently focused on connecting local Peace Corps Recruiters with local Rotary Club programming chairs through our database of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers Rotarians and district leaders who fully understand the opportunity of working with the Peace Corps community. The outreach committee, under the lead of Reggie O’Brien, has made introductions between Peace Corps Recruiters and 80 Rotary Districts around the country who are in our database. The purpose of the introductions is for Peace Corps Recruiters to do presentations in as many Rotary clubs across the U.S. on what it is like to be a Peace Corps Volunteer and that it is never too late to be a Peace Corps Volunteer.
I can attest to that as I was sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer when I was 55 years old. The inspiration came when I happened upon the Peace Corps website and the home page celebrated a volunteer who was celebrating his 80th birthday during service. As Rotarians, this is a great way to fulfill “service above self”. Personally the experience changed my life as a Rotarian serving overseas and I would suggest to everyone that Returned Peace Corps Volunteers are idea candidates to become Rotarians. There are two opportunities to be a Peace Corps Volunteer: the classic two year commitment and Peace Corps Response, which is a project specific volunteer opportunity that last for three to eight months.
If you are interested in having a Peace Corps Recruiter do a zoom presentation to your Rotary club, feel free to contact me. I have a list of all recruiters around the country including my local District 5450. I would be glad to help you make that connection for your individual club.
Charlie Masilae Hunt
Outreach Chair - Partnering for Peace - NPCA Affiliate Group
Peace Corps Rotary Alliance Committee – District 5450
Denver LoDo Rotary Club
RPCV Vanuatu 2006-2008
What are Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Rotarians Doing? see more
PFP's main focus is collaborative projects between Peace Corps and Rotary. That said, there are many projects that Rotarians who served as Peace Corps Volunteers are currently implementing. PFP is going to report on those projects at our website. As we become aware of these projects we will post them on this page, so check back occasionally and be inspired!
Support Evacuated PCV ongoing projects. see more
Peace Corps Volunteers (PCV) during their service occasionally have reason to raise funds to bring their in-country project to the next level. During service PCVs can raise funds through the Peace Corps website. That came to a full stop when all of the volunteers were evacuated due to COVID. Some of the evacuated PCVs had the support in place to continue those projects and were interested in continuing. The National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) has created that opportunity at their website. Currently there are seven project needing financial support. The countries with active projects are Moldova, Vanuatu, Columbia, two projects in Benin and two projects in Albania.
If you know of clubs or individuals who have connections to these countries, please encourage them to review the projects and consider offering financial support at the NPCA website.
As the NPCA states at the donate webpage: In establishing the Peace Corps, JFK spoke of the “great common cause...of bringing to man that decent way of life which is the foundation of freedom and a condition of peace.” Today, people continue to be confronted by war, poverty, disease and a changing climate, and now when our own country is experiencing divisiveness, intolerance, and fear—that “great common cause” is more urgent than ever. Support for NPCA and our partnered campaigns will deepen the Peace Corps communities' global impact by empowering members and groups to champion that “great common cause.” From advocacy for a bigger and better Peace Corps to supporting sustainable international development projects, we are building a better world dollar by dollar. Join us, and be a part of our community of changemakers.
The RPCV community is ready to assist other evacuees just like they helped ePCV Elyse Magen. see more
When 7300 Peace Corps Volunteers were abruptly evacuated in March, a common first reaction was to mourn the untimely end of service. But across the decades, Peace Corps Volunteers learn the importance of being flexible.
Elyse Magen's evacuation created two economic hardships: loss of a critical Small Projects Administration grant, end of plans for a yet unfunded loan program.
Not one to be deterred by a 3000 mile separation or a pandemic, she reached out to the RPCV community and secured funding through Friends of Colombia and the National Peace Corps Association to replace the SPA grant. Her successful campaign to replace the lost SPA funding is included below. Then she worked with TCP Global to get loan funds to her site despite a quarantine and a bank that had initially sent the TCP Global funds back to the U.S.
Within two months of arrival back home Elyse and four other Colombia evacuees are working together to continue their service on a global scale. They had witnessed the positive impact of TCP Global loans on small, underserved rural communities and jumped at the chance to help TCP Global replicate its success around the world.
Curt Commander built a data base to facilitate expansion of the loan program. Zack Coen designed a form to improve the ease and quality of reporting from the 30 loan sites in 11 countries. Then Zack and Curt worked with TCP Global to upload 15,000 financial transactions for the more than 3000 loans issued over the last thirteen years and to verify that all reporting needs were addressed.
Elyse and Josh Concannon developed training materials for TCP Global loan program mentors and Kenney Tran took responsibility for social media outreach, starting with the story below about two programs opening in Uganda during the pandemic.
Calvin Yahn, who introduced TCP Global to his site in Zambia joined the mentoring contingent and YOU CAN TOO !!
The RPCV community is ready to assist other evacuees just like they helped Elyse.
Rotarian Peace Corps Volunteers bring RYLA to Ukraine! see more
The Genesis of RYLA in Ukraine – A Beautiful Partnership
By RPCV Andy Lenec
There is an old saying, “Man plans, God laughs.” Well, God was not laughing the entire time that the inaugural RYLA Conference that came off this year in Ukraine was being planned, but God’s plans included lessons in humility that I had overlooked when putting together the roadmap for my vision of an international youth conference as a part of my United States Peace Corps service there.
A bit of back story. I had been a Rotarian for over 25 years before deciding to apply for the Peace Corps. What can I say, some people retire in curious ways. My parents had been political refugees from Ukraine and since I spoke the language and was familiar with the culture, I had high hopes of being accepted and assigned to serve in Youth Development in Ukraine. As I said, man plans… I was accepted and assigned to Ukraine, but as an NGO Advisor in the Community Development Division, and ultimately seconded as a volunteer to several organizations in the small city of Truskavets in western Ukraine, among them a small but enthusiastic Rotary Club!
This was by design of course, based on my prior experience and the Peace Corps’ current needs, but regardless, my passion for working with youth would not be denied. Actually, it was a pretty easy sell. Who can deny that helping youth – any youth, anywhere, anytime – is not a worthy investment in our future? What began as weekly English Clubs run at the local library (one of my partner organizations) and a local ‘gymnasia’ (an advanced high school), and enthusiastically endorsed by RC Truskavets, morphed into the dream of hosting an annual International Youth Conference.
This is excerpted from one of my original correspondences, floating the idea to potential participants and sponsors:
“The First Annual Truskavets International Youth Conference will take place in August 4 – 11, 2018, with the goal of promoting harmonious international cooperation between the future leaders of the United States and Ukraine, and potentially several other European countries as well. With the knowledge that young leaders learn best from each other, especially in international settings, we will take young leaders ages 16-19 through a seven day journey of learning, working and socializing together, and experientially practicing and perfecting skill sets such as leadership, volunteerism, communication, conflict resolution and team building.”
That was the plan, but the lessons in humility and patience had not yet been served. Once we all realized that the small club in Truskavets simply didn’t have the capacity to take this project on by itself, I began to seek out other Rotary Clubs with which to partner, and my dream quickly morphed yet again into the idea of turning this conference into the reintroduction of RYLA in Ukraine.
And that’s when the real magic (read: cooperation and collaboration) began. During countless phone calls and meetings with the truly stellar leadership of District 2232, including then DG Serhii Zavadsky and DGE Mykola Stebljanko, with the eight Rotary Clubs in Lviv, and especially RC Lviv International, as well as with the benefit of some absolutely invaluable assistance and encouragement from US Rotarians, and especially P4P co-founder Steve Werner, we began to build the team and promote the dream, with more and more people at least listening to us as we took our story on the road and into cyberspace.
I must express my appreciation for the support I received from PC Ukraine staff, including then Country Director Denny Robertson, his replacement right at the end of my time there, Michael Ketover, my Regional Manager Oksana Shabas, and the truly exceptional staff at PCHQ in Kyiv. No one threw anything but encouragement and wise counsel at me during the arduous process of making connections and gathering support for the project. As you will see, a project of this magnitude simply could not be accomplished without the highest possible levels of support from both RI and the US Peace Corps, and ultimately we were able to secure that support from RI General Secretary John Hewko and Peace Corps Director Jody Olsen, who both electronically forwarded messages of welcome to the first group of participants this past summer.
There is of course so much more to this story, but I come back to my opening line, “Man plans…”. Much to my dismay and disappointment, but perhaps not to the detriment of the project, I took ill and was medically separated from PC a little over a year into my service. It was literally, “Pack your bags, you’re going home,” and I had a week to prepare for an arduous journey home and a long and even more arduous recuperation, but that’s really not germane to this story. Here’s what is.
By this point in my story, or the unfolding of my dream, we had moved a lot of people and created a momentum. This was NOT an easy process for many reasons, not the least of which was the state of chaos so many sectors of the country were experiencing as a result of the systematic pillaging of this beautiful country by past regimes, and the difficulty of transforming from a corrupt, centrally planned economy to a truly free market. There was a lot of inertia to overcome, a lot of people to convince that this project was not only worthy and possible, but necessary and destined to take place.
One of the phrases we often tossed around was ‘failure is not an option’, and it certainly wasn’t for the real hero of this story, current Peace Corps Ukraine volunteer Shannon Carter, who took over the leadership of this project upon my departure from Ukraine. I was fortunate to participate in weekly Skype conference calls from my home in Colorado, and I was floored by how much energy and enthusiasm Shannon put into this project.
Shannon also assembled a great team of her fellow PCVs to plan and staff the inaugural RYLA conference, which took place in Lviv, Ukraine this past July to the delight and benefit of the 23 participants from three countries, plus the many Rotarians from several countries who also attended and supported Shannon and her team.
The story gets even better, though, as Shannon is not only already underway planning RYLA Ukraine 2020, but has also convinced the powers that be in Rotary International and the Peace Corps that this relationship should be formalized, with the creation of a PC Response Volunteer position to assist in this process. From my personal perspective, my dream was rescued from potential disaster and given not only new life, but it seems it now has legs as well.
This is only the first part of the story, and since I wasn’t there to witness it, I’m not the writer to describe the actual event. Nevertheless, I can speak to the phenomenal success of the partnership that was sought, nurtured and ultimately blossomed between the Peace Corps and Rotary in Ukraine, and to the patience and persistence required to bring a good project home. I hope this can serve as a model for other such partnerships, and Shannon Carter a model for an extraordinary young woman who also happens to be a Peace Corps volunteer, and perhaps some day a Rotarian as well.
Rotary Give-a-Book partners with Peace Corps Volunteer Jordan Mathews in Dominican Republic see more
From 2016-2018, I served in the Peace Corps as a Youth Development Volunteer in a rural town, Gonzalo, Monte Plata in the Dominican Republic. For those of you of you familiar with the work of Peace Corps Volunteers, you will know that the work is slow, often ambiguous and it takes a whole lot of trial and error, emphasis on the “error,” before something sticks. One of my sticking points came from the work I was doing with my counterpart, Leo, the Director at our community’s local Community Technology Center (CTC.)
The CTC is a government supported community space where kids and adults can go to do their homework, learn new skills and just have a safe place to congregate. At this center there is a preschool, a computer lab and a library, all programs that I have seem immensely positively affect our students. During my service, I spent countless days in the library. Not only was it one of the few places with somewhat reliable electricity, it was where I was able to see and connect with the kids and members of our community. Though I was not an education volunteer, while spending time in the library, the need for supportive literacy programs became obvious. Globally, the Dominican Republic falls low on literacy rates, as a way to help combat this, our CTC had tried time and time again (mostly unsuccessfully) to create reading groups for kids. However, as I began looking at the books available, the majority of books available were dense historical non-fiction, books that were not conducive to sparking the interest of young curious minds learning how to read. I wanted these kids to know the feeling that came with being completely enveloped in a story, the intense desire to read the next page or finish the next chapter in the book.
My counterpart and I decided that it would be beneficial to get new books for the library that would inspire curiosity and excitement for young readers, but as we began exploring avenues to do that, we realized it would be much harder and much more expensive than anticipated. After months of looking into different options, we were not sure if and how we would be able to achieve this goal. But as soon as we began to feel defeated, I received an email from the Education Program Manager for PCDR about the Rotary Give-a-Book program, letting us know that select schools and centers would be approved to receive donated books in Spanish! It was an answered prayer.
Excited, I told my counterpart and we reached out right away, soliciting books for our CTC. Later we learned that our community had been approved and would be receiving books for our library. Because of this amazing program made possible by the generosity of Rotary members like yourselves, Gonzalo’s CTC received a box full of beautiful books that will allow a generation of young readers to tantalize their curiosities and explore the world, near and far, through books. For this, I am so grateful for the partnership that exists between Rotary International and the Peace Corps, so that more moments like this can be created for communities across the globe.
Thank you to each of you for committing your life to promoting peace at home and abroad through supporting programs like Give-a-Book, this is the type of change that may seem small but can forever create long lasting impact.
Board Member Charlie Hunt featured in "WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU SAY YES TO ROTARY" see more
The Rotarian's August 2019 article "WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU SAY YES TO ROTARY" focuses on how 17 Rotarians joined Rotary to make a difference only to find themselves transformed. Our board member Charlie Hunt is one of those featured. You can read the article here.
Rotarian experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Macedonia. see more
Link to Rotary Service in Action Blog. Rotarian Cal Mann serves as Peace Corps Volunteer in Macedonia. The articles shows the potential of greater impact when Peace Corps Volunteers work with Rotary (particularly when the PCV is a Rotarian).
Cal Mann is semi-retired industrial designer leading a consulting firm. He has been a Rotarian since 2004, and member of California Rotary Clubs of La Jolla, Del Mar and Oakland. He has also served as director of his club’s Youth Service Committee overseeing Interact clubs, and served on his District’s RYLA committee.... Click Here to read the article.
Denver LoDo Increases Its Membership By Over 50% in January! see more
Can you imagine increasing your club membership by 50% in one month? The Denver LoDo, just that this past January. Charlie Hunt is a member of the club and a Return Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV). As a member of District 5450 Rotary - Peace Corps Alliance committee, he has had a dream for some time to recruit RPCVs into the club. It is a natural fit. The focuses of both Peace Corps (PC) and Rotary are almost identical. Recruiting RPCVs is certainly logical.
Charlie is also very active in RPCVs of Colorado. As a matter of fact, he is the current president of the organization. Because of this connection, he has been able to have conversations with RPCVs about how Rotary can fit in with their professional development and community service. To his pleasant surprise, he found a number of RPCVs who already had connections with Rotary. One of the club's new member was a Rotaractor. One had received a district scholarship while in college. One had received help from a Rotarian with his professional career. One attended RYLA and then became a RYLA counselor.
In the past Charlie had heard from many RPCVs that the difficulty in joining Rotary was typically a financial one. With that in mind, Charlie talked to the leadership in the club about the idea of developing a satellite group under the club. The idea would be that the club would set a different dues structure to allow for more RPCVs to join the club. Club leadership liked the idea. The new satellite group has a minimal dues structure which makes it very affordable. At the same time, the club is including all of the satellite group members in club committees, service projects, and monthly club socials. Three new members have already been in contact with our district grants chair Carolyn Schrader to volunteer in reviewing international service grant applications. This group is also willing to connect district clubs applying for grants with local RPCVs to assist with refining their projects to have an understanding of local cultural issues where the project will happen.
The club officially inducted ten new satellite group members to the club on March 6th. DGE Curt Harris and District Membership Chair Lynn Perez-Hewitt were in attendance to celebrate this significant addition to the club's membership.
If you were interested in learning more about the connection between Peace Corps and Rotary, please check the website www.partneringforpeace.org. Also, if you were interested in learning how to leverage the Peace Corps rotary partnership in your district, take a look at the toolbox we put together to help with PowerPoint, handouts and videos to make the job easier. You'll find a link for it at https://www.partneringforpeace.org/cpages/get-involved.
Rotary And Peace Corps Announce Partnership see more
WASHINGTON, D.C., May 5, 2014 – Peace Corps Acting Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet and Rotary International General Secretary John Hewko today signed a letter of collaboration strengthening the organizations’ cooperation in the United States and abroad to promote global development and volunteer service. “The missions of our two organizations reflect and reinforce each other,” Hessler-Radelet said. “In our increasingly interconnected world, bringing the Peace Corps and Rotary together in common cause provides more opportunity than ever to leave a greater impact.” At Rotary International World Headquarters in Evanston, Ill., the two organizations committed to explore initial collaboration in the Philippines, Thailand and Togo. Across these three countries, Peace Corps and Rotary volunteers will be encouraged to share resources and expertise, and Peace Corps volunteers and Rotary clubs in the U.S. can connect to boost the impact of development projects. Through the Peace Corps Partnership Program, Rotary clubs can provide small grants to support volunteers and their communities. “It makes perfect sense to leverage the strengths of both organizations to achieve maximum impact, efficiency and sustainability in the projects we carry out,” Hewko said. “Together we will work to improve lives and build stronger communities, and – in doing so – address many of the root causes of violence and conflict, such as poverty, illiteracy, disease, and lack of access to clean water and sanitation.” The Peace Corps and Rotary will also work together to recruit more Americans into Peace Corps service and share their knowledge and understanding of the world with fellow Americans. Both organizations have rich histories of promoting peace and friendship between cultures and undertaking sustainable development activities to help communities in need throughout the world. They also have networks of volunteers and members dedicated to making the world a better place. Peace Corps and Rotary programs overlap in more than 60 countries, and many returned Peace Corps volunteers join Rotary clubs. The organizations have previously partnered on projects in literacy, water sanitation, and health, and Rotary funds have helped to purchase everything from construction materials to library books.
Highlands Ranch Rotary Club Works With Peace Corps As Part Of Give A Book Program see more
At the end of October a team from the Highlands Ranch Rotary Club joined with other Rotarians from various parts of the U.S. and with current Peace Corps volunteers, in order to distribute books and establish a community library in the Monterrey area of Costa Rica.
On this service trip, Rotarians from Highlands Ranch Rotary in Colorado were joined by Rotarians from the Rotary Club Cantonment, FL. Rotary Club of Casa Grande Daybreak, Casa Grande, AZ and Palisades Rotary Club, NJ.
With more than 775 million people over the age of 15 being illiterate, a key goal of Rotary International is to support education. Children may be more inclined to undertake a higher level of education if they are introduced to reading at an early age. The program, Give a Book, is designed to develop and increase literacy at all ages and to promote cultural awareness and global goodwill towards others.
A highlight of the visit was the dedication of the Sue Fox Memorial Library. Sue had been a Peace Corps volunteer in her early 20’s and was recently President of the Denver Rotary Club. Sue helped to facilitate a memorandum of understanding between Peace Corp & Rotary. The MOU allowed for Rotary and Peace Corps to connect on service projects and this project was one of the first under this MOU.
During the trip, 21 elementary schools received sets of 150 books. Sixteen smaller schools each received sets of 50 books. 45 books were provided to the International Baccalaureate program at a high school in San Carlos. The Sue Fox Memorial Library received approximately 800 books from the Give-A-Book warehouse, which were paid for by a grant from the Sue Fox Memorial Fund and Rotary District 5450.
A currently serving Peace Corps Volunteer said, “I really cannot express just how grateful my community and I are to have met you. Your visit was incredibly special and the kids and teachers have been telling me how thrilled they were to meet with the Rotarians. I hope you know how much of a difference the books make in these kids’ lives. Monterrey has the wonderful advantage of being very protective of their traditional culture and supportive of youth initiatives, but one of the biggest challenges of the education system here is the promotion of creativity and critical thinking. Books open up new worlds for these kids, and I’m looking forward to working with the school principals, teachers, Ministry of Education, the local government, and the local girl and boy scouts to promote a reading culture. A love of reading truly does bring infinite rewards.”
This is the third trip to Costa Rica by members of the Highlands Ranch Rotary Club and based on experience the committee has decided to concentrate on 3 key areas.
- Work with the Give a Book program + the local Peace Corp and deliver books to children of Elementary age.
- Establish community libraries wherever possible.
- Work with International Baccalaureate schools to help with English Language study and global business foundation study.
~Philip Calderbank, Rotary Club of Highlands Ranch, Colorado.
Partnership Takes On Cervical Cancer In Senegal see more
Until the 1950s, cervical cancer killed more American women than any other type of cancer. Widespread screening has drastically decreased the number of those deaths in the United States, but in the West African country of Senegal, the disease remains prevalent. Every year, more than 1,400 Senegalese women are diagnosed with cervical cancer, and hundreds of them die from it.
To Andrew Dykens, a professor of family medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), the situation is especially galling given how easy this form of cancer is to catch.
“Cervical cancer develops very, very slowly,” Dykens says. “There are five to 15 years from the first cellular changes to the actual cancer development. So you’ve got time during that phase to do something about it.”
That’s exactly what he’s doing, with the help of the Peace Corps, Rotarians, and UIC.
Dykens – who is a member of the Rotary Club of Chicago, the director of the Global Community Health Track at UIC’s Center for Global Health, and a former Peace Corps volunteer – is bringing together those organizations and Senegal’s Ministry of Health and Social Action to reduce the number of women who die from this highly treatable disease.Training for health care workers in Kedougou. Courtesy of Andrew Dykens
A bit of background: In 2010, Dykens launched Peace Care, a nonprofit that helps communities and organizations work together to bring resources where they are needed. “It dawned on me that the Peace Corps should be working more closely with, for example, academic centers, because these centers have technical expertise but don’t have a footprint in local settings,” he says. “Meanwhile, the Peace Corps has people who are extraordinarily knowledgeable about the local context.”
And Rotary? “Rotary loves to build capacity,” he says. “If we can build the capacity to implement evidence-based solutions that already exist, we don’t need fancy tools like MRIs or robotic surgery. Not that those tools aren’t good, but there’s a basic level of access to primary health care that doesn’t exist.”
After hearing from Peace Corps staff in Senegal about the need for cervical cancer screenings there, Dykens and Peace Care started training health workers in the Kedougou region of the country to detect abnormal cervical cells via a simple but effective method. A vinegar solution, dabbed onto the cervix, reveals abnormal cells that can be killed immediately with a cryotherapy gun and CO2tank – no electricity required. This is far easier and less expensive than the standard Pap test, which requires looking at cell samples under a microscope to identify abnormalities.
“Cool, right?” Dykens says. “This technique has been around for decades, and it costs so little and saves women’s lives. So how is it that in this day and age, in Senegal, there are 10 rural regions that have no access to cervical cancer screening?”
Part of the answer is local influence. “In some cases, the local opinion leaders are very conservative on women’s issues, and they are reluctant to help the women go for consultation,” says Manuel Pina, an obstetrician/gynecologist and member of the Rotary Club of Dakar-Soleil who is working with Peace Care. “But Rotarians are also opinion leaders. We have already done local talks on the importance of this project, to help end all of the rumors and bad information linked to cervical cancer.” Pina notes that they also encourage families to have their daughters vaccinated against human papillomavirus, which causes cervical cancer.
Rotarians and Peace Corps volunteers have a long history of working together on projects, and in 2014 the two organizations began a more formalized partnership. The cervical cancer screening project demonstrates how a grassroots effort can benefit from the combined strengths of the two organizations.
The Rotary clubs plan to apply for a Rotary Foundation global grant to help expand cervical cancer screening services to the Tambacounda region. “Not just for the purpose of building capacity, but also to build a training center for cervical cancer screening,” Dykens says. Eventually, that center could also train health workers to screen for and treat other diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension, and other types of cancers, he adds.
Dykens says support of Rotarians in the United States and in Senegal will continue to be key.
“Rotarians do things right,” he says. “They work systematically and always engage local voices and perspectives, and that is what ultimately creates success. Rotary has worked a long time on polio and done an amazing job. And in my mind, access to primary care is the next polio.”
reprinted with permission from The Rotarian, December 2017.