A Peek into Peace Corps: Interview with a Peace Corps Volunteer

When you travel half way across the globe you don’t typically expect to run into people from your hometown. But I met Alexandria in Kampala, Uganda where she is serving as a Peace Corps volunteer after she’d heard my partner and I were from Indiana – our shared hometown. Small world, and getting smaller all the time!

I crossed paths with Alexandria a few times when we were in the same city, and I was surprised to find there were lots of other Hoosiers (Indiana locals) living in Kampala too within the Peace Corps and other organizations.

I’ve shared some trivia nights, stories, and long bus rides on bumpy roads with Alexandria. Now I’m thrilled to be able to share some of her Peace Corps experience and travel story with you!

Bio

Age: 27

Hometown: Indianapolis, Indiana

Current residence: Kabale, Uganda

Job title: Peace Corps Volunteer –  Community Health Educator

Place you’d visit again: Seattle and Japan

Destination on your bucket list: Morocco

Tell Us About Yourself

My name is Alexandria Lopez. My first trip out of the US was to Uganda in 2014 and then again in 2015 to Japan. Both were study abroad trips through the journalism, now Media School at Indiana University. I’m still in search of something that I’d be happy doing for the rest of my life so for now I do the things I enjoy day in and day out like volunteer, social media, travel, and work with people.

Throughout high school, college, and for awhile after I graduated I worked at the same restaurant trying out different positions. I used to do traveling sales and set up pop up shops at dance conventions even though I don’t dance. I really enjoy music and the arts and entertainment so I appreciate the hard work and dedication the dancers and instructors put in and. I also did some clerical and administrative recruiting for a little while and dabbled in industrial hiring.

Now as a Peace Corps Volunteer I love that I can get an all inclusive kind of experience. I attend trainings and I teach what I learn to help others improve and branch out. I also love that I get an immersive experience living in another culture that is different than my own.

Why Do You Travel?

I love learning new things about myself, others, cultures, etc. I love that I can get a taste or feel of another place when I’m down on the ground with everyone else instead of keeping my head in the clouds when I research or see these places I hope to visit on TV or in movies.

Explain what you do for work as a Peace Corps volunteer. 

            I’m a Community Health Education Volunteer for Peace Corps Uganda (PCUG). I’m hosted by the Kabale Diocese Health Office. Each volunteer’s role looks a little different depending on their placement but my organization I work alongside the Diocesan Health Coordinator that oversees 26 facilities in Southwest Uganda. He takes a look at medicines management and support supervisions, and helps on health facility committees to ensure they’re meeting standards and also improving.

Lately we’ve been trying to get as many facilities as we can on board of a new health insurance plan or what they call here scheme since the last efforts collapsed and didn’t really cater to the needs of each individual community. This new ones allows facilities to create their own plans and payment options instead of leaving it up to the Diocese.

How did you get into this job? 

I had a few things align that directed me to this specific Peace Corps post and position. I had a friend that was already a volunteer in Lesotho and she had a friend I ended up meeting back home that would be departing for Samoa. After picking their brains I did a little research and found Uganda and health as a project for the post. I ended up trying to talk to a recruiter and didn’t have a great experience with them which discouraged me from applying but I sat down and really thought about my experience and interests and decided to go ahead and do it despite the recruiters suggestions.

I first came to Uganda in 2014 for an international reporting course on HIV/AIDS with the Indiana University Media School. My work in the class led me to become published in a local Ugandan newspaper called the Daily Monitor.

One of the Peace Corps priorities in Uganda when it comes to health concerns is HIV/AIDS in addition to capacity building for health workers, water and sanitation hygiene, maternal and child health, and malaria and those all felt like things that I could see myself learning more about, teaching others, and building prevention and awareness efforts on. I also had some experience throughout undergrad as a peer educatior for a student group that informed the student body about rape and sexual assault during a really important time.

So with all that experience combined and my efforts in making sure that people have access to information and education I solidified my decision in finally following through with completing and sending off my application.

What does a typical day at work look like for you?

            My days don’t always look the same. I volunteer at a big organization which has several offices with different focuses and I’m in the health office. My supervisor, the Dioceasan Health Coordinator sits doesn’t have any employees that report to him but he oversees 26 facilities in Southwest uganda so sometimes he gets extremely busy and it is up to me to find other projects.

Most of the work I do with my supervisor is focused on the capacity building for health workers component of the PCUG health program framework. When we have funding and are able to move in the field we’ll travel to our different facilities for support supervisons and based on those reports and field tools we’ll inform the health workers on what they’re doing well in and tell them what could use some work.

Sometimes we’ll have sub regional meetings and review reports and teach new skills or give updates before reports go to the district, Ugandan Catholic Medical Bureau, Ugandan Ministry of Health, funders, etc.  There are other days when things are more laid back and I’ll have a health talk at a facility that’s closer to my office. Some days I just attend meetings with other department heads or health workers and try to offer advice on how to change processes.

Alexandria’s sitemate Scott is wearing a Kanzu for his introduction ceremony (ceremony introducing the engaged couple before they get married)

Are you able to easily balance work and travel? If so, how do you balance them?

I only travel within the country at the moment because I didn’t come to service with much of a savings or means to but with some of the committees I’m on, PC trainings, and field work I’ve been able to see different areas of the country. We also get vacation time but I haven’t even dipped into that yet so I’ve really only also traveled on holidays or during my spare time. Public transportation is super accessible here but the bus and taxi rides can be treacherously long which sometimes deters me from traveling.

What’s the best lesson you’ve learned from your travels?

This is probably a VERY Peace Corps specific lesson but I’m sure many other volunteers can agree with me but I always make sure I have a little stash of toilet paper wherever I go. It may not be available or you may not find a toilet when you really need it. You never know how food will affect you when you travel to another country or what kitchen sanitation or water sources are used. But from previous/personal experience and travels and this comes from Girl Scouts – be prepared! I always try to bring just enough, or as much as I can carry. I always travel with a scarf or layers and a baggie with important medicines.

Share one of your favorite travel memories.

Back when I did traveling sales I’d love meeting up with friends wherever I could and making friends along the way. I got to go to Seattle for the first time ever for work and it was great trying new spots to eat, skipping down the rainbow crosswalk in Capitol Hill and roaming the streets! My free time during those work weekends is always super limited but it’s great when I’m able to make it worthwhile.

If you could share one travel tip with other women on how to be more eco-friendly/sustainable travelers, what would it be?            

I try to cut back on waste like bringing my own tote and tupperware if I’m getting takeout. I always get compliments on my bag and I always appreciated the positive affirmations whenever I’d go to the farmers market or Trader Joe’s back home and I hope when other people hear those things coming from strangers it’ll encourage them to start picking up the habit.

Thanks for reading Alexandria’s Peek into Peace Corps!

I hope this helps give you an idea of what life as a Peace Corps volunteer is like. It’s challenging work and you don’t always know what you’re getting into since each post can be different. But I’m inspired by Alexandria’s plunge into Kabale, calling it home for two years and committing to learning and giving back as much as she can.

If you’ve been a part of the Peace Corps, I’d love to hear about your experience. Drop a comment below or send me an email at suitcasesix@gmail.com to chat.

Get in touch with Alexandria!

Email: alope792@gmail.com

Instagram: @A_lope

For more Woman of the Week interviews, try these:

A Peek into Peace Corps: Interview with a Peace Corps Volunteer

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