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Public health degree sets alumna up for Peace Corps success

Nastassia Donoho ’14 chose to study public health with an option in health promotion and health behavior after completing two years of AmeriCorps National Civil Community Corps. She fell in love with how the public health field can improve communities. She is currently serving with the Peace Corps in Lesotho, Africa.

When I learned about the Peace Corps during an eighth grade English class, I told myself right then that one day I would be a volunteer.

My desire to do international work was confirmed after I completed an international internship in India during my last term at Oregon State.

After graduating, I worked for a few months in the United States, but I soon started to crave international work again. I decided the time had come to apply for the Peace Corps. Within a month, I received an offer to serve.

Childhood dream fulfilled

Now I am now a Peace Corps volunteer in the remote and mountainous district of Mokhotlong, Lesotho working with Touching Tiny Lives (TTL).

Lesotho has the second highest rate of HIV in the world with 25 percent of the population living with HIV. At 48 percent, the district of Mokhotlong has the highest rate of stunting and malnutrition in children under 5 in Lesotho. It is hard to see children suffer due to malnutrition, in combination with HIV and/or tuberculosis (TB). However, thankfully the success cases we see at TTL far outweigh the hard cases.

I work alongside some amazing people helping children under 5, and their families, who are facing severe malnutrition in combination with HIV or TB. My role includes improving outreach services, nutrition, monitoring and evaluation programs, helping improve adherence rates among children and caregivers living with HIV, and providing training on income generating activities.

Internal and societal challenges

Witnessing the devastation that HIV/AIDS has on a community has been my biggest challenge. When I first got to Lesotho I struggled with death and how the community handled death. It took me a year to realize they’d become somewhat numb after watching many members of their community die from disease.

I now understand that the more people you know who die from AIDS, the more disconnected you become. This disconnectedness becomes a challenge, as it can lead to a disconnect from the global epidemic, making it hard to decrease the prevalence of HIV.

Putting my public health degree to the test

My public health, health promotion and health behavior degree has provided a great foundation for the work I’m doing in Lesotho — especially the ability to place things in a context of a hierarchy of needs, the importance of evidence-based interventions and having accurate data. It is with my degree that I have been able to support TTL in Lesotho, as well as continue to improve the lives of women and children globally.

I have also come to realize that you must be willing to be creative and think outside the box to provide services. I think this is something you have to learn outside a classroom.

My time in Lesotho has been incredible. I came here in September 2016 with a 27-month contract, but extended my contract until May 2019. In total, I will be in Lesotho for 32 months.

This Kingdom in the Sky (its nickname) is one of the most welcoming and beautiful places I have ever been. If you are considering the Peace Corps, make sure you go with as open of a mind as possible.