Serving in the Peace Corps as a Married Couple: Project Opportunities

10 01 2012

Tim and I will, from time to time, be offering insight on what it’s been like to serve in Cambodia as a married couple. If you haven’t seen the previous installments of this series, check them out here and here.

Demographics have an impact on what kind of projects volunteers can easily carry out. For instance, as a woman, I am in a better position than male volunteers to educate women on birth spacing options or the importance of breastfeeding. I can more easily build relationships with young girls through a girls’ club. I can lend a hand in the delivery room. Men sometimes do these things too, but as a female, I am more naturally poised to help out in these settings.

Married PCVs, woot woot!

Similarly, serving in the Peace Corps as a married couple puts volunteers in a position to more easily address certain issues. Being a couple may grant you access to certain populations like, for example, women working in the sex industry. If a single male volunteer tried to work with these women, most community members would likely assume he was paying for their services. If it’s a single female volunteer, the community might assume that she is working with the women. Both of these things could ruin a volunteer’s reputation and greatly hinder their work. Not to mention the safety concerns of being alone in this potentially dangerous environment. Although there will always be obstacles in working with marginalized populations, a couple might have an easier time providing education or counseling to these women.

Tim and I realized early on that, as a married couple, we were in a unique position, and we committed to trying to leverage our status as a couple to take on projects that might be more difficult for single volunteers. For our first project as a couple, our population will not be women in the sex industry though, we will be working with young newly-married couples.

We are in the process of starting what we’ve decided to call a “Healthy Relationships Group.” We will meet regularly with a few young couples to talk about issues such as family planning, domestic violence, decision-making, division of labor and conflict resolution. Since dating (at least how we conceptualize it in the US) often does not take place before marriages in rural Cambodian, couples generally know very little about one another before their wedding. This group will hopefully encourage newlyweds to discuss important issues and be deliberate in making decisions that will strengthen their relationship and bring them closer to their goals as individuals and as a couple.

Cambodian newlyweds

This group is likely to be a challenge because Cambodians seem to be rather reserved, particularly when both genders are brought together. The topics we plan to talk about are very personal and, even in the most open societies, can be difficult to discuss in a group. However, we feel that it’s very important, and we’ve gotten a lot of positive responses from the various NGOs we’ve spoken with about the group. The ideal situation would be that the group goes well and the participants are interested in being trained to lead Healthy Relationship Groups of their own. For now though, our plan is to take the group slow and really focus on building relationships with the couples who have agreed to participate. I think it will be really interesting to see how this develops.

Katie

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4 responses

10 01 2012
Susannah

Great idea guys! Be sure to let us know how it goes!

13 01 2012
Nancy Andrade

This is great, Katie and Tim! Love to hear about the awesome things you guys are doing. Keep up the good work; good luck with the group! :)

25 01 2012
kbergen

I’m super excited about this group and I can’t wait to hear how it pans out! I also think that you are one of the best couples I can think of, not just out of PC but more generally, to lead it :)

25 01 2012
timkatstravels

Thanks, everyone! It’s still in the early stages but we’ll keep you posted!

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