A Day in the Life of a Mongolia Health PCT, Part 1

So, what exactly does PST (Pre-Service Training, remember?) consist of?

Monday through Friday we have training sessions at Dereven’s school.

School #4 (In Darkhan--there's only this one school in Dereven)

School #4 (in Darkhan–there’s only this one school in Dereven)

The building we have classes in

The building we have classes in

From 9am to 1pm we have Mongolian language class with our 2 LCFs (Language & Culture Facilitators). Then we go home for lunch from 1 to 2:30. From 2:30 to 5:30 we have Technical Sessions (training specifically for the Health Sector) every day except Wednesdays, when we have Cross-Cultural class instead.

We all live in different parts of Dereven, but the school is kind of a central location. It takes about 15 minutes to walk from my house to the school, and it’s a constant obstacle course, simultaneously trying to avoid the cow shit that is literally everywhere, giant shards of broken glass, and huge puddles of water and mud that never seem to dry up. Plus it’s already gotten up to at least 95 degrees F that I know of, so forget any notions you may have had of Mongolia being a permanently frozen wasteland (sure, the winters do last like 8 months, but in summer it often gets to the opposite extreme). And I get to walk through all this in my business casual attire! (Yes, we have to wear business casual to our Technical and Cross-Cultural sessions.)

A few weeks into PST we started going to our individual practicum sites to get a taste for what it will be like when we first arrive at our HCA (Host Country Agency) at our permanent site. Two of the PCTs have their practicum at the Darkhan hospital, two at the Darkhan Health Department, and the rest of us at various family clinics throughout the city. We have to take taxis (alone, but Peace Corps gives us money each week specifically for this) from Dereven to wherever our practicum site is (mine is in New Darkhan). We go about once a week to our practicum site, where we try to use our not-too-great Mongolian language skills to shadow or get involved in something going on.

The first day at my family clinic, I literally felt like the doctors and nurses there had no idea what to do with me. One of the patients who was waiting to see the doctor noticed that I was an American (how did she know?!) and started talking to me in perfect English! I told her that I’m a Peace Corps Volunteer and she told me she used to work with Peace Corps! She talked to the nurses in Mongolian and told them to give me a tour of the clinic, with her translating the whole time. Then the doctor called her in for her appointment, but she gave me her phone number in case I ever need a translator! But then the staff no longer knew what to do with me and brought me into a room where one of the nurses tried to talk to me for a while. I tried to ask some questions about the clinic, but eventually she needed to get back to work. So as I’m sitting in the room alone, another random lady comes in and shoves her phone at me, indicating that I should talk to whoever is on the other end. I say “hello” and it’s some random Mongolian lady speaking to me in somewhat broken English. She asks me what’s going on, and I tell her (keep in mind, I still have no idea who this lady is), then she tells me she is heading over to the clinic at that moment. Sure enough, she shows up soon after and comes in the room to talk with me. I’m pretty sure one of the clinic staff just called someone they knew who spoke some English to come talk to me. Apparently she is a nursing student who has been teaching herself English for the past 10 or so years. We talked about differences between the Mongolian and American health systems, and she also gave me her phone number in case I ever need a translator (well, at least I’m making connections!). So that was interesting, even if it had nothing to do with my practicum site. The next time was a little better: I at least got to shadow some of the doctors and nurses and practice a little bit of Mongolian, but I’m still not exactly sure what we’re supposed to be doing there for 3 hours at a time.

For some of the other Technical Sessions, we have Joint Sessions, where we, along with people from all of our practicum sites, come together to learn about some topic related to needs assessments, behavior change, etc. At one of the sessions, we (the PCTs) even got to give a 30-minute presentation to all of them. We’ve also gone to the Health Department to interview some of the workers, to some of the NGOs in Darkhan (including the Red Cross and World Vision), and to the Education Department to learn about health curriculum in Mongolian schools (particularly focusing on sex ed). I was surprised to find that the health education here is pretty good. It starts in 6th grade and students have to take it every year throughout middle and high school. On the other hand, I only had one health class in middle school and one semester of health in all of high school. The sex ed could be more comprehensive (they don’t start getting into those topics until 8th or 9th grade, which is after many of them start having sex), but I was overall impressed with the curriculum. The next week we were put into groups of 2 PCTs and 2 health teachers to design a mini sex ed lesson using a nifty lesson book that Peace Corps designed. Then we had to help present the lesson to a group of teens they managed to corral from around Dereven (since school was out for the summer). So I got to help teach about proper condom use (complete with condom demonstration!), which is something that most health teachers here don’t feel comfortable doing. Fun times!

I will talk about what weekends are like in my next post.

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2 thoughts on “A Day in the Life of a Mongolia Health PCT, Part 1

  1. Sex Ed is never a comfortable topic to discuss, but it’s one of those that needs to be discussed! Is the number of teenage pregnancies high? What’s the acceptable age to begin having children and to get married? And did you have to teach in English or Mongolian? Or both?

  2. STIs are a MUCH bigger issue here, but the teenage pregnancy rate is pretty high. But it’s perfectly acceptable (and even expected) here to get married and start having kids at a young age. They’re trying to increase the Mongolian population, so there are actually incentives for women to have babies (it’s like the opposite of China’s one-child policy). I’ve seen soooooo many babies, toddlers, and pregnant women here, it’s insane! But another part of it is just that the population here is very young. Something like 60% of the population is under the age of 30.
    Oh, and we were co-teaching with Mongolian health teachers. The teachers were doing the actual teaching in Mongolia, and one of the other PCTs and I mostly just helped with the actual condom demonstration.

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