Hey everyone! Apologies yet again for the lack of blogging. The last few weeks have been jam-packed with adventures. Last week the Healthy Lifestyles training group headed up north to the department (basically a state) of Chinandega for a HIV/AIDS practicum week. Known as the hottest part of the country, Chinandega is an HIV hotspot in Nicaragua. While Nicaragua has a relatively low HIV prevalence rate and not nearly as many people living with the virus as other Central American countries, HIV transmission is on the rise. HIV education will be one of the most important parts of my Peace Corps service. The goal of the week was to give us an introduction to HIV work as a Volunteer.

Throughout the five days, we received technical trainings in HIV education and also got the chance to apply what we learned in different settings. Along with other Peace Corps Trainees, I helped deliver sessions on the importance of getting tested for HIV at a local health center, delivered a charla at a local high school on the importance of goal setting, and worked in a group to deliver a session to 20 policemen on HIV transmission, prevention and testing. We even included an interactive condom demonstration, which was hilarious. Our last night was spent at a local billiards hall where HIV education was integrated into a pool tournament. We also spent a lot of time talking with the Volunteers who hosted the week to learn about life as a Volunteer, which was very helpful.

Things started to get pretty exciting this past week with site preference. This week Peace Corps decides where we will live for the next two years! There are 24 sites across the country for my group (44 in total including the Maternal/Child Health Trainees). We received a booklet about them last week to read up on various details of the communities: location (three main parts of Nicaragua with the health project: the mountainous center/north bordering Honduras, more tropical south bordering Costa Rica, and the Atlantic Coast with a more Caribbean culture), population (ranging from 1,000 people to 150,000), climate (mountains, coast, tropical, heat), what type of education is most needed, at risk-populations, opportunities for secondary projects, how many NGOs are in town or nearby, internet access, transport, location of other PCVs, etc. On Monday we had a site fair to learn about each department, what it offers, what types of projects the Volunteers currently there are doing, etc.

I had my interview on Tuesday with the health program director. Without getting too specific, I generally want a smaller-to-medium size site up north (in the mountains where it´s cooler, this Chicago girl can´t take the heat!), access to a nearby city with some NGOs /access to funds/other resources, interested in work with various at risk populations including youth but also perhaps sex workers/truck drivers/mobile populations, and the ability for secondary projects such as community gardens or other environmental projects. But generally speaking, I´ve got an open mind and will go wherever Peace Corps sends me. I came into this whole thing with no real geographic preference nor sector, and here I am working on healthy behavior change in Central America and loving it! There´s quite a buzz among the Training group now with site placement but I´m just trying to stay as level headed as I can. All the sites have a lot to offer. This Monday is the big reveal. Can´t wait to finally find out where I´m posted!

The other big news of this week was that my training group progressed onto the advanced Spanish level! Yipee. That means the four of us will no longer have four hours of class everyday and instead will be doing technical activities. Next week is jam-packed with charlas everyday at health posts, schools and a local library. I still have a ton to learn and need to improve my accent, but it was a personal victory just to know I came in at intermediate and have progressed. Next week we´ll also meet our Nicaraguan counterpart, the Ministry of Health worker who will be our partner for two years in our site. And next Saturday begins the big test: we head out to our sites to meet our future host families, get to know the local health workers, be on our own and mostly get a feel for the community in which we will live in for two years. Wow. After that it´s two more weeks of training and then, assuming all goes well, I´ll be sworn in as a Volunteer!

I´ll try to find some time next week for an update on my site assignment. Until then, take care everyone and I hope you enjoyed my latest blog post! Hasta pronto.