TIP Staff Spotlight Series: Sick and Far from Home

Alana asked each of us here at The Immunization Partnership to write a little about how we got here and why we do what we do.

Join us each week as we introduce a different member of the TIP team. This week we kick off the series with Robyn, the Community Outreach Coordinator. 
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Robyn Correll Carlyle, MPH | Community Outreach Coordinator

Three years ago, I lived in a small, rural village in northern Peru, working as a Peace Corps volunteer in the local health post.

I did things like this:

 Image

Planting an organic vegetable garden at a family’s home

And taught groups of kids like this: 

Image

Group photo after a summer school life skills class

I was what Peace Corps called a “generalist.” Fresh out of college, I had a degree in journalism and little practical health experience. I joined the Peace Corps because I wanted to do something worth doing in a place I’d never been. I walked into it with the same wide-eyed expectations that many volunteers do — prepped with some unbridled enthusiasm and intermediate Spanish. I returned with a much more pragmatic worldview and a passion for public health.

But let me back up …

I think it’s safe to say that, for the first year anyway, I was the sickest person in my village. I spent countless days, curled up on my straw mattress in 90+ degree heat, wishing the Powers That Be would either kill me or heal me.  More often than not, it was some kind of stomach bug. Bugs that most of my host family, neighbors and friends were immune to.

I encouraged my host family to boil water and wash their hands to help keep me healthy. But they didn’t think that would help. After all, they weren’t getting sick. It was just something I had to power through. Soon I would be immune, too.   

It was a rough year.

As I was almost always ill, I started noticing disease everywhere. Sickness quietly held back progress for the people of my town. Parents who got sick with the flu would have to take time off work and risk losing vital income for their families. Kids with parasite-induced anemia wouldn’t be able to concentrate in school and so fell behind. And infants died from severe dehydration caused by diarrheal diseases like rotavirus.

Sometimes there was treatment available through the health post, but by then the damage had often been done.

What floored me was how many of these diseases were things that could be prevented. So much of the pain, discomfort and disability could have been avoided by using things like safe water, soap and vaccines. That realization shaped my service and stayed with me long after returning home. 

… I eventually got stronger. My body did finally adjust to the environment — intact, though not entirely unscathed.  When I returned to the U.S., I enrolled in a master’s program for public health and began my career helping communities stay healthy.

My time in Peru taught me many things. But perhaps the most important was that while not all diseases are preventable, the ones we can prevent, we should.

I was drawn to TIP, because its mission and staff are dedicated to preventing what’s preventable.  So that kids like Arleth (below) can grow up in a world without measles or whooping cough. So that parents can provide for their kids, and thousands of infants each year can escape death and disability due to vaccine-preventable diseases.

It’s a mission worth rallying for. And I’m excited to be a part of it. 

ImageArleth (age 5) in Tumbes, Peru

 

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