July 2, 2001 - Emory Report: Catching up with Downes in the small of village of Banikoura in the northern part of the west African nation of Benin

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Benin: Peace Corps Benin : The Peace Corps in Benin: July 2, 2001 - Emory Report: Catching up with Downes in the small of village of Banikoura in the northern part of the west African nation of Benin

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Catching up with Downes in the small of village of Banikoura in the northern part of the west African nation of Benin

Catching up with Downes in the small of village of Banikoura in the northern part of the west African nation of Benin

Catching up with Downes

By Eric Rangus erangus@emory.edu

A Peace Corps volunteer in the early 1980s, Downes lived and worked in the small of village of Banikoura in the northern part of the west African nation of Benin.

Shortly after earning a bachelor’s degree in political science and economics at Fordham University, not wanting to go to graduate school and looking to utilize the language skills she acquired as a French minor, Downes had journeyed to the former French colony to work on a gardening and wells project.

She was one of only two Peace Corps volunteers within a 100 km radius of Banikoura—and the only one in the village itself—which was located in the Sahel region of Benin (“Sahel” as applied here is an Arabic word metaphorically meaning “shore of the desert.”), a difficult land where water is scarce.

Benin achieved independence in 1960 and while not the poorest of west African nations, the country—particularly its rural north—lacked a great deal of infrastructure and its health care system was threadbare at best.

One day a woman, someone Downes knew, came asking for help. The woman’s young daughter was dehydrated and in need of immediate medical care. Downes, only recently graduated from college and without medical training, did not know what to do.

“I wasn’t well-equipped enough to be of help to these people, who had made me feel so welcome,” Downes said. “They turned to me, and I felt I should have been able to [do something].”

Self-awareness is the first thing a traveler experiences the first time she is away from home, said Downes, now an assistant professor of nursing in the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing. Her experience in Benin gave Downes that self-awareness and with it she embarked on a journey that has taken her around the world and—on occasion—given her a chance to stop at Emory.

“You think about a woman whose child is ill. How do you get food on the table? The concerns on a day-to-day basis are all the same,” Downes said. “The day your child graduates from school, it’s a joy that’s universal. That’s always a moment of change that people see. There really isn’t much of a difference between [Americans] and the rest of the world. It’s amazing to a lot of people when they first experience that.”

Upon returning to the U.S. in 1983, Downes enrolled at the University of Tennessee’s nursing school. It had a strong program in rural health care, and that was what Downes was looking for.

Including her time in the Peace Corps, Downes has spent much of the last 20 years in the developing world, working sometimes as a nurse practitioner and other times training nurses from countries such as Mozambique and Zimbabwe (two places where she has lived) to take care of their own people.

Most recently, from 1998 until this spring, Downes was stationed with the World Health Organization in the south Pacific island nation of Fiji, where she was setting up a nurse practitioners training program at the Fiji School of Nursing.

“The challenges for supporting health clinics in Fiji are different than Africa,” Downes said. “In Africa, the roads may be treacherous, but there is access by land and air—albeit to varying degrees.

“As in Africa some villages [in Fiji] are located in the mountains far from roads, but island nations have the additional issue of remoteness, with villages on tiny islands 250 miles from the nearest airport,” she continued.

There are other problems, as well. For instance, in May 2000 the government was overturned and its leaders taken hostage by a civilian-led coup. After two months, however, the coup’s leaders were arrested and are now awaiting trial. But the unrest has not deterred Downes, who will return to Fiji in November to check on the nursing program’s progress. It’s just all part of the territory.

While Fiji’s cities are relatively modern, many Fijians—particularly those in rural areas—do not have running water or electricity. It was in this atmosphere in which Downes helped design a new curriculum at the Fiji School of Nursing, whose reputation is so strong that it draws students from throughout the south Pacific.

In her nearly three years in Fiji, Downes made quite an impression. The school’s Excellence in Advanced Practice Nursing Award, which is presented to the outstanding graduate of the nurse practitioner program, is named for her.

In the four years prior to Downes’ service in Fiji, she was an assistant professor in the nursing school, as well as a student in the Rollins School of Public Health. When she came back this year, she picked up her studies right where she left off and has only a few core courses and a thesis remaining to earn her MPH.

Upon her return, assistant Professor Downes collected a second title, that of academic program coordinator for the new Lillian Carter Center for International Nursing.

Working to get the Lillian Carter Center off the ground, which was formally dedicated Oct. 18, as well as planning last week’s center-hosted global nursing conference has dominated Downes’ time this summer and fall—but not monopolized it.

Downes also has helped to develop the curriculum for a new joint international MSN/MPH degree program with the School of Public Health.

The dual degree aims to prepare nurses to work within the four core functions of world health systems: service delivery, resource development, financing and stewardship. In the United States, Downes said, the areas of public heath and nursing are often separate. Around the world, though, the practices are much more tightly linked. And it is in view of this changing atmosphere that this
new degree program will focus.

“I don’t think public health and nursing can be separated anymore,” Downes said.

“I’ve just come to realize this recently, but my area is one of development work,” Downes continued. “It’s just that it is in the field of health and I use the tools of nursing and public health. I think my background in political science and economics has served me phenomenally well. I think it was the best training I could have gotten. Because of the issues related to policy, I’m more adept at that than if I had not had that type
of training.”

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Story Source: Emory Report

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Benin; COS - Fiji; Nursing



By shaundra (inspiration.boisestate.edu - on Thursday, November 01, 2007 - 5:27 pm: Edit Post

Wow, I want to join Peace Core this summer after completely my Bachlors Degree in Nursing, This story is inspiring.

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