Sophie Philizaire—a master’s student at the Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work’s Department of Health Policy and Management—has been accepted into the Peace Corps as a community health support agent in Senegal, Africa.
Philizaire, who embarks on her journey in February 2019, will be working with the Peace Corps’ Community Health Project. Her role will include supporting efforts to reduce maternal and child mortality in Senegal. The project assists community health workers (CHW) in delivering quality health care and prevention services, as well as improving the utilization of community health services and the uptake of healthy behaviors among pregnant women and mothers.
“Because my heart aims to serve others, I’m extremely excited to embrace a new culture, a new language and a new outlook on life,” says Philizaire. “I’m also eager to understand how other cultures implement health care.”
The Peace Corps is a service opportunity for motivated visionaries to engage in a community abroad, working alongside local leaders to tackle present-day public health challenges. FIU’s MPH program prepares students for interdisciplinary public health careers that investigate the epidemiology or distribution of diseases, as well as social and environmental determinants of health among diverse populations.
As an MPH student, Philizaire learned about environmental health and safety —and how to influence policies in support of optimizing population health. Philizaire says she will utilize this knowledge during her tenure.
“Serving as a key example of Stempel College’s student involvement outside the classroom, Philizaire has demonstrated that she is focused on making the world a better place by targeting her efforts on one significant humanitarian crisis,” says Tomás R. Guilarte, dean of Stempel College.
As Senegal’s health system is unable to meet every need of the local population, the Ministry of Health and Social Action (MSAS) is promoting community health as a means of enhancing access to basic health care and prevention services for the majority of the population, particularly those living in communities with limited access to clinics and hospitals.
The MSAS has formed a network of basic health units termed “health huts,” each of which is managed by two community health agents (CHAs) who have received training on providing basic health care.
Philizaire’s role will consist of organizing individual and group capacity building activities for CHWs; working in schools to create youth health clubs that train students to be informal CHEs; supporting a cohort of pregnant women and mothers to adopt evidence-based maternal and child health behaviors; and conducting regular home visits to follow-up to ensure the utilization of health services and recommended health behaviors.
“This is a job that has been on my bucket list for years,” said Philizaire. “Receiving this position has empowered me to continue setting and accomplishing my goals.”
Philizaire is certain this opportunity will provide her with a new perspective on life, by humbling her and inspiring her to keep following her dreams.