Traveling more than 9,000 miles from her hometown to spend nearly six months as a Peace Corps volunteer is not something Jessica Wiens, BA’16, ever dreamed of doing as a child growing up in Grand Island, Nebraska. Yet from May through September 2016, Wiens did just that — working in a small village called Rapale about eight miles west of Nampula, Mozambique. Her primary duties were teaching good health habits — especially in combating the spread of malaria and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
“Honestly, I have Creighton to thankfor opening me up to this possibility,” Wiens says. “It was during my time as a psychology major that I first learned about global health — especially in classes taught by Professor Laura Heinemann (chair of the Department of Cultural and Social Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences). It was in her classes where I developed a passion for wanting to do something to help people with health care on a global scale.
“I was also involved with the Schlegel Center for Service and Justice (SCSJ) during my time at Creighton and went on three trips — to El Paso, Texas; Wheeling, West Virginia; and East St. Louis, Illinois. These trips taught me a lot about social justice work, as well as about the impacts of poverty and crime on health. After these trips, I knew I wanted to do something for a longer period of time, and that’s how the Peace Corps came to mind.”
Once on the ground in Mozambique, Wiens spent the first three months in Namaacha, located in the southern part of the country near the border with South Africa and Swaziland. There, she underwent intensive Portuguese-language classes with other Peace Corps volunteers, took cultural classes and also learned a few key phrases in the local Bantu language.
Once training was complete, Wiens then headed 1,300 miles north to work on site, teaching family planning and counseling on malaria and HIV prevention. “I was the only white woman these people had ever seen and that was nerve-wracking at first. But a nurse on site took me under her wing and I became close to her and her family, too,” she says.
Wiens was medically evacuated home to the U.S. in late September 2016, due to a severe gastrointestinal illness. “I was sad I couldn’t complete my 27-month assignment, but I guess things happen for a reason,” she says.
Wiens is currently pursuing a master’s degree in public health and ultimately hopes to attain a doctorate in public health. And while her Peace Corps experience was cut short, it taught her that her passion for helping others remains.
“I want to focus on working with refugees, one of our world’s most vulnerable populations, especially since we are only at the cusp of doing what we can in terms of ensuring their health and safety both here and abroad.”
This article originally appeared here.
The SCSJ blogs are meant to be a place for Creighton students, faculty, staff, alumni/ae, and friends to reflect on their experiences with programs sponsored by the office or related to its mission. The views expressed in these reflections, and all other blogs found on or linked to from this website, are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of Creighton University, the Schlegel Center for Service and Justice (SCSJ), or any of the University’s affiliates. The University and the SCSJ are not responsible for the actions, content, accuracy, or opinions expressed in these blogs.