Laurel Zaks Was Public Health Educator in Ecuador
Laurel Zaks is a public health advisor, Coordinating Office for Global Health, and recently responsible for updating the Memorandum of Understanding between Peace Corps and CDC. She’s been at CDC since returning from Peace Corps, February 2001. “I got the job a week after finishing in Ecuador January 2001.”
From July 1997 to January 2001, Zaks was in Ecuador. “Having worked as a dietitian and even after having an MPH, I wanted to live abroad longer term than with other opportunities that I had; I wanted to understand public health internationally by living in a community, learn about the culture, and understand the basics of public health in the country.” So she served as a public health educator and nutritionist and kept extending her service. “I would tell folks, I just need to stay for one more mango season. In development work, I believe we need to work ourselves out of a job and leave it behind in a sustainable way.”
“Initially I lived and worked in the rainforest region working with both the local Ministry of Health and local indigenous organizations, getting to work via hiking in jungle-mud and traveling in dug out canoes along the Amazon River. After a little more than a year, I went on to live in a large Latin city called Santo Domingo de Los Colorados and worked at a Center for Malnourished Children. I also spent a few months in the mountains working with a women´s cooperative on health education. Since 2001 I have been back to Ecuador twice to visit with the communities in the rainforest and with the families and my coworkers at the Center for Malnourished Children.”
Zaks worked with the Ecuadorians developing curricula and conducted technical training in Spanish in preventive maternal and child health education and infectious diseases for local health promoters, medical professionals and other volunteers.
Serving as a volunteer as long as she did, she also helped design a new $400,000 Children’s Center for Nutrition Recuperation which served an average of 40 families daily. She supervised transition to the new facility, revised treatment and case management protocols, menus, and the management structure to improve outcomes for patients and families with malnourished children.
Her experiences there “solidified that I wanted to continue working in global health,” she says. “I use these and other international work experiences constantly. It allows for a perspective in my more current macro job and draws from a more micro one-on-one provider job. I see all kinds of CDC—projects in the field and often think this is a Peace Corps project only with easier logistics and more funding. Peace Corps is not for everyone but it is amazing if you allow yourself the opportunity to share what you have and be open to learning what living and working in another culture offers.”