We have a connection with -- and responsibility to -- all other living beings

May 08, 2009
Katherine (Kat) Turner
Senior training and services adviser, Ipas
Peace Corps volunteer, Togo, 1991-1993
UNC master’s student, health behavior and health education, 1994-1996


Katherine Turner graduated from Duke University in 1990 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a certificate in women’s studies. She had been trained as an American Red Cross peer educator in high school and had served as co-president of the peer sexuality education and counseling services center on her college campus. Through these and other positions, she discovered that she loved teaching and counseling about health issues, especially women’s health and sexual health.

At Duke, her advisers recommended that she look no farther than “right up the road” at UNC to pursue her interest in health education. She applied and was accepted, but she was determined to travel and to have more hands-on experience before pursuing a degree.

She joined the Peace Corps and left for Togo in the summer of 1991 to live in the village of Langabou and work with the Guinea Worm Eradication Program in Blitta district.

“Why do I think global service is important? Because I believe we should raise our children and train our students to see themselves as global citizens who have a connection with and responsibility to all other living beings.”

— Katherine Turner

 

In the late 1980s, there were an estimated 3.5 million cases of dracunculiasis, or Guinea worm disease, in Africa and Asia, with 120 million people at risk of infection. Despite Togo’s small size, it was among the countries in the world in which Guinea worm was most endemic.

The disease is caused by drinking contaminated water containing the larval worm. Once ingested, the Guinea worm, which can grow to a length of three feet, emerges painfully through a blister formed on the infected person’s skin.

Turner worked in collaboration with Togo Ministry of Health officials and The Carter Center’s Global Health 2000 program, expanding the program to include broader health issues. Turner’s group:

  • Conducted community mobilization and education;
  • Selected, trained and supervised 13 village-based educators in water, sanitation, sexual and reproductive health education and outreach, epidemiological surveillance, social marketing and funds management;
  • Wrote grants and established a fund to provide ongoing programmatic support for the educators to continue their work after her departure;
  • Established scholarships through the Women in Development initiative to enable local girls to continue their education;
  • Developed and led a 12-week, pre-service Peace Corps training program on community mobilization, project planning and evaluation, health and sexuality education, disease surveillance, and well and latrine construction; and
  • Established and led trainings for the first peer counselor program for Peace Corps volunteers in Togo.

Turner also informally adopted Komi, a bright, resourceful boy who essentially had been abandoned by his biological family. With her support over the years, he is completing his last year of university and plans to pursue a master’s degree. She has visited with him during several trips to Ipas’ Ghana office.

“My best friend from elementary school says I’ve been talking about being a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa since the third grade,” Turner says. “I don’t recall this, and I can’t say specifically what made me want to live in Africa and be a Peace Corps volunteer. It does make complete sense in the context of my entire life’s journey, though.”

Today, Turner is a senior training and services advisor at Ipas, an international nongovernmental organization that works to promote women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights. In that position, she draws on her education and training and her Peace Corps experience. In fact, she draws on the lessons of the past to craft the hope of a better future for all people. “Why do I think global service is important?” she asks. “Because I believe we should raise our children and train our students to see themselves as global citizens who have a connection with and responsibility to all other living beings and to serve as responsible stewards of the earth.”

She endeavors to do this with her 5-year-old son, Jaidan, health education students she mentors, and other young people.

Read more about Guinea worm on The Carter Center website.

Read more about Ipas at http://www.ipas.org.

View more photographs of Kat Turner’s Peace Corps experience on Flickr.
See videos about the Peace Corps / public health connection at YouTube.

Join our Peace Corps discussion on LinkedIn.

 


Carolina Public Health is a publication of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health. To view previous issues, please visit www.sph.unc.edu/cph.