Graduate applies SON experience to Peace Corps assignment

Planning to serve two years on their Peace Corps assignment in Mauritania, Baker University alumni Katie Weyhrauch Yunghans and her husband, Mike Yunghans, were forced to evacuate as terror groups targeted Westerners in northwest Africa.

Katie, CAS ’03 and SON ’05, and Mike, CAS ’02, left the country in northwest Africa in August 2009, traveled abroad a month before returning home to Kansas, a year earlier than expected.

“We were very sad to leave, especially because the decision was made very suddenly and we didn’t have much opportunity to pack or say good-bye to our friends,” Katie said. “We never felt threatened at our site and in many ways we felt safer there than we do in the United States. However, we feel that it was the right decision to pull the volunteers out. Since our departure, several European aid workers have been kidnapped while traveling between cities in Mauritania.”

During her time as a Peace Corps volunteer, Katie performed community health assessments and coordinated health education projects. She often referred to the lessons she learned at the Baker School of Nursing, particularly in community nursing.

“A Peace Corps volunteer’s job is essentially a big ‘change project’ – assess the community, find out the health needs, see where you might be able to make an impact, plan and implement the project,” she said.

Challenged during their time in the Sahara Desert, Katie had to learn local dialects to communicate. Conditions called for her to work on patients when gloves weren’t available for protection, adapt to situations when there was no reliable trash disposal or biohazard removal, and memorize names of medications using European pharmaceutical companies instead of American.

“It was very eye-opening to see that in terms of international health,” she said. “I realized I still have a lot to learn.”

Katie enjoyed regularly visiting a prenatal clinic and providing education to the health care professionals and the women who came to the clinic.

“In many cases, I ended up learning as much, if not more, than I taught,” she said. “ I worked with a local nongovernmental organization that educated the community about smoking cessation and the harmful effects of tobacco on the body.”

Promoting friendship and world peace through cultural exchange is part of the Peace Corps’ mission. Katie enjoyed sharing her American stories with the new friends she encountered.

“I visited many people in their homes regularly and formed close friendships in my community,” she said. “I shared many of my experiences from the United States and learned a lot about Mauritanian views in return. Because most of the information Mauritanians get about America comes from our pop culture, such as TV shows and music videos, there were often misperceptions about what life is like in the U.S.”

After returning to the Kansas City area, Katie began working as a labor and delivery nurse in Kansas City. She plans to start graduate work this fall in a nurse-midwife program.

Katie always will remember the confidence she gained from the challenges she faced in the Peace Corps.

“I learned about my own culture and realized some of the beliefs and biases I didn’t even know I had,” Katie said. “I learned more about how I learn and process new ideas. I learned more about how to cope in difficult situations. I learned what it’s like to be a member of a minority, both racial and religious. The experience also helped me realize that I want to do more in international public health for the future of my career.”

Categories: Nursing

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