The magazine for Western Washington University
Stories

Albania

Encouraging women to get out and exercise

Print this story
Emily Thorn ('10, Anthropology - Biocultural Concentration) is a community health educator in a small town in Albania. She's pictured here with a school nurse in the pediatric room that they painted together in a health center. "My primary position is in the local health center, where I'm working with the health promotions office on a diet and lifestyle intervention for residents with chronic high blood pressure," Thorn says. "Some days we make house visits and others we spend on the phone or counseling patients at the clinic. Another volunteer and I lead afternoon aerobics sessions for community women a few times a week in the school dormitory. We also co-teach two sets of English courses three times a week with high school students. In the past we've worked with these students on community-based projects related to environmental awareness and gender equity." | Photo by courtesy of Emily Thorn
Emily Thorn ('10, Anthropology - Biocultural Concentration) is a community health educator in a small town in Albania. She's pictured here with a science teacher and several youth at a gender equity initiative they were involved in spring 2012. "Health education is easily the most under-structured sector in Peace Corps Albania, but this is partly why freshly minted graduates are qualified to help," Thorn says. "Additionally, there is stigma and taboo surrounding sexual health topics, so as Americans we're in the unique position to discuss and clarify information that other health professionals may avoid." | Photo by courtesy of Emily Thorn

When the Albanian women came to their first exercise class wearing silk blouses and high-heeled shoes, Emily Thorn knew she was on the right track.

As a Peace Corps Volunteer working as a community health educator in a small city in Albania, Thorn (’10, Anthropology – Biocultural Concentration) helped launch the class to provide more opportunities for women.

“We saw that society reinforced a sedentary lifestyle in women, who had little opportunity to be active because it wasn't culturally normal for them to spend time or exercise out in public,” Thorn says.

“Within the first month, however, sessions increased from three to four times a week and participants began asking for copies of the video to exercise at home on days we didn’t meet.”

Soon, the women were moving on from aerobic routines to speed walking the steep streets of their foothills town. They met each other for coffee afterwards and took brisk morning walks together outside of class.

“We can't fully measure the extent to which our aerobics program increased physical activity in the community,” Thorn says. “But the experience taught me that even as we strive to improve measuring, we can strengthen – even maximize – outcomes by building meaningful relationships.”