Catching Up with Women's Soccer Alumna Jane Wallis
Recent graduate continues work with Peace Corps in Zambia
Wallis' passion for public health grew during her undergraduate years as a student-athlete at GW, competing on the women's soccer team while becoming increasingly involved in The Grassroot Project, a student-athlete run organization that works to spread HIV/AIDS awareness throughout the DC-area through after school youth programs.
The Grassroot Project not only showed Wallis the impact she could have on her community, but also helped her break out of her shell, creating a higher level of comfort with the local youth and spreading important messages as she taught through games and activities.
Wallis' leadership skills really developed during her career with the women's soccer team.
"There isn't enough I can say about my experience as a student-athlete at GW," said Wallis. "When I think about who I was as a freshman (timid and a bit self-absorbed) in comparison to a senior (more confident and team-oriented) I realize how thankful I am for my experience playing soccer. I had teammates, coaches and friends that helped to show me what it means to care about others passionately and that the biggest impact you can have is the one you have on those around you, and in that way I think I became a leader."
As a Peace Corps community health volunteer in Zambia, Wallis lives in a rural village in Southern Province in a small two-room mud hut with no plumbing or electricity. Wallis works with community volunteers, the rural health clinic, women's health clubs and schools, among others, on health programs focusing on malaria, HIV and child health programs.
"The goal of my service is not to give handouts and donations, but to teach people to empower themselves and make health behavior changes that can benefit their families," said Wallis. "Additionally, Peace Corps puts equal importance into the cultural exchange component, which includes learning the local tribal language, living next to a host family and living very far from any other Americans. I'm able to teach about American culture as I learn to live in a completely different, yet beautiful way."
Wallis continues to impart the lessons she learned on the soccer field on the members of her village in Zambia.
"Resiliency is the theme of everything I do here in Zambia," said Wallis. "Programs fail for so many different reasons all the time; daily life is difficult. People may seem very excited but not follow through for a variety of reasons. But what I learned from playing soccer is that outcomes aren't always measured in outputs. There isn't always a quantity, number or specific pat on the back for the work you put in, but in the end you work through all the challenges and you keep your head up. The experience isn't about the championship game, but about the process, the season, the practices, the years, that led you there. Every failed program here in Zambia is part of the process, just like every loss in soccer made us stronger in some way. Not surprisingly, I have found Zambians to be some of the most resilient people I know. What I learned in sports is that with resiliency you need to set goals, you need to plan, and you need to prepare. This is the skill from sports I am working to teach my fellow community members in Zambia, sometimes resiliency can only get you so far if you don't have goals that you're trying to reach."
One of Wallis' biggest goals is to increase the number of HIV positive individuals who are on antiretroviral treatment. Since her arrival in June 2015, Wallis has worked with the community to raise funds and build a six-room comprehensive HIV treatment center that is slated to open on Dec. 16, providing increased access and quality of treatment to the 14,000 people living in the clinic's catchment area.
Wallis continues to share her experiences and spread her message beyond her Zambian community through her blog, where she delves into coping with frequent village deaths, how using cattle as currency can be a detriment to the local economy, and how being the owner of two cats can quickly turn into being the owner of 10. Wallis also compacted her experiences in a poignant article for the Peace Corps for World AIDS Day on Dec. 1.
While Wallis still has many goals to accomplish in the remainder of her two-year Peace Corps stint, the New York native intends to build a career in the field of global health an development.
"When I finish in Zambia in August I plan to look for jobs that keep me in this field," said Wallis. "Hopefully I'll have a little bit easier access to D.C. so I can catch Coach Barnes winning an Atlantic 10 Tournament championship."