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Peace Corps - Margaret Fylstra '07

As many students often do these days, I entered my Senior year in College with little idea as to what I wanted to do upon graduation. I was a French and Management double major with lots of education, not much experience, and no clue. I had studied abroad the Spring semester of my Junior year in Nantes, France and thus my interest in continuing some form of international work was sparked. Additional travel experience and class work with professors in both the Management and French departments formed a passion for international humanitarian justice work and a quote from a current apartment-mate started to become a common wall decoration and email signature: Give bread to those who hunger and hunger for justice to those who have bread. With that I applied for the Peace Corps and to make a long application story short, I was nominated and invited to serve as a Small Enterprise Development Volunteer in Senegal, the Western-most country in Africa and that is where I am today.

I have been here now for six months, three months training in Thies, a major city east of the capital Dakar, and three months at my site. I live in a town of about 30,000 people called Guinguineo. It is located 20 km north of the major city Kaolack, known in the past for its peanut production industry. Farmers, however, are now having to find new cash crop plants as a result of the land taking a beating from the previous peanut industry. My name here is Aida Diop, and I live with a wonderful family and have some great work prospects in front of me. If you search Guinguineo on the web, you will probably get hits for articles about the volunteers who served before me, a well-known couple who did amazing work and fought hard for PCV rights in-country. I have been fortunate to have such a well established reputation as a result of those who came before me.

My main projects are currently a Bissap/Hibiscus proposal for la lutte contre la pauvrete in the surrounding villages, establishing a centralized boutique in a village 3 km away from my town to be the point of merchandise for other villages near by, helping my dad grow his restaurant, scholarship funds for girls at the middle school, an American cultural exchange club at the lycee, and various nutrition projects to be worked on with the health volunteer 7 km from me. Nutrition and education are the severely lacking elements of most of African life. I have always thought that the lack of education is the biggest social corruption in the world, and this added with the lack of child development as a result of improper feeding results in a culture doomed to not progress unless help is provided.

Life here is filled with ups and downs, but it is the challenges that make it worthwhile. I am learning a lot about myself and about how I can be tough in situations that I thought I never could. Everything is intimidating at first, from the language to the transportation system, but it all comes slowly and it is by taking things at your own pace and not comparing your service to others that you become happy with what you are doing. Some people progress faster in language, others have more work experience to get projects going. The volunteer community is an interesting mix of socially different Americans from across the country who all have come together for the common purpose of helping out, doing some good, and providing a cultural exchange with people here who otherwise would never know about life beyond their village. I have a long ways to go and a lot of maturing to do, but I know that when it is over, I will not want to leave.