Like many of the boomer generation, I had thought about volunteering with the Peace Corps after graduating from college in 1972 but opted to get married and have a family instead.
I also worked in my career as a Public Health Nutritionist until 2009. When my husband died suddenly in 2007 I had to ask myself what would I do to jump-start my life again.
I revisited my old goal of working in developing countries and looked for an organization as the vehicle to send me. It was disappointing that many would not send older Americans. It was a friend who informed me that her friend entered the Peace Corps at age 50 and loved it. I visited their website and started an application, knowing that I qualified for full retirement benefits from my job in 2009. Africa was my first choice but when the invitation came for service in Zambia it described very primitive living conditions and I was afraid that I wasn’t up to it physically. My daughter wrote of her admiration for what I was embarking upon. It was her belief in me that gave me the confidence to accept the appointment.
As it turned out I brought great skills in living a healthy lifestyle which made me very well suited to village life. Cooking nutritious meals from local foods, getting adequate sleep enabled me to stay well throughout my years in service. All my job skills were a real asset to the village and to Peace Corps. They gave me the confidence that I had something to contribute toward development and health promotion.
Because I would not qualify for Medicare until 2012, I applied for and was accepted for an extension year in Zambia working for the National Food and Nutrition Commission.
The entry which follows is a blog post written during my 3rd year of service. It describes just one of many projects which I undertook during my tenure in Peace Corps.
I mentioned to my co-workers here at National Food And Nutrition Commission that I wanted to help the farmers of Mpepo to benefit from the education and resources provided by Heifer Foundation. The Bemba tribe does not have a long history of farming and no tradition of animal husbandry. (I have noted their general fear of animals, including dogs and cats.) Without eggs, meat, or milk,their diet is sadly lacking in High Biological Protein, Iron, and Zinc–all vital for growth and development. They have high rates of childhood stunting and poor academic record as result of limited brain development.
When I read of the fabulous work Hiefer Foundation does by working in Zambian communities by gifting “starter” livestock and educating them in the skills to care for animals, I knew that Mpepo would benefit greatly from this program. I had already conducted a market research of the local “tuck shop” owners and found that they sell 1,000 eggs per month–all imported from ZamChick. I contacted our resident Agricultural Camp Officer and found that he had been meeting for two years with a group of farmers who are interested in Animal Husbandry. He compiled a list of 14 farmers to be recipients of the Hiefer animals. The big fear is that the hungry recipients will slaughter the animals instead of breeding and working them. So the program is careful to educate and select the farmers themselves. The Camp Officer and nearby agriculture worker can provide the local supervision of the program. I called Hiefer Zambia, and was told that I should write a formal request AND find a sponsor to pay for the program. I wrote the letter for the camp officer and accidentally found an interested group in the US over a power breakfast in Chicago.
In December, I mentioned to Mr. Mofu, our local Agriculture contact that I wanted to meet someone in Hiefer face-to-face to get a firm commitment. He got very interested in partnering NFNC with Hiefer and bringing joint food and nutrition services to this community.