Posted May 13, 2008
(Editor's note: The following article, with additional photography, is featured in the spring edition of Bucknell Magazine.)
By Andrew W.M. Beierle
When Mark Kampert ’06 arrived at his Peace Corps assignment in Andara, Namibia, in January 2007, he faced problems common to all teachers in underdeveloped regions — a lack of potable water for his students, hit-or-miss electricity in classrooms, limited stocks of basic supplies such as pencils and paper. But he also had to deal with something significantly more unusual: a man-eating crocodile that had killed a third-grade student seeking water on the banks of the Okavango River.
Kampert made it a priority to provide clean, safe water to the school to prevent similar tragedies, even though doing so meant digging a ditch the length of nine football fields to channel purified water to the school from a community hospital.
Mark Kampert '06 in Namibia.
“Mark was always very positive. His optimistic outlook gave me great confidence he would succeed in the Peace Corps,” says Assistant Professor of Classics Kevin Daly. “When he made the decision to bring water to the school, he was told ‘no’ several times, but he persisted. He had to go out and come up with funding—somebody had to dig the trench, pay for the pipe, pay for the connections. He got the pipe paid for and the connections paid for, but he did most of the digging himself. That’s the kind of person he is.”
Andara Project Fund
Having accomplished that challenging but rudimentary task, Kampert has set his sights on something a bit more 21st century: outfitting a computer lab through contributions to the Andara Project Fund.
On a holiday visit to his home of Uniontown, Pa., last year, he got the effort rolling through a series of speaking engagements at local schools with the help of the Community Foundation of Fayette County, which is accepting donations and managing the fund. Kampert is one of an ever-growing number of Bucknell alumni who have chosen to volunteer with the 47-year-old service organization established by President John F. Kennedy to promote understanding between Americans and citizens of the world.
The first Bucknellian served in 1961 — the corps’ inaugural year — and to date, 237 others have followed. Twenty-one alumni are volunteering in 18 countries — from Azerbaijan to Zambia—and this year, Bucknell moved up 15 spots to place sixth on the list of the top 25 small colleges and universities producing Peace Corps volunteers. The University of Chicago ranks first in this category, with 34 volunteers.
Passion for learning and life
“We believe in enrolling outstanding students who have a passion for both learning and life,” Bucknell President Brian C. Mitchell says. “We are proud that as alumni they engage at the highest levels with the world around them to help make a difference. Their high involvement in the Peace Corps is proof of that.”
For this article, Bucknell Magazine asked seven alumni to reflect on their Peace Corps service and share their motivations for volunteering, the challenges and rewards of their service, and the insights they gained abroad. “Graduate school representatives advised me to get some worldly experience if I wished to pursue international relations,” says Kampert. “What prompted me was the potential the Peace Corps had to provide me with respectable ‘real-world’ experience, valuable skills, and a personal challenge, while benefiting the greater good of humanity.”
Amanda Borda '03 in Nicaragua.
Amanda Borda ’03, an environmental education volunteer in Rancheria, Nicaragua, from 2004–06 says that her junior year abroad in Nottingham, England, whet her appetite for cross-cultural experiences. She now teaches fourth grade in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco, at a private school that fundraises to provide scholarships for students from low-income families.
Jesus Sanchez ’02 says his decision to join the Peace Corps was influenced by his family. Sanchez served in Cape Verde from 2002–04 and works as a personnel security specialist at Peace Corps headquarters in Washington, D.C.
“I have an older brother, Alberto, who served as a volunteer in Mozambique,” he says. “After hearing about his experiences, I knew it was something I wanted to do. I was intrigued by the thought of spending two years in a developing country doing whatever I could to make a difference.”
Chris Fellabaum’s ’05 motivations were manifold: to learn a second language, to gain experience and insights that would facilitate a career in international relations and politics, to get a background in teaching, and “to represent the U.S. overseas and volunteer to do a good thing.” He served his time in Russia.
Kimberly Spigelmire Bostwick ’02, who served in Armenia from 2002–06, majored in political science and sociology with a concentration in legal studies and originally intended to pursue a career in law.
“The internationally focused classes of my political science program opened my eyes to the injustice, poverty, and conflict in many countries around the world,” says Bostwick, who regularly travels to India and Sri Lanka as a program associate for the Baltimore-based Lutheran World Relief.
Madeleine Driscoll ’01 jumped at the chance to use her engineering degree without having to settle immediately into a 9-to-5 job. Her participation in the Bucknell Brigade also was an important influence. Her senior engineering project involved the design of a solid waste management plan for Nueva Vida, Nicaragua, presaging her Peace Corps community sanitation assignment in Jamaica.
While the overall impact of a Bucknell education on the decision to volunteer may be hard to quantify, the University community played a role in many of the volunteers’ decisions. As Peace Corps volunteers, these alumni faced a variety of challenges, among them difficult languages and unfamiliar cultural norms, which usually meant adjusting to a less frenetic, but sometimes frustratingly less productive, pace of life — as Borda puts it, “doing away with the ‘to-do list ethic’ we have here.”
Although Fellabaum’s primary motivation was acquiring a second language, it proved the most difficult aspect of his service. Now a master’s degree candidate in international security at the Graduate School of International Studies at the University of Denver, he says “learning a second language by total immersion is, in my opinion, the best way, but as a result of starting from scratch with Russian, I was isolated. Making friends and building relationships was difficult.”
That sense of isolation often was heightened by racial, ethnic, or cultural differences. In Armenia, Bostwick experienced an unsettling scrutiny. “I was asked aboutmy personal life, political views, habits, and income so often that it became routine to answer those questions,” she says.
Both Driscoll and Sanchez said they struggled with accomplishing their Peace Corps tasks with limited resources.
“I’d ask members of the community what it was that they wanted, and while their ideas were excellent, the difficulty was securing the necessary resources,” says Sanchez. “But while this was a frustration, it also turned out to be rewarding. It challenged me and the community members to find creative ways of obtaining the necessary resources. While we were never able to obtain all of the resources we hoped for, we were able to come up with creative ways of achieving our goals.”
“From an engineering or project perspective, it was very challenging to get things started or completed due to cultural differences, corrupt government officials, and a lack of resources,” Driscoll says. “A lot of motivation, perseverance, and patience was required to make a project successful.”
Carmen Mauriello ’02, who served in Mozambique from 2004–06, continues to provide assistance to his former students through the SOSTrust. “During my time in Chimoio, Mozambique, I taught many hard-working, highly motivated, and selfless Mozambican high school students,” he says. “Among the most remarkable of these was Sulsa Ozobra, who paid his way through high school by working seven days a week at the school snack bar. He devoted almost all of his free time to helping the elderly and children of the poor villages as a member of a humanitarian group.
“Sulsa’s greatest desire is to go to a university. However, it would be nearly impossible for him to come up with the $2,600 annual tuition for universities in Mozambique. So I set up a scholarship fund to provide an opportunity for Sulsa to attend a university in order to effect change in his impoverished community — with the hope that more of my former students could follow.”
Among the benefits of Peace Corps service the volunteers reported were new friends, a belief in the importance of volunteerism, and a broader understanding of the challenges developing countries face.
“I have a more international perspective on things now,” Fellabaum says. “I see things from a less America-centric view-point, which is especially valuable when studying international relations and U.S. foreign policy.” Sanchez found the slower pace of life in Cape Verde a benefit rather than a disadvantage.
“A short walk down the main road of my community, which would normally take a person a few minutes, generally took me 15–20 minutes, as I stopped by the houses or stores along the way to ask people how they were, how their families were doing,” he says. “So much happiness comes from taking a step back, soaking it all in, and realizing that I shouldn’t worry about the little things. Even today, I feel that way.”
For Bostwick, the benefits were very personal. In addition to creating programs that advocated for human rights, HIV/ AIDS awareness, health training, and leadership development among girls, Bostwick also found a husband in a fellow volunteer.
For Kampert, “The most rewarding part of my Peace Corps service is knowing that they want me to stay longer. I feel wanted, effective, and appreciated in my community.To me, that means I’m doing the job that President Kennedy had in mind when he started the Peace Corps.”
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