July 23, 2002 - Nashua Telegraph: Remembering the life cut short of Madagascar PCV Nancy Coutu
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July 23, 2002 - Nashua Telegraph: Remembering the life cut short of Madagascar PCV Nancy Coutu
Remembering the life cut short of Madagascar PCV Nancy Coutu
Read and comment on this story from the Nashua Telegraph on a book which has been published postumously from the journals of Nancy Coutu. Ms. Coutu was a volunteer who was murdered in the field in 1996. The book was edited by her mother based on the extensive letters and journals which Ms. Coutu kept based on her experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer in Madagascar. Read the story at:
Remembering a life cut short*
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Remembering a life cut short
By ANNE LUNDREGAN, Telegraph Staff firstname.lastname@example.org
She wrote of planting vegetables, grinding rice and building a village school.
Nancy Coutu filled pages in her journals and letters to her family with her experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer in Madagascar.
She wrote about seeing lemurs and cockroaches, about children in dirty and ripped clothing and about teaching villagers how to sing Christmas songs.
Her mother, Connie, compiled those letters and journal writings for a book, "Souvenirs de Nancy." (Top Shelf Books; $14.95; 367 pages)
Nancy, who grew up in Hudson, was murdered by three men in April 1996 near the remote village of Bereketa, where she was living.
While working in the Peace Corps, Nancy asked her family to save the letters she mailed them. She also sent her mother rolls of film for safekeeping.
Soon after Nancy died at age 29, Connie received about three journals in the mail.
"Her journals were so detailed," she recalled.
Looking at the journals and letters, Connie thought that if her daughter had returned safely she would have wanted to write a book about her experiences.
Instead, Connie, who lived in Florida, became the one in charge of reading all her daughter’s words, editing them and compiling a book.
She began work on the book shortly after Nancy’s death.
"It was really a joy because she was alive to me," Connie said.
The journal entries and letters reflect Nancy’s gregarious nature, her leadership and her get-it-done attitude, Connie said.
But the book doesn’t include everything; Connie did not include some entries that were too personal or were redundant.
It often took two to three weeks for Nancy’s letters to reach home. In addition to writing to her family, she wrote letters to her mother’s classes and to friends.
It was a chore for Nancy to send and receive mail. She had to bicycle 35 miles to a nearby town to pick up her mail, a trip she made almost every two weeks.
Her letters home realistically portrayed the challenges and rewards of being a Peace Corps volunteer and the absolute poverty she encountered, said Connie, who had visited her daughter in Madagascar.
"When I was typing this up, everything was very realistic," she said. "The trip changed me . . . to realized what life is like in a Third World country is an experience no one can get unless they’re there."
Most people in the United States probably cannot imagine living without running water or electricity, Connie said.
"The beauty of the people was everywhere, but so was the poverty," she said.
Nancy entered the Peace Corps after studying wildlife management at the University of New Hampshire. She started school late, at age 22, after working for several years.
For two summers, Nancy worked at Elm Brook Park in West Hopkinton. While there, she started a junior rangers’ program. There is now a memorial at the park to her.
In her application to the Peace Corps, Nancy wrote that she wanted to "dive into a challenging job, one where I can make a difference in the lives of others and that will make a difference in my life."
Initially her mother was against the idea, arguing that there were poor people in the United States who Nancy could help.
"I didn’t want her to go," Connie said.
She told her daughter that she’d be going to a place where she didn’t know how U.S. citizens were accepted and that it may be dangerous.
"She felt she had to go . . . it was a calling," Connie said. "She went with my blessing."
"She really loved helping others and making a difference in their lives, but there many times it was very difficult for her."
While in Bereketa, Nancy helped the villagers grow vegetables for money to be used for a community pharmacy, rebuild the village school and construct a hospital.
There were dangers, however, and Connie feels that the Peace Corps should have done more to protect Nancy and other volunteers.
"I feel that the Peace Corps does not do nearly enough to keep their people protected," she said. "There are Americans who go into help the poor of the world, but they need more protection."
Connie thinks that there should be two volunteers on every site, that volunteers should be taught self-defense and have the capability to communicate with the corp’s main office.
Since Nancy’s death, her family, friends and the people she worked with have sought numerous ways to memorialize her life. She was knighted in Madagascar, a rare honor for a woman. A clinic in Bereketa was dedicated to her, as was as a Peace Corps stamp.
For the people in her village, Nancy’s death was like losing a family member.
"Everyone’s faces were wet with tears," fellow volunteer Joe Schaeffer wrote Connie in a letter. "I want to express somehow what this scene means to the Malagasy. They were treating the situation exactly as they would have had it been someone of the village who had been killed."
Connie hopes that the book helps people understand what it means to the Peace Corps and to learn more about Nancy.
"The book really reflects here," she said. "By the end of the book they get to know her."
Anne Lundregan can be reached at 594-6449.
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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; RPCVs - Obituaries; Peace Corps - Safety and Security; COS - Madagascar
I had the pleasure of working with Nancy her 1st season at Hopkinton Lake during the summer of 1992 as a Park Ranger in Elm Brook Park at the Hopkinton-Everett Lake Project, Contoocook, NH. I have always deeply regretted that world events prevented me from gong back the next season to work with here again. She had a special way with people & kids. She was loved and enjoyed by all who knew here. It was truly a pleasure to have been able to work with her that summer. I consider myself fortunate that our paths crossed and that I had a chance to know her. She was always the ultimate optimist and worked hard, many times going out of her way, to make our interpretive program the best they could be despite the lack of modern audio/visual facilities to work with. She even went off project to post flies about our programs. She loved the nature trail and enjoyed taking the kids out on nature hikes.
I remember one week she had scheduled frog race for the kids and we couldn’t find but one frog in the park so she went off project looking for frogs for here kids to race and got stuck. She called me and I had to go get her unstuck that is the kind of effort she put into everything she did.
She had a bubbly personality and jovial nature that you couldn’t help but like and a sense of humor that made here a joy to be around. Always laughing, always joking and looking at the lighter side of things. I look back on that summer with many fond memories of our joking & kidding each other and all the good times we had working together. I will treasure those memories & moments forever.
I remember we were sitting at the gate one evening just before closing time all chatting when my girlfriend at the time busted her for her for her accent, she laughed so hard that she fell backwards off the gate in slow motion just like in a cartoon. Once we saw she was alright we all had a good laugh at her expense.
She referred to herself as the “desiel darling” of Elm Brook because she loved to drive the Jeep pickup used to fuel the loader. We always joked with her about first being able to hear coming when she hit the speed bumps with a KAWAMMM! Then sniff, aahh, the “whiff of approaching diesel”, we know it was Nancy coming to the information booth. She would laugh and laugh.
In just 4 short month that small group of 3 Park Rangers, none whom had ever worked for the Corps before, with myself being to only one having worked for the government in similar jobs before but not as a naturalist and Nancy being the only one who had actually been a Naturalist at a resort, along with the staff at Hopkinton Lake managed to amass a list of accomplishments, that still stands 20 years later, unmatched by any Ranger staff I’ve worked with. Next May 2012, will mark the 20th anniversary of the day I walked into the office at Hopkinton Lake where I met Nancy for the first time and September when I walked out and into the history books not realizing I had just finished working with one of the best Ranger staffs I would work with since I started my career in 1983 at Dinosaur National Monument. Few of those feats have been bested individually and collectively together no other Project has come close to matching what we managed to achieve in the Recreation management field. She was a big part of that effort.
Every time I’m in NH I make it a point to return to Elm Brook Park and spent a few minutes at her Memorial there to reflect & remember my time there, working with her and say a prayer for her. Thank you to all who made that possible.
While I never met any of her family my deepest condolences go out to them for there tragic loss. The news of her death was a shock. I hope this letter gets past on to them as I want them to know that I truly enjoyed working with & knowing her. She fulfilled her deepest desire, to make the world a better place, in ways she never fully knew. She spread sunshine, laughter and joy in the hearts of all who know her and was liked by all that met her. I for one consider myself to be blessed and enriched by her presence. I hope the family finds some comfort in the knowledge that she did make a difference with her life, thank you for sharing her with us. It took me till now to find this posting, but later is better than not at all.
Thank you Nancy for the laughs, the wonderful memories, the good times and the friendship. You were a terrific coworker. You made the world a better place with your presence and enriched the lives of those of us who had the pleasure & honor of knowing you. May God give you peace, comfort and reward you for your efforts to make the world a better place for all who met you. Rest in peace Nancy, you are missed in this world by those who know you.
AKA “Ranger Rick” of Elm Brook Park,
Summer of 1992
Park Ranger for the Army Corps of Engineers, DeGray Lake field Office,
Arkadelphia, AR 71923