October 3, 2002 - Plano Star Courier: RPCV Jamie Lovett worked on environmental project in Senegal

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RPCV Jamie Lovett worked on environmental project in Senegal

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Peace Corps experience changes life of Plano woman*

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Peace Corps experience changes life of Plano woman


Staff writer 10/03/2002

Caption: Jamie Lovett said her experience in Senegal, West Africa, taught her about other cultures and her own country. But now, she said, I want to stay here awhile. Its a cool place to be. Matt Nachtrieb/DFWCN photo

Following the 9/11 attack on the United States, and to the surprise of Peace Corps officials, applications to the aid organization increased by 17 percent. Peace Corps veteran Jamie Lovett, 25, said she, too, was pleasantly surprised.

A Plano resident, Lovett returned last June after two years of Peace Corps service in predominantly Muslim Senegal, West Africa.

"That's a good surprise. I was not sure people would want to go overseas. Particularly because a lot of people would go to Muslim countries," she said.

"Was I ever afraid? Oh, no, I was in such a peaceful place. The thought of any weapon there was so insane. I was in a rural place where everyone knew everyone," said Lovett.

Her primary project was to help bring the local school and villagers together to do an environmental project.

"I was one of the facilitators. The community was supposed to develop an action plan to improve the environment. Actually, I was experienced with helping them more with trees or water problems.

"I was there on Sept. 11, 2001," she said. "Some of my villagers knew (about the attack) before I did. They had a TV that they hooked up to a car battery about once a week. They had it on that night. I heard about it the next morning.

"The villagers didn't always understand what happened because their language doesn't have words like 'bomb,'" she said.

"When they found out, they said they were sorry. They asked if my family was okay," she said. "They thought it was bad and evil and they didn't understand why someone would do something that destructive.

"They were concerned about the people who were hurt and died. Some more educated people were upset by the stereotyping of Muslims as being hateful. 'We're not like that,' they told me."

In America, the attacks led to a wakeup call for some, said Jesus Garcia, spokesman for the Dallas office of the U.S. Peace Corps, as the agency is formerly called.

"Nationwide, our applications are up 17 percent compared to 2001-2002. Some of the people who came in after 9/11 mentioned that as a reason for their application. They saw it as a wakeup call for what they wanted to do with their lives.

"A woman who was in the World Trade Center and escaped decided to join the Peace Corps. Our volunteers overseas have been comforted by people coming up to them and saying how sorry they are," Garcia said.

Two other returned volunteers from Plano recalled how their service changed their lives.

Marian Flinchburgh, a teacher at Gulledge Elementary School in Plano, is married to Troy and has two daughters: Anna, 10, and Erin, 7. She served in Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo, from 1985 to 1987 when 21.

"I did a teacher training program for elementary school teachers in Zaire. Mostly I taught preventive medicine," she said.

"It influenced me in so many ways. People who lived in complete poverty were emphasizing family and that influenced I how I look at my family," she said.

"It made me think a lot about communication. If you want to talk to someone in Zaire, you have to go to them. It makes relationships deeper because you are always dealing face-to-face and people always have time for each other," Flinchburgh said.

"When you come back, it seems like everyone is moving very quickly," she said.

The Plano teacher said one secondary project was caring for sick children. It was a difficult assignment for her.

Seeing children die of childhood diseases because of the lack of immunization has made her a staunch defender of immunizations against rubella, polio, tetanus - all the childhood diseases. It also made her a defender of some processed foods, she said.

"We are so much more immune in our systems because of our diets and the immunizations we get. We are so fortunate," Flinchburgh said.

Roger Chapin, a Richardson resident, served in Peru from 1966 to 1968.

Although he was assigned to community development, a German engineer who was building roads and irrigation systems "grabbed me as a surveyor," he said.

"The initial adjustment was difficult. I was in a very isolated area. The nearest Peace Corps volunteer would be a six-hour trip.

"The work experience may not be something you immediately apply to your life, but you gain a better understanding how others might view the world," Chapin said.

After returning from his service, Chapin earned a master's degree in business administration and went to work for a multinational company.

Flinchburgh and Lovett had favorite secondary Corps projects.

Flinchburgh worked in a maternity ward when school was closed.

"I loved it; it was so cool," she said. "I could see women come in and have their babies. That influenced my own maternity choices."

When her original project floundered, Lovett and several other volunteers formed a girls' club.

"A lot of the girls are restricted and can't go to school," she said. "We took them to the city where they might never have been able to go.

"We talked to them about life skills. We had to ask the fathers and the village chief for permission to take them.

"I had a girl I wanted to take whose father was not liberal. I asked him and he finally said I could take her. We were there for over a year and they trusted us.

"I'm a definite promoter of education, now. I think it's a life tool. We have an amazing opportunity here in America with education.

"I was in a Third World country. How their country was developed, their religion, the culture, how the country works together, business, family values, their strong beliefs, makes you able to come back and see how our country works.

"Here, if a street is torn up, you can ask why or when it will be fixed," she said. "There are a lot of things where I was, you never know why things are done and no one questions because you're not supposed to know.

"The rights we have are just great. I appreciate things a lot more here and I'm grateful," Lovett said.

The former volunteer has applied to a program that recruits new teachers.

"It's a two-year program and it will give me a certificate to teach and help with repaying my student loan. It's an inside-the-United States program. I definitely want to stay here awhile. It's a cool place to be," Lovett said.

Today, Peace Corps Volunteers work in 70 countries. A total of 61 percent of volunteers are female, 91 percent are single and 15 percent are minorities. The average volunteer is 28 while the oldest is 82.

Gaddi Vasquez, the agency's first Hispanic director, was nominated by President George W. Bush and sworn in on Feb. 15, 2002.

Contact Johanna M. Brewer at 972 543-2262 or brewerj@dfwcn.com.

©Plano Star Courier 2002

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