October 10, 2002 - Main Line Life: The last U.S. Peace Corps volunteer evacuated from the civil war in the Ivory Coast

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Headlines: Peace Corps Headlines - 2002: 10 October 2002 Peace Corps Headlines: October 10, 2002 - Main Line Life: The last U.S. Peace Corps volunteer evacuated from the civil war in the Ivory Coast

By Admin1 (admin) on Monday, October 14, 2002 - 12:44 pm: Edit Post

The last U.S. Peace Corps volunteer evacuated from the civil war in the Ivory Coast

Read and comment on this story from Main Line Life on Alexandra Shirreffs, who was the last U.S. Peace Corps volunteer evacuated from the civil war in the Ivory Coast at:

Out of Africa: Peace Corps survivor's story from Ivory Coast*

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.

Out of Africa: Peace Corps survivor's story from Ivory Coast

By:Jim McCaffrey October 10, 2002

This is the story of Alexandra Shirreffs, the last U.S. Peace Corp volunteer evacuated from the civil war in the Ivory Coast.

She is a recent graduate of Fordham University and a 1997 alumnus of Haverford High School. She is 23 and, until last week, a Peace Corp Volunteer in Côte d'Ivoire (otherwise known as the Ivory Coast).

For six months, she had worked in a remote village in the country's core. She assisted midwives, steered people to the health clinic, distributed information on prenatal care and helped with vaccinations.

Her village near Lake Kossou is an hour's walk to a town that is really just a post office and a gas station.

The Ivory Coast population is dominated by Christian inhabitants in the south along the gulf and by Muslims in the north.

Felix Houphou't-Boigny ruled as a virtual king from independence in 1960 until his death in 1993. Thanks to a prosperous cocoa export and plenty of foreign investment, Côte d'Ivoire was one of the most prosperous countries in West Africa under his rule.

Since Houphou't-Boigny's death, there has been turmoil. Coups and economic crisis followed the collapse of cocoa prices.

The three rulers since Houphou't-Boigny have all been Christian. Because Muslims outnumber Christians, the rulers have tried to keep power by the ruthless politics of race.

Northern Muslims were no longer considered pure Ivoirians. They are harassed and removed from positions of authority. Popular northern leaders are always disqualified from running for office by the rulers.

Shirreffs' understanding of Cote d'Ivoire politics was minimal. Her job was to focus on the health and safety of the people with whom she was working.

Three weeks ago, civil war broke out between the Muslims and Christians. It was days before she even knew.

For nearly two weeks she was trapped alone, an unreliable phone her only contact to help, in a country at war with itself. To her north and often around her were the rebels. Below her was the government army desperate to hold on to power.

Through her long wait for rescue, Shirreffs remained incredibly calm.

"I was never scared,"she wrote her family this week from a hotel room in Accra, Ghana, where French and American military evacuated the 133 Peace Corps volunteers in Cote d'Ivoire. "I was on my own for a while but on Tuesday [Oct. 1] I got a truck from Beoumi [on Lake Kossou] to Bouake about a 40-mile drive through rebel checkpoints. There were armed men with AK-47s and grenade launchers at these posts. A French military helicopter took us from Bouake to Yamassoukro [the capital city]. An Air Force cargo jet took us from there to Accra."

In a transatlantic phone interview this week from Ghana, Shirreffs said most of the volunteers - including Eric Mercurio of Bryn Mawr who had only been in the country a few weeks - had gotten out early in the conflict.

"I thought since this wasn't an election year, they were free of those kind of problems," she said. "That was not the case.

"We didn't know anything about what was going on. There was only a pro-government radio. It didn't tell us anything. We got a call in the village the Sunday after everything started. There was no way for me to get around the blockades. The north and south were blocked. I could go west but that only led to a ferry. Transportation was unreliable. There was nothing to do but wait."

Sherriffs said it was strange to return to Bouake.

"I had been there just two weeks before. It was a lively town," she recalled. "When we went through there on the way to a military base after everything started, it was deserted. Nothing was open. There were rebel checkpoints. Everywhere cars were burned out."

She carries no grudges about being left to fend for herself.

"It wasn't the Peace Corps' fault this happened," she said. "There was nothing they could do. It was very difficult to make arrangements for my evacuation. The French government had to get involved."

The Peace Corps is ending its service in Cote d'Ivoire. Shirreffs isn't sure what she will do next.

"I wasn't going to think about what I would do next for another year-and-a-half," Shirreffs said. "I may travel. I may see what other programs open up."

Or, as she wrote facetiously to her family, "Once I know my options I'll let you know what's next. Who knows? Maybe I'll just join rebel forces in Cote d'Ivoire and hang out there for a while."

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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Special Reprots; COS - Ivory Coast



By john delaney ( on Thursday, December 02, 2004 - 6:12 pm: Edit Post

hello everyone

By assale ( on Monday, March 23, 2009 - 5:55 pm: Edit Post

my name is ASSALE i'am business management student in IVORY COST I met a girl in 2002 in Sassandra she named Sara and was in peace corporation
today i would like contact her
thank you

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