January 6, 2003 - The Greeneville Sun: Benin PCV Ellen Smead focuses on nutrition for babies

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By Admin1 (admin) on Sunday, January 12, 2003 - 2:35 pm: Edit Post

Benin PCV Ellen Smead focuses on nutrition for babies

Caption: Part of Ellen Smead’s volunteer work with the Peace Corps in the village of Pehunco, in Benin, West Africa, focuses on nutrition for babies. Here she is shown with Yanki, who was born in May. Photo Special to The Greeneville Sun

Read and comment on this story from The Greeneville Sun on PCV Ellen Smead who works with mothers in Benin on nutrition for babies at:

Former Greenevillian Working With Villagers In West Africa’s Benin*

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

Former Greenevillian Working With Villagers In West Africa’s Benin

By: By AMY OVERBAY/Staff Writer
Source: The Greeneville Sun

The next time your electricity goes out and you react with exasperation or irritation, consider that there are those who willingly live under such conditions.

They include Peace Corps volunteers, such as Ellen Smead, of Greeneville. She has been living without electricity or running water for just over a year now in the West African country of Benin.

Smead, 24, specializes in health education in a town of about 6,000 people called Pehunco.

“I’ve learned so much in the last year,” Smead said during a recent interview at her mother’s home here.

She says she has come to realize that most of the world’s people live under very different conditions from those enjoyed by Americans.

“We forget that every day, I think.” Smead said. “It’s been good for me to see that.” She is the daughter of Teddi Grace, and of Dr. Bill and Pam Smead, all of Greeneville.

90-Degree Weather

Benin is a country of about 6.8 million people located west of Nigeria. It is slightly smaller than Pennsylvania and has a tropical climate with two seasons. The temperature usually remains in the 90-degree range but gets a little cooler during the rainy season, which is from May to September, Ellen Smead said.

She described in the interview how she lives in two rooms in half of a house made of cement with a tin roof.

These homes are in clusters surrounding “concession” areas, where women clean clothes and cook, using well water.

Educating Villagers Smead works at the Center of Social Promotion in her village, where she focuses on three areas of health education.

• First, she educates villagers about ways to prevent the spread of AIDS. A group of three Beninese people help her give presentations to groups twice a month.

Smead said having Beninese people help her is an advantage because the people they attempt to educate are more trusting of other Beninese.

• Second, she places major focus on nutrition education, especially for babies. She explained that she conducts monthly baby weighings in Pehunco and nine smaller surrounding villages.

She charts the babies’ weights from birth to two years and offers nutritional counseling for mothers whose babies are underweight.

• Third, she promotes the education of girls. She noted in the interview that, in the village where she works, many families send only their sons to school, while the daughters are left at home.

In this capacity, she is the Peace Corps’ regional representative for Gender & Development and coordinates information for the regional office in Cotonou, Benin’s largest city.

‘Villagers Very Welcoming’

Smead describes her experiences in Benin as “very different” and “difficult to describe.” “I never could have imagined what I was going to see or how I was going to live,” she said.

Smead recalled that it took until September 2002 for her to feel really comfortable in her new environment. However, she said, the people in Pehunco have been very welcoming to her.

Smead often wears the brightly colored dresses that other Beninese women make and wear.

She says she eats a lot of beans and rice, along with pasta and yams and an African food made of pounded corn called pate (pronounced “pot”).

There are times when she misses American foods, she said.

But mostly what she misses, she added, is enjoying a good meal in the company of close friends and family. Summing up her experience in Benin, Smead said, “It’s been great!”

In 100 Countries

Smead is one of about 7,000 Americans who are Peace Corps volunteers in more than 100 countries throughout the world.

She said one of her older sisters was the first member of her family to become interested in volunteering for the Peace Corps. After reading some of her sister’s literature about the Peace Corps and doing additional research on the Internet during her junior year at Rhodes College in Memphis, Ellen said, she herself decided to apply. She applied during her senior year in college and had a telephone interview just before she received her bachelor of arts degree in international studies in 2001. The interview lasted about an hour and included discussion about her interests and experiences, such as her work with the Refugee Services Program through Catholic Charities in Memphis. The interview also gauged her reaction to adverse living conditions, including a drastic change in diet. Chose West Africa Smead was offered her choice of working in health education in West Africa or teaching English in East Asia.

Since she has experience speaking French, Smead knew she would be better suited for work in West Africa, where French is widely spoken.

In July 2001, she received an invitation packet to be a rural community health volunteer in Benin. She was scheduled to go to Philadelphia on Sept. 12, 2001, to meet a group of 37 other Peace Corps volunteers. That trip was delayed until Oct. 9, 2001, because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. Finally, Smead boarded a long flight to Benin, where she took three months of training while living with host families in the same village as 10 other health volunteers. Part of her training included learning some of the Bariba language, which is spoken in the village of Pehunco. Returns This Week She receives quarterly living allowances and accrues a readjustment allowance that will be paid to her at the end of her service.

She plans to finish her Peace Corps work in December 2003.

After her service in the Peace Corps, Smead plans to earn a graduate degree in public health and work in programs that focus on international health and development.

After three weeks at home, Smead will return to Africa this Thursday.
More about Peace Corps Volunteers in Benin

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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Benin; PCVs in the Field; Special Interests - Nutrition



By Marco Emma on Thursday, September 04, 2003 - 7:28 am: Edit Post

I am a very good italian friend of Ellen Smead, a PCV in Benin. I really would like to contact her but I have no contact details. Could you provide me with her email address or postal address. Otherwise would you mind to let her know how much proud I am of her and that I am very fond of her?
thank you

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