January 17, 2003 - Winston Salem Journal: Tanzania PCV Karen Isaacs was assigned to teach chemistry in Masasi

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Headlines: Peace Corps Headlines - 2003: 01 January 2003 Peace Corps Headlines: January 17, 2003 - Winston Salem Journal: Tanzania PCV Karen Isaacs was assigned to teach chemistry in Masasi

By Admin1 (admin) on Thursday, January 16, 2003 - 11:42 pm: Edit Post

Tanzania PCV Karen Isaacs was assigned to teach chemistry in Masasi





Caption: Karen Isaacs hadn't traveled much before she got her Peace Corps assignment to teach at a girls school in Tanzania. (Photo Courtesy of Karen Isaacs)

Read and comment on this story from the Winston Salem Journal on Tanzania PCV Karen Isaacs who was assigned to teach chemistry in Masasi. Her parents, Jerry and Mary Isaacs, were not thrilled with her decision. "They were quite hesitant about it, and not the most overjoyed," said Isaacs, 24. "But I was expecting that. My father couldn't believe that, in this day and age, you couldn't contact someone by telephone." The path to the Peace Corps was filled with paperwork and interviews. Recruiters carefully screen applicants. They want to make sure volunteers are equipped with the coping skills needed to survive two years in a Third World country. Read the story at:

Heart Core*

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Heart Core
North Davidson, UNC grad relished the chance to work as a Peace Corps volunteer

By Lisa O'Donnell
JOURNAL REPORTER

LEXINGTON - Two years ago, Karen Isaacs' knowledge of Tanzania was limited to one fact. "I figured it was in Africa," she said. Her friends knew even less. When Isaacs told them that the Peace Corps had assigned her to teach in Tanzania, their typical reply was: "I didn't know the Peace Corps sent volunteers to Australia."

Tanzania sits just below Kenya on the eastern coast of Africa. The country is home to Mount Kilimanjaro and the exotic islands of Zanzibar - but not the Tasmanian devil.

"Once you realize it's south of Kenya, it's easy to place on the map. Most of what you think of with Kenya is true with Tanzania," Isaacs said. "Think Lion King and think Tanzania."

Isaacs has become much more familiar with Tanzania. She recently returned to her family's Davidson County home after completing a two-year assignment with the Peace Corps. Isaacs taught chemistry and biology at a girls school in Masasi.

Isaacs is a 1996 graduate of North Davidson High School. As a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she heard a few talks about the Peace Corps. During her senior year at college, Isaacs began thinking more of her future.

She knew she wanted to go to graduate school.

She also knew she needed a break from school.

The Peace Corps appealed to her. She could help people, and she knew that the organization would take care of her. It would pay for her transportation, housing and expenses.

Isaacs felt she could meet the mental and physical challenges needed to be a Peace Corps volunteer though she had not traveled much except for a trip to Toronto and a cruise to Puerto Rico. Most Peace Corp volunteers have either traveled extensively or studied abroad.

Her parents, Jerry and Mary Isaacs, were not thrilled with her decision. "They were quite hesitant about it, and not the most overjoyed," said Isaacs, 24. "But I was expecting that. My father couldn't believe that, in this day and age, you couldn't contact someone by telephone."

The path to the Peace Corps was filled with paperwork and interviews. Recruiters carefully screen applicants. They want to make sure volunteers are equipped with the coping skills needed to survive two years in a Third World country.

Isaacs didn't really care where she was assigned. She just wanted to go.

Her science background - she majored in biology at UNC - and her experience as a teaching assistant and tutor made her an ideal candidate for a teaching assignment in Tanzania.

Volunteers sent to Africa often end up teaching math or science, Isaacs said.

She arrived in Tanzania in September, 2000. She spent three months training for the job and learning Swahili, the official language of Tanzania. (English is also widely spoken.)

Isaacs was assigned to teach chemistry to eighth- and ninth-grade girls at a boarding school in Masasi, a city in a remote section of Tanzania.

The school looked nice from the outside, but it lacked several necessities. The classrooms were large, but there were not enough chairs and desks to accommodate the 50 or 60 students in her classes. The chemistry lab had gas taps but no gas.

She lived in a small house on campus. The house was made of cinder block and had a cement floor. She was fortunate to have electricity, but she did not have running water. Instead, she pumped water from a well and stored it in a storage bin the size of a trash can.

Isaacs also helped put together a camp for girls. It was billed as a sports camp, but it also included HIV/AIDS education. About 1.3 million Tanzanians are infected with HIV.

"It's big," Isaacs said about the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Tanzania. "It's everywhere, and they know it."

Isaacs and other camp counselors tried to empower the girls by teaching them how to refuse sexual advances. Some of the more educated, sophisticated girls don't have trouble saying no.

It's more difficult for girls to speak up in more rural areas of the country.

"Most people in Tanzania are starting to realize that it's a matter of behavior, and that can't change overnight," Isaacs said. "This is a people's culture that we are talking about."

Isaacs was in Masasi when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center. She, another Peace Corp volunteer in town and a local family watched coverage of the attack. Townspeople approached her on the street and offered condolences. Her colleagues at the school didn't mention the attack for a few days. She thinks they weren't sure how to approach the topic.

The Peace Corps reassured her that she was safe at her site.

Isaacs learned to slow down during her stay in Tanzania. Quiet and reserved by nature, she took pleasure in such simple pastimes as visiting with neighbors and writing in a journal.

She learned how to manage homesickness.

"No matter how hard it got I would inevitably see how beautiful the town was or how beautiful the hills around my house were or see something funny to take my mind off it," Isaacs said.

Leaving the school and community was hard. Isaacs returned Dec. 21 at the peak of the holiday season.

"It was very different. I felt rushed," she said. "It was like, 'Oh, this is Christmas. This is the way we do it again.'"

She has enjoyed being back. She has been visiting with friends, indulging in American cuisine and reveling in the variety of music offered on the radio. She's also able to exercise without drawing stares.

When she tried to run in Tanzania, townspeople would approach her quizzically and ask her if she was late to something or if she needed a ride.

Isaacs is applying to graduate schools. She wants to study public health. At some point later in life, she wants to return to Tanzania.

"I can't imagine not going back."

Lisa O'Donnell can be reached at 727-7420 or atlo'donnell@wsjournal.com
More about Peace Corps Volunteers who have served in Tanzania



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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Tanzania; Special Interests - Science Teaching

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