January 16, 2002 - Tulsa World: PCV Laura Kennedy to work in Parks and Wildlife Conservation Extension

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PCV Laura Kennedy to work in Parks and Wildlife Conservation Extension

Read and comment on this excerpt from an article from the Tulsa World on PCV Laura Kennedy who is traveling to Malawi to work in Parks and Wildlife Conservation Extension at:

Peace Corps stint is next for Kennedy *

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Peace Corps stint is next for Kennedy

Jan 16, 2002 - Tulsa World Author(s): Becky Clark Credit:World Staff Writer

After traveling to exotic locales to study birds, reptiles and even goats, Laura Kennedy is turning her efforts to humans.

Packing for her Feb. 25 departure, Kennedy is getting ready for a two-year stint with the Peace Corps, working in Malawi, Africa.

"The title is Parks and Wildlife Conservation Extension," she said of her new post, where she will live in a mud hut with a grass and tin roof just like native inhabitants.

In Malawi, she will focus on ways to help people in the area work with their sustainable resources in conjunction with Africa's Department of National Parks and Wildlife.

Working with people is a new angle for Kennedy, who recently returned from postings on Tern Island in the French Frigate Shoals and the Swiss Alps.

Tern Island, a protected island a half-mile long by 500 feet wide, is located about 700 miles northwest of Honolulu and was once used for military purposes. Kennedy and three fellow workers were dropped on the island, with their allotted supplies, and stayed in the old barracks.

Solar panels provided electricity, but they had to conserve, which meant no long showers and only one shower apiece each day. Working as a volunteer biologist, she was there to study the 15 species of seabirds that inhabit the island. Kennedy and her co- workers, though, lived for "plane day" when crates of food and other supplies would arrive.

During her stay on the island, communicating with the outside world was difficult, particularly since the island is part of the protected Hawaiian Islands National Refuge and so visitors are not allowed. E-mail was an option, but the quartet of volunteer workers were also allotted two hours of radio phone time, or about 30 minutes each, over the weekend.

"My mom always knew when it was me because you have to say 'Over.' I'd say, 'Hi mom, over.' She said it was like when my dad was in Vietnam, and they spoke by radio phone," Kennedy said.

To pass what free time she had during her three month stay, Kennedy gathered broken glass from around the island to create wind chimes and studied the stars, far from any city lights that could dim their splendor.

After a brief stop to visit family in Broken Arrow, Kennedy's adventure in the Swiss Alps began. Working in conjunction with Switzerland's University of Bern, she spent her Alpine time high in the treetops studying the effects of tourism on chamois, similar to a mountain goat.

In a lookout post only slightly bigger than a deer stand, Kennedy and eight others, divided among three towers, worked three days at a time on four-hour shifts, like 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

"You get really good at being able to fall asleep in 10 minutes when your shift is over. I'd stretch and jump around to stay warm and awake," she said.

On days off, she traveled through an area clipped straight from the opening sequence of the "Sound of Music," which was actually filmed near where Kennedy stayed.

Traveling by train, she shopped some, but found things to be quite expensive, particularly since she had to pay her own travel and food expenses, while housing was provided.

"We ate potatoes, beans. We didn't buy much meat, and the cheese. Their cheese makes our Swiss cheese look pitiful," Kennedy said.

But often a chunk of cheese, purchased from among a huge assortment, would have too strong a flavor for American taste buds and so be passed on to someone with more exotic tastes.

From Hawaii, Kennedy brought home a "good tan" and 16 packets of photos, and from Switzerland she brought back chocolates and small gifts for her family. But her two years in Africa might provide her a different sort of memento, the kind that comes from helping other humans.

"When I leave, I go to Washington, D.C. for staging and I'll start my shots and such there. Then I will ship off for three months of training. At the end of that, if I'm still with it -- not sick or sick of it -- I'll be off to the field," Kennedy said.

While her mother, Vivian, worries about her youngest child being so far away, particularly during a time of war, Kennedy feels she'll be safe in Malawi since it is known as "the friendly country," she said.

"I think I'll actually feel safer there," she said, adding working with people, not animals, might be the bigger adjustment.

"That's what wildlife biology/conservation biology is about, learning to work with people to find ways to help them help the environment."

Becky Clark, reporter, can be reached at 451-1923 or via e-mail at becky.clark@tulsaworld.com.

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