February 4, 2002 - University of Central Arkansas: Leia Isanhart educates others as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Burkina Faso

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Burkina Faso: Peace Corps Burkina Faso : The Peace Corps in Burkina Faso: February 4, 2002 - University of Central Arkansas: Leia Isanhart educates others as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Burkina Faso

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Leia Isanhart educates others as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Burkina Faso

Leia Isanhart educates others as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Burkina Faso


In June of 2000, just one month after Leia Isanhart graduated from UCA with a bachelorís degree in international trade, she left her cozy home in Conway and all the luxuries of modern civilization to live amongst some of the poorest people in the world for two years Ė as a Peace Corps volunteer. In late January, Isanhart returned to Conway for a brief vacation before entering the last stretch of her stay in Burkina Faso. During her vacation she visited several classes on campus to discuss her experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer.

Burkina Faso is a small country, comparable to the size of Colorado, in western Africa with a population of more than 12 million. It is considered one of the poorest countries in the world. The village that Isanhart calls home is Bondigui. Itís a village with a population of 3,000, where none of the luxuries of modern civilization exist. There is no electricity, no running water and no industry. Only a few have televisions, which can be watched only with the aid of a car battery for power. The nearest telephone is 18 miles away. "Itís a real pain when I have to make a call to the Peace Corps director and I travel all the way on my bicycle only to find out that theyíre not there," Isanhart said.

Villagers make less than one dollar per day in the agricultural community where eighty percent of the population is illiterate. The fertility and mortality rates in Burkina Faso are high and health care is nearly non-existent. For all of these reasons, the Peace Corps sent Isanhart to help.

Isanhart, who was also an Honors College student, had learned about the Peace Corps during an Honors College High Table discussion her sophomore year. "When I was a junior I realized that I was getting closer and closer to graduation and I wasnít sure what type of work I wanted to do when I got out of school," Isanhart said. "I remembered listening to the Peace Corps recruiter who came to campus and I decided to apply."

After much discussion with her parents, Doug and Mary Jo Isanhart, she began the application process. Because the process can be lengthy, Isanhart applied a year and a half in advance. "I knew I wasnít ready for grad school and since I didnít know what type of work I wanted to do, I figured that the Peace Corps would help me develop my skills and decide what type of work I wanted to do."

Once she was accepted into the Peace Corps, she went through three months of intensive training in Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Fasoís second largest city. There she learned the language, cross-cultural training, and health education. "You get to pick a region of the world where youíd like to serve," Isanhart said. "My first choice was Africa." Isanhart got her wish and was assigned to go to Burkina Faso. "I was placed in West Africa because the predominant language is French and I had taken a couple of semesters of the language during high school," she said. "I also had some experience with AIDS awareness education and my area of study was economic development, and so my skills and abilities were matched with Burkina Faso."

Isanhart has completed a little more than a year and a half of her two-year service and she is already considering extending her stay. "Iím considering requesting an extension of one year," Isanhart said. If she decides to stay, she will no longer work in the village, but will work with other developmental agencies in the area. One of the reasons she wants to extend her stay is because the third year would give her to opportunity to enhance her skills in economic development.

Isanhart said that a year ago she would not have thought she would be considering an extension. "The first year is really, really hard," she said. "Youíre exposed to a new culture and a new language. It takes a lot of determination to keep pushing through." After the first year was complete, Isanhart began having a change of heart. "I went through a big turn-around as I think every Peace Corps volunteer does."


Isanhartís work for the Peace Corps in Burkina Faso focuses on health education. She works in a small health center in the village with two local male nurses. The health center is the only source of health care for the 3,000 villagers and many more who migrate in for care. "I donít provide health care, I only try to educate people," Isanhart said. In a country where nearly seven percent of the population has HIV/AIDS, health education is important.

Isanhart said she speaks with the villagers about health issues ranging from general hygiene to HIV/AIDS prevention. Isanhart said she trains villagers about these issues then works with them to train others in the village. "Most of the education I do is informative Ė chatting with people in the market place or at the health clinic or in their courtyards," she said. "But I also have more organized gatherings of community groups to talk about health issues. There is a theatre group of villagers that I work with to teach people about AIDS and family planning through theatre and song."

During her short visit home, Isanhart had more time to find out about the September 11 attacks on America. While she did know about the attacks, being in such a remote area of the world caused Isanhart to feel very removed from the situation as an American. "I didnít find out about the attacks until September 12," she said. "I was listening to BBC on my short-wave radio. I remember them talking about dead bodies and a bomb, but I didnít pay much attention to it because I thought it was another terrorist attack in Israel, then I heard them mention New York."

Isanhart said she suddenly felt insecure because of the destruction that had taken hold of her homeland while she was far away. "I went to the American embassy in the capital city and we all watched the television. Everyone was really quiet." Isanhart said she is still trying to comprehend what happened to America on that day.

Now well into her second year, Isanhart is more at ease in the once foreign environment, culture and language. "Iím finally to the point that I feel comfortable there even though itís still difficult some days," she said. Though she even feels sure she will return to visit someday after her service is finished, Isanhart would never consider making Burkina Faso her permanent home. "Living there is emotionally draining," she said. "It is extremely stressful because of the roller coaster of emotions you go through on a daily basis, taking a cold shower everyday, being stared at, using the latrine outside, those are things that I donít want to make a part of my life permanently."

Isanhart said that the hardest part of being in Burkina Faso as a Peace Corps volunteer is choosing to stay. "I miss my family and friends terribly and there is nothing stopping me from going home at any time that I choose, but I know that if I leave itís something that I may regret for the rest of my life."

Isanhart is still undecided about what area of development she wants to focus on with a career, but she does have some ideas. "Right now Iím interested in possibly working with West African refugees," Isanhart said. "I think I would definitely like to do some grass roots community development work. There are so many grass roots efforts to choose from, from the Heifer Project to Habitat for Humanity. I know that I want to be involved with helping people."

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Story Source: University of Central Arkansas

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Burkina Faso



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