May 26, 2003 - The Flyer Group: Volunteer's stay in Ivory Coast cut short by rebel uprising

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Ivory Coast: Peace Corps Ivory Coast : The Peace Corps in the Ivory Coast: May 26, 2003 - The Flyer Group: Volunteer's stay in Ivory Coast cut short by rebel uprising

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Volunteer's stay in Ivory Coast cut short by rebel uprising

Volunteer's stay in Ivory Coast cut short by rebel uprising

Volunteer's Africa stay cut short by rebel uprising

By Beth Shively

Flyer Intern

DANVILLE -- Sharyn Routh bumped along the dirt road in a crowded taxi with dust flying in the windows. The 24-year-old Danville native had made the trip to Gagnoa many times, with up to seven passengers in one car, chicken pecking at her feet and babies crying next to her in the back seat.

This time she was headed into the city to call her parents and update them about the rising tension in the Ivory Coast, where she was serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in the village of Djedjeopalegnoa, but her visit was interrupted by an unexpected phone call from her corps supervisor.

Routh says her supervisor surprised her by saying, "We need to get you out of here."

Ongoing ethnic conflicts had reached a boiling point and an attempted government coup rendered the country unsafe for Routh and the other Peace Corps members to stay in the Cote d'Ivoire. Routh says she pleaded with her supervisor to allow her to return to the village that had been her home for six months.

"But they said, 'No, you have to go home,'" she said.

Even when she and other volunteers serving in nearby villages were herded together and told they would be sent to Ghana, Routh says she hoped her unexpected departure would not mean she had to leave the village for good.

"It was the last time in my village," she said. "I didn't get to take any stuff or say good-bye. I still always thought I was going to go back. It was really tough, really emotional. There was a lack of closure."

Routh is now back home after spending more than a year overseas.

When her two-year commitment to the village was cut short, she says she went to France to live with her brother, Chad, for a few months, leaving behind many loose ends in Africa. She had to leave projects unfinished, but what was more troubling, she said, was having to leave behind friends.

She said she was especially close to her neighbor, Lydie, and had been looking forward to helping her care for the baby she was expecting.

"I was going to teach her how to read and write," Routh said. "I had all these plans. I was the most upset about leaving her."

But Routh, who served as a rural health educator, says she's proud of one project that she did have time to complete. She and members of the local health team organized a presentation to educate young women about AIDS and HIV. The health workers decided to combine the presentation with a soccer game and lunch, which turned out to be a good strategy.

"It all went really well and we had a good turnout," she said.

Other projects, such as the building of latrines at schools, which the Peace Corps volunteer before her had started, were not as successful.

"People weren't really motivated to do that, so it wasn't really working out," she said.

It is important for volunteers to tailor their projects to the needs and the desires of the communities, Routh said. This is why she and other health educators spend the first three months of their placement just getting to know the village.

"It was my job to hang out with people, get to know them," she said.

Routh said she also spent one day a week weighing babies and teaching mothers about infant nutrition. She hopes the things she taught the women about nutrition will stay with them, but she also says the mothers are not the only ones who learned from her time there.

She says the experience helped her have "a different way of thinking about things.

"There are a lot of different ways of living life," she said. "And one is not necessarily right. Their lives are less consumer-oriented and simpler. I really missed washing my hair without running water. And I really missed my family and friends."

Routh said she especially cherished the laid-back approach to life in the farm village, where she was often invited to dinner. She was held in high esteem because she was an American, and sometimes was invited to dinners several times in the same evening. Many villagers, she said, dreamed of moving to the United States, where they believe they would have more opportunities.

Even though Routh has been back in the states for only a short time, she is already on the move again. At the end of the month, she plans to move to Washington, D.C., with some friends, where she hopes to find a job in international development.

As for the Ivory Coast, Routh says, "I think I'll go back sometime. I had just enough time that I had all these plans."

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Story Source: The Flyer Group

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Ivory Coast; Safety and Security of Volunteers



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