December 1, 2002 - Andover Bulletin Online: Joyce Burnette joined the Peace Corps as a volunteer in the West African nation of Mauritania

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Mauritania: Peace Corps Mauritania : The Peace Corps in Mauritania: December 1, 2002 - Andover Bulletin Online: Joyce Burnette joined the Peace Corps as a volunteer in the West African nation of Mauritania

By Admin1 (admin) on Saturday, June 14, 2003 - 1:57 pm: Edit Post

Joyce Burnette joined the Peace Corps as a volunteer in the West African nation of Mauritania

Joyce Burnette joined the Peace Corps as a volunteer in the West African nation of Mauritania

Joyce Burnette
Crossing Thresholds

82With the same high level of confidence, independence, adventure and intellectual curiosity she had when she left her ailing community of South Central Los Angeles as a 14-year-old to come to Phillips Academy, Joyce Burnett has traveled to West Africa with the Peace Corps and garnered advanced degrees in economics, international relations and law. She has taught as a Fulbright scholar at the University of Asmara in Eritrea, written one book and immersed herself in a second. To round it all off, she is a certified instructor in aerobics and yoga and has been teaching fitness since she was 15.

It all might have begun at Andover in James Couch’s Spanish class. When she first walked into his classroom, she was stopped cold as he admonished his students, “When you cross the threshold, you are in Spain, and in Spain we speak Spanish.”

“Oh, my gosh, you can’t do this,” she remembers telling herself. But she did.

“The bar was set higher at PA and I rose to it,” she says. She has been crossing thresholds ever since.

After Wesleyan University and a stint as a management trainee at the Boston Company, an investment management firm, she joined the Peace Corps as a volunteer in the West African nation of Mauritania. The country was soon embroiled in political upheaval, and Burnett realized she was in danger. She believes she was saved from harm only because she carried an American passport. Even in that difficult situation, she wasn’t willing to give up. “I signed up for two years, and, by golly, I wanted to do my two years; I wasn’t going home yet,” she says.

She was transferred to Mali, where she worked with women’s cooperatives in the capital city of Bamako, and she encountered more violent unrest there in the form of a political coup. But when the Peace Corps insisted everyone leave the city, Burnett was forced to stay on for several weeks because she was recovering from a serious motorcycle accident. Her book about her Peace Corps experiences is titled Back to Where I’ve Never Been: An American Odyssey in Africa.

Her year in Eritrea as a Fulbright scholar-teacher at the University of Asmara was a watershed event in her quest to learn more about African women’s issues, the law and international affairs. Eritrea, which had fought a 30-year war with Ethiopia, conscripted women to fight on the front lines. Given the historic limitations on women in Africa, she was intrigued and would go and talk to a few women each day to hear their stories.

“I even taught them aerobics,” she says.

One young woman told Burnett how she was forced by her husband’s family, who disliked her, to divorce him, leaving her two sons behind. Burnett was appalled. But instead of harboring feelings of hatred or revenge toward her in-laws, the woman said she was now striving toward economic independence, trying to get training so she could get a job and fighting to see her sons.

“I was so impressed by these strong women,” Burnett said, “that I will probably continue going back to Africa for the rest of my life.”

Back home in the United States, she enrolled in the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, where she received a double master’s degree in economics and international relations in 1995.

A few months before entering American University in Washington, D.C., where she received a J.D. degree in 2001, Burnett took a temp job at the Washington Post. There, a colleague introduced her to a friend who was close to Isabel Washington Powell. Isabel was the first wife of the late Adam Clayton Powell Jr., the flamboyant U.S. congressman from Harlem from 1944-70 and the pastor of Harlem’s famous Abyssinian Baptist Church. After she met Isabel, Burnett says, the idea for a book took shape.

“Many people don’t realize Powell had a wife other than the well-known pianist Hazel Scott,” says Burnett, who wants to bring Isabel and her fascinating life forward in her book Adam’s Belle, a 20-chapter volume she is now writing.

“Isabel is 95, and I’m praying God keeps her here so she can enjoy this,” says Burnett, who reports with confidence that the book is going to be “fabulous.” It is currently in proposal form and is being reviewed by agents in New York.

Burnett plans to remain in D.C., where she hopes eventually to work in project finance, specializing in obtaining discount financing from U.S. banks for developing nations. She has two things on her plate now—preparing for the New York and California bar exams and working on the book. Meantime, she is teaching physical fitness at several gyms in the D.C. area.

“Aerobics keeps my body in balance and my sanity intact,” she says.

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Story Source: Andover Bulletin Online

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Mauritania; Older Volunteers



By Sonia Stines Derenoncourt ( - on Wednesday, April 12, 2006 - 7:28 am: Edit Post

what is your contact information, I would like to catch up with you. Sonia RPCV RIM

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