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Sally Scholl returns from Kenya
1413,86~10669~1715158,00.html, Sally Scholl returns from Kenya
Woman returns from Kenya
San Ramon's Sally Scholl, 65, tries to make a difference in the world
By Scott Steinberg, STAFF WRITER
SAN RAMON -- During her two-year stint in Kenya as a Peace Corps volunteer, Sally Scholl was not deprived of the basic amenities of American life -- hot showers, electricity and a nightly beer.
In the tourist camp where the San Ramon resident lived, flamingos fed off the verdant spirulina that clouded Lake Naivasha. The 65-year-old felt safe, barring any nocturnal encounters with the water buffalo.
Life was different for the local Kenyans in the Rift Valley, where students lacked the resources to learn and housewives walked great distances for water. The Rift Valley -- inhabited by disputing and displaced tribes -- thrived on a tenuous balance of favors and corruption, Scholl said.
"(Corruption) is a way of life ... even down to the local guy who's guarding the well," said Scholl, who returned from Kenya last month. "The schools had no books. I found one book and it was a dictionary in a staff room."
A San Ramon resident since 1965, Scholl volunteered for the Peace Corps after retiring as a middle school teacher with the San Ramon Valley School District. She was familiar with world travel, having spent her summers in places as disparate as Alaska, India and Germany.
In 1999 her husband died from emphysema. Two years later, Scholl enrolled in the Peace Corps, an international training program established under the watch of President John F. Kennedy.
Kennedy called Peace Corps volunteers collectively "the profile of the best of American youth." But the volunteers have aged with the program, and now about 6 percent of the participating Americans are older than 50.
"I really think it lives up to its name," Scholl said. "I think the reason we're there is to share culture. ... When I think of all the things we did, it's amazing how close I got to these people even though I couldn't really communicate with them."
Scholl first helped a landowner write a grant to build an electronic fence around his animal preserve to keep out poachers. Local women's groups enlisted her support in obtaining money for better water systems. She taught composting to school children and more efficient fuel-usage to housewives.
Despite the environmental devastation, unemployment, petty crime and poverty, Scholl made a home for herself. She roughed things to an extent -- the high-fluoride water had to be boiled lest it brown her teeth. She lived out of two pairs of pants and rode about 25 miles per day on a mountain bike. She made friends at a local Pentecostal church, at the primary schools, along her daily bike rides. And she hopes she also made a difference.
"It doesn't take long for them to know what you're doing. I was the only white woman in the area," she said.
Scholl, who came back to the United States at her family's request, plans to return to Kenya, perhaps as a Habitat for Humanity volunteer. She defends the purpose of the Peace Corps.
"It is down in the grass roots. They know where the action is," said Scholl, twisting her right earring -- a gilded map of the eastern hemisphere. "Go ahead and do it if you're adventuresome and have the desire to help others," added School, who counts among her African adventures tracking gorillas in Uganda and rafting the Nile on Christmas Day.
Scott Steinberg covers San Ramon. You can reach him at (925) 416-4813 or firstname.lastname@example.org .