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Mary Casagrande is Peace Corps Volunteer in Mozambique
Mary Casagrande is Peace Corps Volunteer in Mozambique
Out of Granite Bay
... into Africa as volunteer
By Susan Belknap
Imagine being 22 years old and just having graduated from college. You’re not sure what you want to do with your life, but are certain about wanting to travel, teach and volunteer time to others less fortunate.
For Mary Casagrande of Granite Bay, joining the Peace Corp incorporated all three desires. She’s been in Africa since October 4, and will be staying for the next two years, helping teach English as a foreign language to eighth-grade students, which for them is their first year of English.
In the beginning, Casagrande lived in Boane, Mozambique, which is about 30 to 40 km west of Maputo. For 10 weeks she resided with a Mozambican family where she participated in training sessions that included Portuguese lessons, cultural activities, medical training, and technical classes to learn how to do her job.
In mid-December she moved to Namaacha, which is next to the Swaziland/Mozambique border.
Casagrande was a psychology major, business minor, while she attended Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. She taught gymnastics lessons to children of all ages for seven years and has worked and volunteered in several public and school libraries in both San Luis and Granite Bay so the volunteerism part came naturally to her.
“After graduation Mary was thinking about grad school, but then she said she wanted to go some place to work where you don’t work for the money,” said Casagrande’s mother, Anne. “At first it seemed like such a big commitment. But Mary’s always been a volunteer and she’s definitely a goal setter and a doer.”
However, there was a benefit to teaching overseas.
“I also found out that in California teaching in the Peace Corp can be counted as my student teaching so I am also working towards my credential,” Mary Casagrande said in various e-mail correspondences from Namaacha where she is able to get to an Information Center where pay phones and a few computers are available.
When Casagrande first told her parents she wanted to join the Peace Corp, her father, Gary, said it was very much like his daughter’s character.
“Mary has always been environmentally conscious and she was always the one who wanted to go to summer camp never worrying if she knew anyone there or not,” her father said.
Casagrande said she began applying in February of her senior year at college and the entire process included an application, interview, medical and legal clearance and finally, an invitation to serve.
Casagrande lives with another Peace Corp volunteer who is also an English teacher, in a teacher housing facility made of concrete. They do not have running water, but there is a sink in the kitchen, a bathroom and they do have a toilet and electricity. There is no refrigerator, so Casagrande and her roommate must buy and eat their food the same day.
“I feel like I eat well, but it is a lot more work to cook here,” she said. “We make quite a bit of things here but it is just a little different. We don’t seem to have as much variety or flavor, but the food is good.”
Occasionally Casagrande said she eats with friends or neighbors dining on Mozambican dishes like Matapa, which is pumpkin leaves, coconut milk and peanuts made into a sauce and served on rice.
On a typical day, Casagrande wakes up early to the sound of children playing outside who are waiting for school to start at 7 a.m. In the morning hours she jogs, plans her lessons for the day and chats with neighbors and friends. Casagrande teaches English to both eighth- and ninth-grade classes from 12:30-5:50 p.m.
During her free time she reads, writes letters, and is thinking about planting a garden. When she’s not at school Casagrande socializes with many of her students who often stop by to get help with their homework or just say hello.
“When I first got here, many people came by my house because they knew a new volunteer was coming and just wanted to meet me,” she recalled. “They are patient with me as I am still learning Portuguese. They help me with Portuguese and I help them with English. I feel very welcomed here.”
For Casagrande, her Peace Corp experience has been extremely positive. She feels the community is quite happy to have someone who speaks English to help them learn the language.
“They are also very curious about America and love to hear about me and America,” she said.
According to Casagrande, the most difficult part about being in Namaacha are the cultural differences. She often has miscommunications with the native people, not only because of the language barrier, but also because sometimes she understands the words but doesn’t comprehend the idea they try to explain.
“It can be frustrating but I am learning to understand as well as accept that I might not understand everything,” she said. “But I am having the most amazing experience. Every day I learn something new about Mozambicans and myself. I am teaching them and they are teaching me. Peace Corp is truly a rewarding experience.”
March marks the 43rd anniversary of the founding of the Peace Corp and to commemorate the work of more than 170,000 Peace Corp workers who have volunteered in 136 countries throughout the world, March 1-7 is designated at Peace Corp Week.
In addition to teaching English, volunteers have been entrenched with information technology, environmental preservation, youth outreach, community development, and health and HIV/AIDS awareness.
In order to be a Peace Corp volunteer, applicants must be at least 18 years old. The oldest volunteer ever to serve was 83. Peace Corp volunteers do not have to have a college education but it increases the chances of acceptance. Applicants don’t need to know another language to qualify. They must be United States citizens.
For more information regarding the Peace Corps, visit www.peacecorps.gov.
Susan Belknap can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.