August 1, 2004: Headlines: COS - Yemen: NPCA: Chicago Sun Times: Elizabeth Thomas says "My task as a health educator in the Peace Corps was to reduce the infant mortality rate by 50 percent "

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Yemen: Peace Corps Yemen: The Peace Corps in Yemen: August 1, 2004: Headlines: COS - Yemen: NPCA: Chicago Sun Times: Elizabeth Thomas says "My task as a health educator in the Peace Corps was to reduce the infant mortality rate by 50 percent "

By Admin1 (admin) (pool-151-196-239-147.balt.east.verizon.net - 151.196.239.147) on Saturday, August 14, 2004 - 4:55 pm: Edit Post

Elizabeth Thomas says "My task as a health educator in the Peace Corps was to reduce the infant mortality rate by 50 percent "

Elizabeth Thomas says My task as a health educator in the Peace Corps was to reduce the infant mortality rate by 50 percent

Elizabeth Thomas says "My task as a health educator in the Peace Corps was to reduce the infant mortality rate by 50 percent "

Found in translation

August 1, 2004

Faraway lands, fascinating cultures and new adventures continue to call selfless men and women to the Peace Corps. It is a sense of common purpose that binds members of this special clan who dedicate two years of their lives to the cause. They travel, share their professional expertise and learn about ideals and customs that differ from their own. Since its 1961 inception, the Peace Corps has trained such people -- 170,000 to be exact -- to serve in 137 counties. Their experiences leave an indelible mark, so much so that many continue their commitments to global harmony, education and the Peace Corps' missions after their stint has ended.

Their vehicle is the National Peace Corps Association, which will gather here for a conference at the Palmer House Hilton Thursday through Sunday. The nonprofit group, celebrating its 25th anniversary, states it "fosters peace by working together in service, education and advocacy."

Inside, four former volunteers, who now live in Chicago, share the stories of how this journey took them beyond their comfort zones, allowing them to connect with humanity.

Allah u Akbar, Allah u Akbar

-- God is Great, God is Great !

-Ash-hadu al-la Ilaha ill Allah - Ash-hadu al-la Ilaha ill Allah

-- I bear witness that there is no God but God!

Ash-hadu anna Muhammadan Rasulullaah

-- I bear witness that Muhammad is God's Messenger !

As I arose out of a peaceful sleep at the Old Sana'a Palace Hotel, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Simultaneously, the call to prayer could be heard across the ancient city. I had never heard the human voice carry such a beautiful sound. I cried. A graduate of Englewood high school, I never imagined I would have an opportunity to travel so far away from home. If you have ever wondered what daily life must have been like 3,000 years ago, Yemen is the place. Yemen is one of the oldest centers of civilization. The earliest known civilizations existed more than 1,000 years before Christ. According to history, Shem the son of Noah founded the city of Sana'a. It was also once part of the Queen of Sheba Empire, which controlled the lucrative spice trade in the area.

My task as a health educator in the Peace Corps was to reduce the infant mortality rate by 50 percent How could one possibly reduce the infant mortality rate in two years of service? Were they out of their minds!? Realistically, to resolve this problem it was going to take more like 20 years. In the early '70s and '80s, a massive campaign by large corporations (such as Nestle) was launched to get women to give formula to their babies instead of breast milk. The result was disastrous. Poor women who could not read and write would disproportionately mix the powered milk with water. More often than not more water than milk was added, which meant these women were slowly starving their children to death.

After accepting the assignment to Peace Corps, I didn't make the connection I was going to have to learn a new language. Imagine my surprise when I learned two weeks before my departure I was going to have to learn ARABIC! Didn't they notice on my transcripts I purposely did not take a language in college? Why then would anyone in their right mind have me learn one of the most difficult languages in the world?! What was I going to do? By this time I had quit my job. I had packed up my apartment, and put my tiny savings into CD accounts with the hope that during the two years I was to be away it would make some money for me. I really debated whether or not I should go. In the end, I decided I would go. Worst case scenario: They would just send me back home.

Peace Corps provides 12 weeks of language training. However, it was clear by the second week of class I wasn't getting it. To put it simply I was lousy. I was all set to go home. However, the Yemeni language staff would not here of it. Instead, they proposed I have a class to myself and each of them would take turns to teach me Arabic. Five hours a day we went though language drills of the alphabet (Alif, Ba, Ta). I really felt sorrier for the teachers than myself. After twelve weeks of language, cross-cultural, and technical training I was functional. I then headed for the hospital where I would work for the next two years.

The home I would live in overlooked the Red Sea. Yemen was not only a cultural awakening for me but also to the people in my community. Everyone wanted to know what tribe I was from. Tribe? I am from Chicago. Immediately, everyone would say Al Capone! Yeah but. Then it was back to what tribe were my parents from. My reply was St. Louis and West Point, Miss. I once took out my passport which drew people from every direction to get a closer look. Everyone knew who Michael Jackson and Michael Jordan were but it was clear they had not made the connection that there were Africans who were Americans living in the United States. Since 1993, I have traveled to many regions of the world but none of them have been as profound as Yemen. As I reflect back on my experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer in Yemen and Morocco-North Africa from 1993 to 1996, and as a recruiter for the Chicago Regional recruiting office 1998 to 2004, my experiences have broaden my otherwise tiny view of the world and that people everywhere strive for the basic, human needs, which are love, food, clothing, and shelter.

Elizabeth Thomas
Volunteer, Arab Republic of Yemen/Morocco 1993-1996





When this story was prepared, this was the front page of PCOL magazine:

This Month's Issue: August 2004 This Month's Issue: August 2004
Teresa Heinz Kerry celebrates the Peace Corps Volunteer as one of the best faces America has ever projected in a speech to the Democratic Convention. The National Review disagreed and said that Heinz's celebration of the PCV was "truly offensive." What's your opinion and who can come up with the funniest caption for our Current Events Funny?

Exclusive: Director Vasquez speaks out in an op-ed published exclusively on the web by Peace Corps Online saying the Dayton Daily News' portrayal of Peace Corps "doesn't jibe with facts."

In other news, the NPCA makes the case for improving governance and explains the challenges facing the organization, RPCV Bob Shaconis says Peace Corps has been a "sacred cow", RPCV Shaun McNally picks up support for his Aug 10 primary and has a plan to win in Connecticut, and the movie "Open Water" based on the negligent deaths of two RPCVs in Australia opens August 6. Op-ed's by RPCVs: Cops of the World is not a good goal and Peace Corps must emphasize community development.





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Story Source: Chicago Sun Times

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Yemen; NPCA

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